Texas provides a fascinating representation of slavery in the greater United States. It almost acts as a condensed version of the practice as an entity throughout the entire country. It contained both urban and rural environments, within which slaves behaved differently depending on their circumstances and masters. What is clear is that slavery was rigidly embedded in the fabric of Texas, even as it began to fall apart in other parts of the Southern United States.
Texas is unique in that it had a rich mixture of rural plantations and urban environments, in which slavery was established and became an essential part of the economy of the state. By 1860, according to Campbell’s figures, over thirty percent of the entire Texan population were slaves (Web). As an economic institution, slavery was generally a profitable enterprise for Texas landowners to become involved in. This is perhaps at odds with other parts of the country, particularly the more industrialized north. Of course, the natural environment was significant because it was suited for the production of cotton. This was a massive industry throughout the state, both in terms of production and the manufacture of goods from the plant itself. Slavery became an essential cog in the mechanisms of this industry.
There are also suggestions that before the civil war, slavery was already starting to break down in parts of the urbanized south. This does not seem to have been the case in Texas. Lack describes the militancy of slave owners across the state of Texas, and particularly in its urban centres (Web). Although they never resolved the issue of social control across the state, they were still willing to endure and persist with the practice, when other parts of the nation had already given up. It was so embedded in the white patriarchal culture that Mexicans were driven out of Austin on charges of interfering with slaves in the city. Slavery had been outlawed much earlier in Mexico, illustrating how Texas had developed its own identity by virtue of its separation from the Hispanic nation and subsequent assimilation into the United States of America. This shows how it was a part of everyday life in the state.
Urban life for slaves in Texas was clearly different to other parts of the US. They were able to congregate and assemble in ways that often caused white slave owners to feel threatened. They were able to develop some sense of autonomy through the creation of their own independent accommodation. This was not possible in the countryside because they would have been forced to live on the plantations where they worked. The development of urban slavery in Texas was truly unique in comparison to the rest of the country. There was also much to gain for the masters because they were able to easily hire out their slaves to others, although this was technically illegal.
It is clear that the state was more heavily conservative than other parts of the Southern US. There were few intentions of liberalizing anti-slave laws before the civil war. As Texas was less mechanically developed than the industrialized north, slaves were key to all manners of production, and were visible members of everyday society. Compared to the country as a whole, Texas was willing to persist much longer, no matter the cost. Furthermore, it is clear that they were successful in doing so, as the slave population was growing faster than the rest of the population, and all the industries, both rural and urban, were reliant on slave labor.
- Campbell, Randolph B. “Slavery,” Texas State Historical Association, available at https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/yps01, Web. 31/3/2018.
- Lack, Paul D. “Urban Slavery,” Texas State Historical Association, available at https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/yps02, Web. 31/3/2018.