The Curious Cases of Free Men Who Chose to become Slaves

(Harris County District Clerk Archives) Recognizing that the Nineteenth Century Court records are the best available resource to research the experiences of the first generations of African Americans to live in Harris County, this article tells the lawsuits brought by three “Free Men of Color” before the Civil War.

Through the perspective of our 21st.Century lives, it is impossible to try to understand the institution of slavery or how otherwise moral people could rationally believe it to be ethically appropriate.  Reading the case files in lawsuits involving slaves and the laws those cases interpreted and applied requires an “Alice in Wonderland” sense of reality.  Nothing seems real, and one is constantly trying to understand how the people that we honor as the founders and first settlers of our state could justify servitude of other human beings.

Three of the hardest cases to understand in our courts’ files are the cases in which “Free men of color” brought civil actions to be allowed to be converted to slaves and pick their masters.  In three separate cases, free men brought civil actions in the District Court of Harris County to be named a slave.  The three cases were:

State of  Texas v. Bob Allen;

State of  Texas v. Charles G. Amos

State of  Texas v. Charles F. Revelson

The Amos and Revelson cases were filed the same day, and ruled upon the same day by Judge Edward Palmer.  Other than their temporal identity, there is one other common thread between the two cases – the person who the men chose to be their new master – General J. Bankhead Magruder

Magruder had been a highly decorated officer during the MexicanAmerican War of 1848, but had resigned his commission at the beginning of the Civil War to join the Southern forces.  After falling out of favor with General Robert E. Lee, he was transferred to be in charge of the Confederate efforts in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  His primary military success was the recapture of Galveston from union forces on January 1, 1863.

General J. Bankhead Magruder

We cannot state why he needed slaves, since his family lived in Baltimore, and Generals commonly used privates to attend to their personal needs.  It can be said that Magruder was a person of influence in Texas during the war. The three cases were all brought after the enactment in 1858 of a bill in the Texas Legislature which expressly allowed this practice.

The terms of the statute limited the opportunity to exercise this “right” to males over the age of fourteen, and only after the District Attorney of the County had been given the opportunity to investigate the circumstances of the suit to ascertain that no fraud or compulsion was involved.  Subsequent interpretations of the statute by the Supreme Court of Texas held that a free person of color had no such right before enactment of the statute, but we are aware of at least one such case that occurred during theRepublic of Texas.

(From Harris County District Clerk Archives) The statute and most of the cases brought under the statute were publicized with glee by the pro-slavery press of pre-war Texas.  Southerners, and especially the monied class of southerners in the years just before the war, often tried to show that slavery was good thing for the African-Americans.  The publicity given the cases was part of the effort to convince the nonmonied white population of the wisdom of preserving slavery as an institution. Why did the men bring these suits?  We know it must have been difficult for free men of color to make a living in Texas.  Many cities (but not Houston) enacted “removal ordinances”, prohibiting persons of color from living in their cities.  Some cites (including Houston) placed an 8:00 o’clock p.m. curfew on Blacks being on the streets unescorted.  Often, free men would have started families with slave women, and threats to sell a man’s wife and children might have provided motivation to bring a free man into slavery.

The servitude of the three men was (relatively) short-lived.  Slavery was abolished in Texas at the conclusion of the Civil War, and the three men were freed.  The public record is as silent as to whether and how they enjoyed their freedom as it is to why they chose to give up that freedom.

Texas Independence Day

Texas Independence Day is the celebration of the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. With this document, settlers in Mexican Texas officially broke from Mexico, creating the Republic of Texas.

The Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed at a building at Washington-on-the-Brazos. (A replica building is there today, with an inscription, “A Nation was born here.”) Fifty-nine men signed the Declaration of Independence. Ten of them had lived in Texas for more than six years, while one-quarter of them had been in the province for less than a year.

***Here’s what it said:***

The Unanimous Declaration of Independence
made by the Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the Town of Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyrrany, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrranical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, untill they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the national constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior.

We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.

[Signed, in the order shown on the handwritten document]

* Richard Ellis, President of the Convention and Delegate from Red River
* Charles B. Stewart
* Thomas Barnett
* John S. D. Byrom
* José Francisco Ruiz
* José Antonio Navarro
* Jesse B. Badgett
* William D. Lacy
* William Menefee
* John Fisher
* Matthew Caldwell
* William Motley
* Lorenzo de Zavala
* Stephen H. Everett
* George W. Smyth
* Elijah Stapp
* Claiborne West
* William. B. Scates
* Michel B. Menard
* Augustine B. Hardin
* John Wheeler Bunton
* Thomas J. Gazley
* Robert M. Coleman
* Sterling C. Robertson
* Benjamin Briggs Goodrich
* George Washington Barnett
* James G. Swisher
* Jesse Grimes
* Samuel Rhoads Fisher
* John W. Moore
* John W. Bower
* Samuel A. Maverick (from Bejar)
* Sam P. Carson
* Andrew Briscoe
* James B. Woods
* James Collinsworth
* Edwin Waller
* Asa Brigham
* George C. Childress
* Bailey Hardeman
* Robert Potter
* Thomas Jefferson Rusk
* Charles S. Taylor
* John S. Roberts
* Robert Hamilton
* Collin McKinney
* Albert Hamilton Latimer
* James Power
* Erastus Smith, known as “El Sordo”
* Sam Houston
* David Thomas
* Edward Conrad
* Martin Parmer
* Edwin O. Legrand
* Stephen W. Blount
* Robert Thomas ‘James’ Gaines
* William Clark, Jr.
* Sydney O. Pennington
* William Carroll Crawford
* John Turner
* Herbert Simms Kimble, Secretary

Thanks to


As part of the 2011 budget cutting frenzy in Austin, Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced his plans for the elimination of the Texas Historical Commission. In 1953 the Texas State Legislature established the agency as the Texas State Historical Survey Committee with the task to identify important historic sites across the state.

Today, THC is composed of seventeen citizen members appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms and employs about 200 people who work in various fields, including archeology, architecture, history, economic development, heritage tourism, public administration and urban planning.

The THC:

n Helps protect Texas’ diverse architectural heritage, including historic county courthouses.

n Partners with communities to stimulate tourism and economic development.

n Assists Texas cities in the revitalization of their historic downtowns through the Texas Main Street Program.

n Provides leadership and training to county historical commissions, heritage organizations and museums in Texas’ 254 counties.

The agency also administers the state’s historical marker program — currently there are more than 12,000 historical markers across the state, and it operates twenty state historic sites including house museums, military forts and archeological sites.

One of the most important and visual programs is the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program In 1999, the Texas Legislature created the program to provide matching grants to assist county courthouse restoration projects throughout the state.

Texas has more historic courthouses that any other state. Today more than 234 courthouses still stand that are least 50 years old. About 80 were built before the turn of the 20th century. By the end of that century, most of these structures were significantly deteriorated due to inadequate maintenance, insensitive modifications or weather related damage.

The Texas Historical Commission documented the condition of 50 of the state’s oldest courthouses in the late 1990s and determined that counties lacked the resources to preserve the buildings for future generations. To date THC has assisted in the preservation and restoration of more than 80 county courthouses.

Restoration of the historic buildings reached a critical point when Texas county courthouses were added to the National Trust’s11 Most Endangered Properties list in 1998. The state’s response was to create the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, the largest preservation grant program ever initiated by a state government. This nationally recognized preservation program has turned around the trend of disrepair and begun the process of restoring the state’s most treasured historic landmarks.

In addition, the THC administers the Texas Courthouse Stewardship program to assist counties in maintaining their facilities.

The urgent need to preserve the state’s historic courthouses became evident during the first six rounds of grants, as did Texans’ enthusiasm for the program. There are, however, more than 160 nationally recognized historic courthouses across the state that could benefit from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Continuing the program is vital to the future of these grand community treasures.

The restoration of the county courthouses has benefited the entire state. Records show that $373 million of total courthouse contribution activity has generated nearly 8,579 jobs, $238 million in income and over $325 million in gross state product.

The threat to historic courthouses is real. In 1993, fire ravaged the century-old Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro. In 1999, fires destroyed the 1911 Reagan County Courthouse in Stiles and damaged the 1891 Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville.

On August 4, 2000, fire gutted the historic 1902 Newton County Courthouse just two weeks after the THC approved its master plan for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. The THC provided emergency stabilization funds and Round III funding for full restoration of the Newton County Courthouse.

Texas courthouses date from the mid-19th century and were among the first permanent structures in many counties. Restored historic county courthouses preserve an important architectural feature of Texas’ past while making these landmarks functional and safe for use today.

County courthouse projects are serving as a catalyst in economic revitalization in business districts surrounding courthouse squares throughout the state. Historic courthouses are focal points for heritage tourism, one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry in Texas.

A total of 136 Texas courthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places; 145 are Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks and 109 are State Archeological Landmarks.

Proposed cuts in funding for state-supported historical commissions and the arts commissions could be disastrous for the groups, their supporters contend.

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday proposed eliminating state funding for the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts in an effort to deal with the state’s projected $15 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget period.

The Texas Historical Commission’s budget tops $100 million, with 20 percent from the general revenue fund, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“We recognize that some cuts are necessary statewide and that this agency will be affected,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Historical Commission. “We welcome the opportunity to do our part in assisting legislative leaders in prioritizing the state’s needs as they apply to this agency. Our historic resources are a vital part of our future and can contribute a solution to the state’s economic difficulties.”

The historical agency also successfully fought first lady Anita Perry’s plan to build a controversial addition onto the Texas Governor’s Mansion. The state agreed to build a smaller addition. No one has been charged over the 2008 arson fire that damaged the unoccupied mansion during renovations.


First Day – Tuesday, February 23, 1836

On February 23, Mexican troops under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna entered San Antonio de Bexar, Texas and surrounded the Alamo Mission. The Alamo was defended by a small force of  Texians and Tejanos, led by Davy Crockett, William Barrett Travis and James Bowie.

Read more about the siege of the Alamo here:

Galveston Island Documentary to air in Dallas and San Antonio

From Texas Foundation for the Arts ( )  KERA-TV in Dallas will broadcast “Galveston Island” this Thursday, Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m., and KLRN-TV in San Antonio will broadcast the program at 9:00 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28.  We hope you will tune in to see our Ava award-winning program that has also been broadcast in Houston and Austin this month.

Texas Foundation for the Arts’ “Galveston Island” provides a compelling glimpse into the rich history and culture of one of Texas’ oldest and most treasured cities.

Known as the “City of Firsts,” Galveston was the first city in Texas to have electric lighting, the first telephone, and one of the state’s first newspapers.  Also known as “Sin City of the Gulf” the 1930s and 40s ushered in popular nightclubs, such as the renowned Balinese Room, back room gambling, and a thriving red light district.

Filming began in 2008, just two weeks prior to Hurricane Ike.  In the aftermath of the storm, the filmmakers captured the resiliency of the islanders during their struggle to rebuild, a scenario that mirrors the determination of the island residents to rebuild after the devastating 1900 storm…”

“Galveston Island” DVDs are available through HoustonPBS by calling Annette Smith at 713-743-1811.

Astrodome: Chronicle’s Ken Hoffman Says “Tear it down”.

Read the story here:

Dallas Museum Receives Newly Uncovered JFK Film

Roy Botello Film at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

( The Rice Hotel in Houston was the second stop of a planned five-city Texas visit that was to have finished at a fund-raiser dinner in Austin. The Kennedy assassination happened in Dallas the next day.

Shortly before 9 p.m. in the hotel’s grand ballroom, President Kennedy spoke to a group of several hundred from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). He then introduced First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who spoke, without notes, in Spanish. The room erupted in cheers of “olé.”

The film was recently donated to the Museum by Roy Botello who, at the time, served as the first Scholarship Corporation Chairman of LULAC in San Antonio. He brought along his home movie camera that evening and captured silent color film of the Kennedy arrival, welcoming dignitaries, a mariachi band and both Kennedys addressing the crowd.

The Museum is committed to finding and preserving home movies, photographs and news coverage of events related to JFK’s November 21 – 22, 1963 trip to Texas and his assassination and to making these materials accessible to the public through exhibition, programs and research opportunities.

Release date: February 18, 2011

see film here: