Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Slavery: "...The Worst of Evils...:" An Exhibit at the Freeport Historical Museum

I have lived all my life in a county in Texas that calls itself the Cradle of Texas. 

Despite taking a class in Texas history two times in school (as required by the state), I really know very little about where I live.

I knew there were plantations in my county, but I heard nothing about the enslaved people who manned those plantations.

Then I went to an exhibit on slavery held recently at the Freeport Historical Museum. 

I learned that not only was slavery a force in my county, but it was the force that drove the creation and colonization and economy of this county. 

Slave collar from one of Brazoria County's plantations

Stephen F. Austin had planned to create his first colony in Texas near the mouth of the Colorado River, but when he landed instead at the mouth of the Brazos River in 1821, he quickly determined that with the subtropical climate where the temperatures rarely dropped below freezing, a yearly rainfall over 50 inches, and rich alluvial soils, the area would be perfect for sugar plantations. Sugar plantations in 1821 meant riches for the owners. Sugar plantations in 1821 meant slavery. Brazoria County was established in 1836, and, by then, it was considered "a haven for slavery."

Map of plantations in 1852 in Brazoria County

By 1852, there were twenty-nine sugar plantations in Brazoria County. The plantations collectively held more than twelve hundred slaves. By 1860, there were forty-five plantations in the county. In that year, the census taken showed that Brazoria County had 2,027 White people, 5,110 Black enslaved people, and six free Black people. 

A History of Brazoria County Plantations, first published in 1927

How did these enslaved people arrive in Texas? Texas was part of Mexico for much of its early history, and Mexico began to abolish slavery in 1821. Slaveholders smuggled in slaves and, after becoming part of the US, brought them in from other parts of America. Forced breeding was also enforced.

The planters made big profits in the years before the US Civil War. The Mills Brothers owned three plantations that earned $52,000 in 1860 alone. That is equivalent to $1.8 million dollars today. These earnings were, as one writer puts it, "stolen off the backs of the workers."

From a newspaper, 1837

Enslaved people in Brazoria County fought against slavery in every way possible. The primary method was to run away. Thousands are believed to have run away to Mexico. Slaveholders sent out teams of dogs to recapture slaves and rewards were offered.

Artifacts from Brazoria County plantations

The Freeport Historical Museum is a small museum in the southern part of my county. I thank the museum for researching and sharing information about slavery, "the worst of evils," right here in the place I call home. It was a startling experience for me to visit the exhibit and to reflect upon what I saw.

From the website:
During the Antebellum period, Brazoria County was home to forty-five plantations positioned along the Brazos and San Bernard Rivers. Enslaved peoples were trafficked from Africa by way of Cuba using the rivers to reach the plantation sites.
“…this worst of evils…” brings attention to the impact of chattel slavery on Brazoria County from the arrival of Austin’s original 300 to the American Civil War. The exhibit shares the narratives of the enslaved who labored local plantations, as well as exploring the politics and personalities involved in the slave trade. Original artifacts from local plantation sites were displayed.
"...this worst of evils..." - Slavery in Brazoria County Exhibit ran from February 1st to Saturday, March 4th, 2023.

The Freeport Historical Museum thanks staff of the Lake Jackson Historical Association, Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site, and Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site for their help and support in the creation of "...this worst of evils..." - Slavery in Brazoria County Exhibit. It was the largest exhibit put together by the staff of the historical museum.

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