"We found the slave question the principal topic of conversation among the good citizens of Galveston. Many of the latter maintained that individuals have no right to interfere with their lawful property and were...indignant with the abolitionists..."
- Matilda Charlotte Houstoun, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, or Yachting in the New World
As a follow-up to my recent interview (post is here) with historian W. Caleb McDaniel, Ph.D., regarding his new book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform, I thought it would be a good time to post another excerpt from my own recent book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (The History Press, 2012), about the treatment of abolitionists in Galveston and Texas.
The excellent "Handbook of Texas Online" from the Texas State Historical Association states of "Abolition":
"Abolition sentiment was never significant in Texas, although antebellum Texans often expressed fear concerning its presence. There were Unionists in Texas, but few, if any, were abolitionists, though many had strayed away from solid Southern sentiment enough to wonder whether slavery did not operate to retard Southern progress..."
The entry goes on to talk about the "Texas Troubles" and slave uprising panic of 1860, suspected to have been fomented by abolitionists, but concludes "A few people in antebellum Texas criticized slavery, but there were few outright abolitionists."
Additional entries in the Handbook are categorized under "Unionists and Abolitionists," but it's very important to note that not all Unionists were abolitionists, so special care has to be taken to separate the two.
It's little wonder, though, that there were few abolitionists in Texas: when one reads more about the treatment of anti-slavery activists in the South, one gets a sense of the real dangers they faced.
The excerpts below from Galveston and the Civil War gives some sense of how they were treated and threatened.
Indeed, the book begins with an exceptional abolition-related letter in the collection of the Galveston and Texas History Center at the historic Rosenberg Library in Galveston. You can read more about the Center and the Library in my previous post here about my research visit.
The letter was written in October 1844 by abolitionist George Fellows to his friend and fellow abolitionist, Jesse Sawyer. In the letter, Fellows managed to touch on a number of points related to slavery in antebellum Galveston: the treatment of slaves, divisions in the churches, the behavior of masters, jurisprudence, the hard opinions against abolitionists, and more. A small part of the letter is ahred below.
“This Galveston is getting to be a notorious place,” George Fellows wrote his friend Jesse Sawyer, a fellow abolitionist, in October 1844. Sometime before, Fellows had witnessed the Rev. James Huckins - minister of the island’s First Baptist Church, of which Fellows was a founding member – beating his female slave. Fellows confided to Sawyer that he could no longer go to the church as he could not “listen to preaching, with profit, where the remembrances of the sound of the sighs and groans of the slave of Mr. Huckins will ring in my ears.” He added:
Sometimes, dear brother, I wish you were here to preach us plainly the way of life on Salvation. But, Dear Brother, if like me you should yield to nature’s feelings in burst of indignation at the recital of cruelty and oppression because man does not love his brother as himself…here the life of a minister of Christ is consistent if he does not get drunk and whip his slave too much; he can preach the truth plainly without fear if he does not touch slavery. As a private or public subject that must not be touched in any form.
To give an idea of these people: Mr. Andrews, a lawyer, who had resided at Houston several years by the influence of Mr. Eliot, the British Minister to the Texas Republic, came to this place to hold a discussion on the subject of slavery. But he was placed in a boat and conveyed to the mainland to hunt for himself. Another man, still a slaveholder, was threatened with the same fate if he opened his mouth on the subject. So you can perceive the utter dislike of these people to hear anything on the subject.
The citation for the letter is: Letter, October 1844, George Fellows, Galveston, TX, to “Brother Sawyer,” F. E. McCoy Papers, Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX; You may also want to read: B. F. Fuller, History of Texas Baptists (Louisville, KY: Baptist Book Concern, 1900), 109.
I shared the letter with Dr. McDaniel, and believes that the "Mr. Andrews" to which Fellows refers is almost certainly Stephen Pearl Andrews. Again from the Texas Handbook:
|Stephen Pearl Andrews|
Furtermore, my good friend Andy Hall, who blogs at "Dead Confederates," has an exceptional post that confims part of Fellows' story of treatment of abolitionists in Galveston. You can read the entire post - "No Room for Abolitionist Talk in a “Free” Country" - here. The excerpt below is from Matilda Charlotte Houstoun’s Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, or Yachting in the New World, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1844):
As on board the steamer, we found the slave question the principal topic of conversation among the good citizens of Galveston. Many of the latter maintained, that individuals have no right to interfere with their lawful property, and were so indignant with the abolitionists, that they banished the principal philanthropist from the city. The person in question was conveyed in a boat to the mainland, and there turned adrift to preach to the inhabitants of the woods and prairies...One of their own most respected townsmen did not escape their wrath. This person having declared himself opposed to the abolition of slavery, but still inclined to hear the arguments pro and con, was ordered to be silent on the subject. He replied, that his was a free country, where everyone had a right to express his opinions. This right apparently was not acknowledged, for he was put into a boat and sent to the mainland: strange occurrences in a country calling itself free.
A few other excerpts from Galveston and the Civil War:
Famed journalist Frederick Olmsted wrote of antebellum Galveston’s “bigoted devotion of its inhabitants to African slavery as the social ideal.” It’s no surprise then that Texans who abhorred slavery – such as George Fellows - were hardly welcome in Galveston. As the Galveston Weekly News declared in 1857, “Those who are not for us must be against us. There can be no middle ground. Those who denounce slavery as an evil, in any sense, are the enemies of the South.”
Citation: Frederick L. Olmstead, A Journey Through Texas, Or, A Saddle-trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edward & Co, 1857), p. 424; Galveston Weekly News, March 3, 1857.
You can learn more about Galveston's interesting and important role in the Civil War, in Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (The History Press, 2012).