Slavery in Texas : A brief overview of slavey in Texas

Since the Spanish landed in Texas in the seventeenth century (1600s) slavery has been a part of Texas history. In the beginning, slavery did not have deep roots in Texas, as the Spanish, and then the Mexican governments, attempted to settle the vast expanses of Texas. With the coming of the first Anglo-American settlers (mostly from the Southern United States) in the 1820s, slavery became a much more entrenched part of Texas society, namely due to the increased production of cotton in the region.

Slavery quickly became a contentious issue between Anglo settlers and the Mexican government, and contributed to the coming of the Texas Revolution in the fall of 1835. Upon earning its independence from Mexico in the spring of 1836, government officials of the newly founded Republic of Texas cemented the existence of slavery forever in the young nation's constitution. During the Republic period (1836-1845), the slave population in Texas continued to grow despite the new country's inability to establish a stable government or economy. Out of the Republic's estimated population of 38,470 in 1836, 5,000 were slaves. By 1845, 30,000 slaves resided in Texas.

After the annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845, the slave population of Texas boomed as tens of thousands of settlers flooded into Texas. By 1850, the slave population  had jumped to 58,161. This boom was in part due to the state's vast expanse of cheap and fertile land, and new settlers saw an opportunity to create a cotton empire in Texas, and the use of slave labor played a central role in this vision. According to the 1860 census, the slave population had risen to 182,566, thus reflecting the importance of slave labor to the development of the Texas cotton economy. Texas in this period quickly became a point of tension in the growing sectional debates concerning slavery in the United States by 1850. The free states of the North feared the expansion of slavery into newly acquired lands in the West, while the slave states of the South feared for the continued existence of their "peculiar institution" if slavery could not expand westwarde.

This growing tension over the spread of slavery reached its zenith with the election of the Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the secession of South Carolina from the Union in December of 1860. Texas officially seceded from the Union in February 1861, and joined the Southern Confederacy to protect slavery from "black Republicans" and abolitionists. Though slavery persisted in Texas relatively unscathed during the war, the crumbling of the Confederacy in 1865 brought an end to American slavery forever. On June 19, 1865, all the slaves of Texas received their freedom, bringing an end to two centuries of slavery in Texas.


Campbell, Randolph B. An EMpire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. Baton Rouge: Lousisana State University Press, 1989.

Campbel, Randolph B. Gone to Texas: A history of the Lone Star State. New York and London: Oxford University PRess, 2004.

Handbook of Texas Online, Randolph B. Campbell, "Slavery," accessed May 31, 2016,

Slaves played a key role in the Southern cotton economy, and this was no different in Texas. In this image, a number of slaves pick cotton under the watchful eye of their master. Scenes such as this were common on plantations, where the master did not take direct part in working the land. For those slaveholding families that did not own many slaves, it was not uncommon for owners and their families to work alongside their slaves in the field.

General Provisions Section 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas states: "All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude: Provided, The said slave shall be the bona-fide property of the person so holding said slave as aforesaid. Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from bringing their slaves into the republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States; nor shall congress have power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slaveholder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave or slaves without the consent of congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the republic. No free person of African descent, either in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently in the republic without the consent of congress; and the importation or admission of Africans or negroes into this republic, excepting from the United States of America, is forever prohibited, and declared to be piracy."