My first encounter with Lucinda, an enslaved woman held at Alta Vista Plantation owned by Jared Kirby, came by way of reading her details on the Rice University’s SlaveVoyages website. Kirby carried fifteen-year old Lucinda on Tuesday May 25, 1858 from New Orleans, Louisiana, on board the steamship Galveston to Galveston, Texas, with the help of a shipping company, Fellows & Co. The fine print on the ship’s manifest included the captain and the tax collector of the port of New Orleans “Do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear according to the best of our knowledge and belief, that the persons described above were not imported into the United States since the first day of 1808” (Figure 1). There are many details missing around Lucinda’s place of origin and the circumstances by which she became Kirby’s property. Upon Lucinda’s arrival in Texas, the instructions for her subsequent transfer to Houston, and then to Kirby’s residence in Austin County appear transcribed in the right margin of the document.
Figure 1 – Slave Manifest of the Steamship Galveston, May 25, 1858. Source: National Archives and Records Administration (Washington, DC), Slave Manifests of Coastwise Vessels Filed at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1807-1860, Outward Series, v. Microfilm Serial M1895, RG 36.
An elaborate network of slave brokers, transporters and patrollers buttressed the slave trade of the Gulf States. Most vital, enslaved peoples’ value in human property and labor fueled the cotton economy of the region. Lucinda’s social status as chattel relegated her to a sub-human commodity owned by Kirby. Consequently, the intricacies of her life are not readily available through written memoirs or personal papers. As inherent with documenting the experiences of most enslaved women, uncovering Lucinda’s life experiences led to her new owner’s plantation documents, specifically the pages of his court probate records. Additionally, information regarding the treatment of enslaved women comes from the limited existing slave narratives from the area that became Waller County (created in 1873 from sections of Austin and Grimes Counties). One of the most illuminating and in-depth narratives belongs to Elizabeth Burney.
Probate and census records indicate that Alta Vista Plantation was home to over one hundred and forty slaves. Kirby was one of the wealthiest men and largest property owners in Austin County. Similarly, and consistent with most plantations of the era, power on the Alta Vista Plantation centered on the desires and demands of one patriarch, Jared Kirby. Kirby maintained order and control over enslaved people through violence and brutality. Elizabeth Burney recalled, “Marster Jack was sho’ mean to his slaves.” Burney experienced an incident where Kirby stripped her naked, staked her to the ground, and beat her until she was unconscious because she resisted his sexual advances (White, 1936: 78). Traumatizing and inhumane incidents of this nature did not go unnoticed by enslaved people held at Alta Vista. Alta Vista’s enslaved people faced a dilemma, stay and endure or run away. Sometime in 1858, Dan, John and Bill, three enslaved men held at Alta Vista, chose to run away (Figure 2).
Figure 2 – Newspaper clip announcing a reward for the recapture of Dan, John, and Bill. Source: John Marshal, “Runaway Negroes,” Texas Gazette, November 6, 1858.
The experiences of enslaved people held at Alta Vista Plantation reveal the harsh realities around slavery and the castigatory manner by which many Texas slave owners, such as Kirby, maintained power on their plantations. The Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice’s Epa Committee is facilitating a robust effort to uncover the experiences of enslaved people held at Alta Vista and the impact of slavery on their lives in bondage and freedom. This effort has culminated in our connecting with descendants of both the formerly enslaved and slave owners of the plantation. Recently, our efforts to “locate Lucinda” led us to the late 1870s Trustee Reports of Texas A&M University, College Station, where a Lucinda Lee was hired as a washerwoman at the school established for “colored youth” on the grounds of Alta Vista Plantation, now Prairie View A&M University. Our research team is working all angles to authenticate Lucinda’s identity and document her experiences. “Locating Lucinda” is important to our understanding of enslaved peoples’ transition from slavery to freedom.
Marco Robinson is an associate professor of history at Prairie View A&M University and assistant director of the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice.
Cover photo courtesy of Daniel B. Domingues da Silva.
The post “Locating Lucinda” first appeared in Echoes: The SlaveVoyages Blog. It is part of a series of posts exploring the history and legacies of the slave trade to Texas.
Frank White, “A History of the Territory that now Constitutes Waller County, Texas, 1821-1884.” MA thesis, University of Texas, 1936.