Until recently, anyone searching SlaveVoyages for information on the traffic to Texas would be hard pressed to find any information available. The website’s databases returned no results. In fact, the Lone Star State did not even figure in the website’s map and gazetteer.
This is no longer the case. In February 2023, researchers from Rice University uploaded information on almost 1,100 records of ship voyages to the territory now made up by the State of Texas dating from 1827 to 1860. They have also added details on more than 15,000 enslaved African Americans transported on these ships.
The data documenting these records originally come from two types of sources: newspapers, particularly the port movement sections, and slave manifests, created following the abolition of the African slave trade to ensure that the enslaved people transported between American ports were not coming from outside the United States. These data indicate that the U.S. coastwise traffic to Texas was several times larger than the direct trade from Africa or the Caribbean to that region.
They also show that enslaved people came from many different places within the country, though the vast majority were shipped through New Orleans, Louisiana. Moreover, this forced migration started relatively early, about ten years before Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836, and it peaked in 1853, when over 2,000 people were transported.
Although Galveston was the primary port of disembarkation, it was by no means the only one. Many other ports located along the Texas coast were involved; from the Sabine Lake, immediately west of Louisiana, all the way to Rio Grande, on the border with Mexico. Brazoria, Matagorda, and Port Lavaca, for example, were three of the most important, besides Galveston, of course.
These findings come at a critical juncture, when Americans and Texans, in particular, are rethinking the role slavery and racial segregation played in their lives, past and present. Rice University, the current host of SlaveVoyages, is also undergoing a similar process, with the help of a task force created to examine its past involvement with slavery, segregation, and racial (in)justice.
Some of these findings have been reported in the form of honors theses and academic papers presented at meetings such as Bound Away: Voyages of Enslavement in the Americas (Rice University, Houston, December, 2021) and the Black History Month Conference of the H-Town Chapter of the African American Historical and Genealogical Society (Houston, February, 2022).
They have also been reported in the form of a poster exhibition displayed at Fondren Library, Rice University, during the summer of 2022. The posters have since gained a permanent home at the Nia Cultural Center: Juneteenth Legacy Project Headquarters, in Galveston, Texas, and are currently on display there.
Although the uploaded data seem comprehensive, they are far from complete. New records of voyages may very well emerge from the archives. Also, the existing records lack several substantial details. In fact, a new cohort of researchers is now working to add information on arrival dates for many of the available voyages.
We hope that the new data will help inform these discussions and point to new areas of research. This is a collaborative endeavor. The present contribution would not have been possible without the generous support from several programs at Rice University, namely the Fondren Fellows Program of Fondren Library, the Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program of the Department of History, and the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Program of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry. The Center for Research Computing provided essential technical support. Finally, this contribution benefited from the valuable advice of several researchers, notably Molly Morgan, Jennie K. Williams, Greg O’Malley, April M. Frazier, and Andrea Roberts.
Daniel B. Domingues da Silva is an Associate Professor of History at Rice University. He is the author of The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1787-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and the host of SlaveVoyages.org.
The post “Texas Bound” 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.