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Los Brazos de Dios

A Plantation Society in the Texas Borderlands, 1821–1865

Sean M. Kelley

Publication Year: 2010

Historians have long believed that the “frontier” shaped Texas plantation society, but in this detailed examination of Texas’s most important plantation region, Sean M. Kelley asserts that the dominant influence was not the frontier but the Mexican Republic. The Lower Brazos River Valley—the only slave society to take root under Mexican sovereignty—made replication of eastern plantation culture extremely difficult and complicated. By tracing the synthesis of cultures, races, and politics in the region, Kelley reveals a distinct variant of southern slavery—a borderland plantation society. Kelley opens by examining the four migration streams that defined the antebellum Brazos community: Anglo-Americans and their African American slaves who constituted the first two groups to immigrate; Germans who came after the Mexican government barred immigrants from the U.S. while encouraging those from Europe; and African-born slaves brought in through Cuba who ultimately made up the largest concentration of enslaved Africans in the antebellum South. Within this multicultural milieu, Kelley shows, the disparity between Mexican law and German practices complicated southern familial relationships and master-slave interaction. Though the Mexican policy on slavery was ambiguous, alternating between toleration and condemnation, Brazos slaves perceived the Rio Grande River as the boundary between white supremacy and racial egalitarianism. As a result, thousands fled across the border, further destabilizing the Brazos plantation society. In the1850s, nonslaveholding Germans also contributed to the upheaval by expressing a sense of ethnic solidarity in politics. In an attempt to undermine Anglo efforts to draw a sharp boundary between black and white, some Germans hid runaway slaves. Ultimately, Kelley demonstrates how the Civil War brought these issues to the fore, eroding the very foundations of Brazos plantation society. With Los Brazos de Dios, Kelley offers the first examination of Texas slavery as a borderland institution and reveals the difficulty with which southern plantation society was transplanted in the West.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This study has had a long and varied life, starting as a seminar paper, growing into a dissertation, and finally reaching maturity as a book. A great many people and institutions have helped over the years. Fellowships from the University of Texas at Austin, including three Schumacher-Adkins Fellowships, ...

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pp. 1-12

When the young Ohioan Rutherford B. Hayes visited his college friend Guy M. Bryan on the Lower Brazos in the winter of 1848, he was impressed with what he saw. His lodgings at Peach Point, the plantation owned by Bryan’s stepfather, James F. Perry, were “delightfully situated in the edge of the timber, ...

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Prologue: Borderlands

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pp. 13-19

The river we now call the Brazos has had many names. Native Americans reportedly referred to it as Tokonohono. La Salle called it La Maligne, or the wicked one. Other names include La Trinidad, Santa Teresa y Barroso, Espíritu Santo, Río Rojo, Río de Señor San Pablo, Jesús Nazareno, San Gerónimo, and Baatse. ...

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1. Migrations

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pp. 20-57

Humorist Joseph Glover Baldwin has left us the most enduring sketch of the Brazos migrant. In an 1853 piece titled “How the Times Served the Virginians,” he contrasted two types of Mississippi planters during the “Flush Times” of the 1830s. The first was the well-heeled and honorable Virginia gentleman who moved ...

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2. Husbands and Wives

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pp. 58-91

After processing his first wave of land claims in 1824, Stephen F. Austin received a curious letter from one of his deputies, surveyor Seth Ingram. A settler named Thomas J. Tone had filed for a league of land (4,428 acres) with a partner, Thomas Jamison. Tone believed himself entitled to more than the half league ...

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3. Masters and Slaves

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pp. 92-129

Brazos slaves and slave owners inhabited very different worlds, but the boundaries that marked these worlds rarely received mention in travelers’ descriptions or the correspondence of the master class. Travelers tended to view the region as an undifferentiated, integral whole, which might be characterized simply as ...

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4. Germans, Anglos, and the Politics of Slavery

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pp. 130-161

The Brazos was unusual among antebellum plantation regions in its ability to attract a significant number of immigrants. Several factors were responsible: liberal Mexican land policies in the 1830s, coupled with a preference for non-U.S. immigrants; the founding of several immigrant enclaves just a few years before ...

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5. War

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pp. 162-188

Thomas Blackshear, owner of one hundred slaves and a plantation near Navasota in Grimes County, was a man of few words. On February 23, 1861, he made a typically brief entry in his pocket diary: “Trying to rain again. Plum and peach trees in bloom. At 11 oclock AM a Norther sprang up and blew coldly until night. ...

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Epilogue: Bordered Lands

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pp. 189-198

The Civil War and emancipation marked the end of an era on the Brazos. For four decades Brazos plantation society had felt the gravitational pull of two separate republics, each born in the Age of Revolution, each heir to the era’s antislavery imperative. But in the 1820s, with independence secured and sovereignty established, ...

Abbreviations Used in the Notes and the Appendixes

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pp. 199-200

Appendix 1: Tables

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pp. 201-208

Appendix 2: Method Used to Identify Neighborhoods

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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-240


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pp. 241-272


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pp. 273-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780807138076
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807136874

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War