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Antebellum Jefferson, Texas

Everyday Life in an East Texas Town

Jacques D. Bagur

Publication Year: 2012

Founded in 1845 as a steamboat port at the entryway to western markets from the Red River, Jefferson was a thriving center of trade until the steamboat traffic dried up in the 1870s. During its heyday, the town monopolized the shipping of cotton from all points west for 150 miles. Jefferson was the unofficial capital of East Texas, but it was also typical of boom towns in general. For this topical examination of a frontier town, Bagur draws from many government documents, but also from newspaper ads and plats. These sources provide intimate details of the lives of the early citizens of Jefferson, Texas. Their story is of interest to both local and state historians as well as to the many readers interested in capturing the flavor of life in old-time East Texas. “Astoundingly complete and a model for local history research, with appeal far beyond readers who have specific interests in Jefferson.”—Fred Tarpley, author of Jefferson: Riverport to the Southwest

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-8

Jefferson is located in Marion County in northeast Texas about 20 miles north of Marshall, 150 miles east of Dallas, and 40 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana. It is a small town, but well known for the quality of its historic resources, its bed-and-breakfast operations, and its antique stores; and it is achieving increasing prominence...

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1. Background

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pp. 9-17

The area in which Jefferson came to be founded was once part of New Spain and from 1821 part of Mexico until the Republic of Texas was established in 1836. Although there was early Spanish settlement to the south in Nacogdoches, there was never a hint of Spanish influence in the Jefferson area. Although Jefferson came into existence before Texas...

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2. What Jefferson Was

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pp. 18-27

The business of America has always been business. Towns during the 1800s were places where people congregated to engage in economic activities, with the notable exception of political centers such as county seats. The character of a town was largely determined by the nature of its business activities...

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3. Foundations

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pp. 28-42

Land was given away through headright grants by the Republic of Texas to encourage settlement. Most grants were for 640 acres to unmarried men and 1,280 acres to men with families. In most cases, a conditional headright certificate was issued to qualified applicants, land was selected, a survey was conducted, an unconditional certificate...

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4. Townsite

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pp. 43-75

A ferry was in operation across Cypress Bayou at the foot of Houston Street for years before Jefferson came into existence and for years afterward, even after it was replaced by a bridge as the major mode of conveyance. A ferry was simply a means of conveying men, animals, produce, and equipment across a waterbody. Its existence indicates...

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5. Emergence

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pp. 76-92

Although Jefferson was firmly established as a townsite through Urquhart’s November 1841 survey, it did not become a town until 1845. The Clarksville Northern Standard provides a running account of the emergence of the town in late 1844 and early 1845, and all contemporary...

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6. Development

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pp. 93-115

Jefferson has never encompassed all of Allen Urquhart’s headright, which extended from Big Cypress Bayou on the south to Black Cypress Bayou on the north. The midpoint of Urquhart’s land was approximately on the line of present-day Broadway Street. Of the five maps of Jefferson that were produced prior to the Civil War, the third...

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7. Censuses

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pp. 116-122

The 1850 Cass County census was conducted by Charles Graham from September through November. Jefferson and the other towns of the county were not enumerated as separate entities. The county was divided into seven precincts. All Jefferson residents are included in Precinct 1, which extended from the mouth of Black Cypress Bayou...

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8. Women

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pp. 123-128

Of the 722 free white persons in Jefferson in 1860, 266 (or 37 percent) were female. Of the 266 females, 113 were married, 136 were children of families, and 16 were unattached. Of the 136 children of families, only 15 were aged 15 or greater, with the oldest being 20. This was because the families were young, and women tended to marry early...

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9. Slaves

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pp. 129-139

Most Texas slaves appear to have been brought by their owners as part of the general emigration from the older southern states. These slaves were the descendants of people who had lived in America for many generations, because slavery was practiced in the American colonies, and the slave trade had come to an end in 1808, at least officially...

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10. Roads and Bridges

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pp. 140-150

The county commissioners courts were responsible for road maintenance and the licensing of ferries and bridges. Because they did not have staffs for road work, these responsibilities were allocated to the landholders in the vicinity of the road segment that was being created or improved. The actual work was done by slaves. It is possible

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11. County Seat

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pp. 151-162

When Cass County was created by the Texas Legislature out of Bowie County on April 25, 1846, Jesse Cherry was designated to survey the county boundaries. A new county seat was needed. This was not accomplished until Linden was created and designated as the county seat by the Texas Legislature in January 1852. In the interim, Jefferson...

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12. Municipal Affairs

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pp. 163-183

Jefferson was incorporated on March 20, 1848, by the Texas Legislature. Free white citizens constituted the corporate body, and a mayor and five aldermen constituted the legal body, capable of suing and being sued and holding and conveying real and personal property. The aldermen were to be elected from five wards...

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13. Wharves

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pp. 184-193

Wharves were uncommon because they were costly; and the great disparity between high-water and low-water levels on the waters of the Mississippi River and its tributaries presented special design problems. The vast majority of landings were of dirt and were accessed by steamboats through the simple procedure of running the bow into the...

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14. Navigation

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pp. 194-204

Navigation in its dual features of a navigable waterway and the use of that waterway by boats was the most important factor in Jefferson’s creation and success. Jefferson was founded as a port, with the site chosen because it was the highest feasible point for steamboat navigation on Cypress Bayou. There were many landings that never...

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15. Navigation Controversies

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pp. 205-211

There were three navigation-related measures proposed by entities external to Jefferson that would have damaged its commercial activity. These were an attempt by steamboatmen in the Cypress Bayou and the Lakes trade to establish a monopoly, an attempt by Louisiana strongly supported by Shreveport to drain Cross Lake, and an attempt...

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16. Market Area

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pp. 212-222

Jefferson’s market area was the geographic region that exported agricultural commodities and imported merchandise through Jefferson. Exports through Jefferson were based on supply factors in the market area and particularly on the production of cotton and cattle and cattle products. Imports through Jefferson were based on demand...

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17. Primary Business Types

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pp. 223-240

Jefferson possessed a large number of two types of businesses that made it distinctive among most of the towns of Texas prior to the war. These were the wholesale operations and the receiving, forwarding, and commission operations. Wholesaling is better known because it has continued into the present. Receiving, forwarding, and commission...

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18. Commodity Markets

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pp. 241-256

Much of the agricultural produce emanating from Jefferson’s market area passed through receiving and forwarding merchants for sale in New Orleans. However, a substantial portion of this produce was sold in Jefferson through commodity markets, which were the activities associated with the selling and buying of specific commodity types...

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19. Warehouse District

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pp. 257-275

The warehouse district encompassed all of the land south of Austin, east of Polk, and west of the alley that runs through the block bounded by Washington and Soda. This was the land immediately contiguous to the steamboat landing. It included land south of Dallas...

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20. Earliest Merchants

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pp. 276-297

Merchants were people who sold goods and therefore included the wholesalers and retailers and the receiving, forwarding, and commission merchants insofar as they expanded into such operations. Merchants and their employee clerks constituted by far the largest occupational...

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21. Early 1850s Merchants

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pp. 298-316

The Cass County tax rolls indicate ownership of town lots and value of merchandise in stock as of January 1 for the years 1851 through 1853; however, the year 1852 is unreadable. Persons with town lots and merchandise from 1851 through 1853 include: M. J. Jones (1851– 1856); Brooks & Brother (1853–1855); Hugo Fox (1853–1857); Morgan...

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22. Middle 1850s Merchants

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pp. 317-328

The Cass County tax rolls indicate ownership of town lots and value of merchandise as of January 1 for the years 1854 through 1856. Persons with town lots and merchandise from 1854 through 1856 include: W. C. Baker & Company (1854–1855); J. T. Prewitt & Company (1854– 1855); John Sabine (1854–1855); W. P. Torrans (1855–1857); C. G. Peele...

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23. Late Merchants

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pp. 329-341

The Cass County tax rolls indicate ownership of town lots and value of merchandise in stock as of January 1 only for 1857. The value of merchandise is not given for 1858 and 1859. The Marion County tax rolls do not provide value of merchandise for 1860. Persons with town lots and merchandise in 1857 include E. M. Jenkins...

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24. Miscellaneous Businesses

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pp. 342-352

A perspective on the full array of business types and numbers is difficult to achieve in the absence of an antebellum business directory. Some business types did not advertise in the newspapers; and of those that did, many individual businesses within those types did not. Although most businesses were taxed, the...

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25. Manufacturing

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pp. 353-370

Manufacturing refers to the making of things, usually from raw materials and through organized production processes and division of labor. The Old South was largely devoted to agriculture, with capital invested in land and slaves and towns largely devoted to agriculture-related business activities rather than to manufacturing...

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26. Packeries

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pp. 371-381

Cotton was Jefferson’s most important export commodity during the 1800s. Second to cotton in importance were cattle, beef and pork, and byproducts of slaughter such as hides and tallow. Of these, pickled beef in barrels was the most important. Pickled beef was somewhat like present-day corned beef and was cured in a brine solution. Such...

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27. Structural Features

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pp. 382-392

The early deed records and district court cases contain a few documents with information on antebellum construction.
In 1849, George Stark agreed to build for John Speake a two-story dwelling house for $1,000 and to provide all materials, except shingles and sills to be furnished by Speake, including locks, butts (?), hinges...

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28. The Professions

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pp. 393-402

Americans have always been litigious because of the heavy emphasis on rights, property, and individualism. Attorneys always appeared along with merchants and doctors at the inception of towns because disputes over land titles were characteristic of the expanding frontier. Jefferson’s attorneys provided debt collection, probate (estate)...

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29. Politics

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pp. 403-423

The Democratic party was the dominant political party in Jefferson, as it was throughout Texas. The only other parties to exercise an influence on Texas politics were the Whig party, the American (or Know- Nothing) party, and the Constitutional Union (or Opposition) party. These were short-lived parties whose membership was constituted...

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30. Fraternal Organizations

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pp. 424-428

The Order of Oddfellows was a benevolent and self-help fraternal organization with lodges, initiatory rites, ceremonies, and grades of honor formed in England in the mid-1700s among persons interested in social unity during a period of sect and class formation. An offshoot...

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31. Religion

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pp. 429-438

When Edward Smith traveled throughout northeast Texas in 1849, he noted that “The presbyterians, methodists, baptists, episcopalians and other sects have extensive organizations in this part of Texas. No sect possesses any political advantages not enjoyed by another, but the presbyterians and the methodists appear to be now more influential...

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32. Education

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pp. 439-445

In January 1853, the editor of the Jefferson Herald cited the national census to the effect that there were 30,000 adults in Texas who could neither read or write. Robert Loughery of the Marshall Texas Republican felt constrained to respond as follows...

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33. Hotels

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pp. 446-462

Hotels were common throughout early northeast Texas and usually one of the first structures to be erected in any town that contained mercantile establishments. People with business in town usually traveled by horseback or buggy over distances that required more than one day of travel. Business travelers needed a place to stay for the night and...

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34. Stables

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pp. 463-469

Horses were the primary means by which people traveled on land, either on horseback or else in carriages and buggies. Horses were sheltered, fed, and cared for in stables, which were attached to private residences and hotels or else were free-standing commercial operations that served the general public. Among the commercial operations...

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35. Stagecoaches

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pp. 470-474

The roads of northeast Texas were quagmires after heavy rains and rough and rutted during dry weather. Oxen that pulled the freight wagons were left on the roads when they died in transit. Stagecoaches were hot or cold, dusty, cramped, jolting, and often dangerous; but they provided a fairly rapid mode of overland transport and conveniences...

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36. Newspapers

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pp. 475-501

Jefferson was the home of six newspapers prior to 1861, with continuous publication from May 1847, except for the period from late 1849 through late 1850. The first of these was the Jefferson Democrat, which was replaced by the Spirit of the Age, which was replaced by the Independent Monitor. After the period in which Jefferson had no newspaper...

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37. Postal Services

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pp. 502-512

Before the introduction of the telegraph, long-distance communication to and from places like Jefferson was restricted to the mails, which carried business and personal correspondence. Postal services were one of the primary means by which the extraordinary isolation of a dispersed population over a large continent was mollified. Postal services from the...

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38. Telegraph

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pp. 513-516

Communication in early Texas was slow and depended on transmission by word of mouth or by printed materials such as newspapers. Newspapers from outside the region were generally received in Jefferson by stagecoach and steamboat, sometimes weeks after they had been published. The telegraph offered the first technology for near-instantaneous...

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39. Railroads

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pp. 517-523

The legend of Jay Gould has given rise to the impression that early Jeffersonians were not interested in railroads. This is not the case. Until the 1870s, Jefferson was one of the most important trade centers in Texas. Like everyone else, Jefferson’s businessmen and public officials were railroad enthusiasts. The wealth and political influence of the...

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40. Sports

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pp. 524-529

A sport may be defined loosely as any skilled physical activity conducted for pleasure. Sports may be team or individual, competitive or noncompetitive, participatory or spectator, indoor or outdoor, with combinations of these elements. Sports as participatory and spectator phenomena have come to be so quintessentially American that their...

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41. Culture and Entertainment

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pp. 530-540

Jefferson did not have much in the way of culture, and what little there was shaded off into entertainment. This should not be surprising for a new town on the edge of the frontier with a free adult population of 435 in 1860 in a young, pragmatic, and expanding country with little interest in culture. However, even by the standards of the time...

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42. Balls and Dances

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pp. 541-545

Balls and dances were the primary form of social interaction between men and women in Jefferson. Balls and major dances in Jefferson involved surrounding communities such as Marshall. Music was provided by fiddlers, among whom the Jefferson dancing masters Sam and Hun Williams were the most prominent. They were always accompanied...

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43. Crime

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pp. 546-554

When Edward Smith traveled throughout the region, including Jefferson, in 1849, he reported that “The most perfect security to life and property reigns throughout N. E. Texas, far more perfect than can be found in the Eastern States, or in Europe, or indeed in any well-peopled country.” By September 1858, Robert Loughery of the Marshall...

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44. Vice

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pp. 555-561

Vice implies moral fault: it is behavior that is both a manifestation of moral degradation and conducive to moral degradation. Attitudes toward vice were ambivalent. There was a widespread attitude that people should mind their own business; but they were acutely conscious of the personal, family, and social ramifications of vice and...

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45. Health and Welfare

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pp. 562-566

When A. W. Moore visited Jefferson in January 1846, he observed that it had “the appearance of being as sickly a place as exists under the sun.” Josiah Gregg made a similar statement in August 1841: “all the country bordering the lake and either branch of the cypress must always be very unhealthy, owing to the stagnancy of the waters, and the...

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46. Mortality

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pp. 567-574

There are no public records of deaths in Jefferson prior to the war. The tombstone inscriptions for Oakwood Cemetery recorded in the Cemetery Records of Marion County, Texas, are obviously not inclusive because they are few in number, many graves are unmarked, and some of the inscriptions are illegible. The recorded deaths ordered by date of death are...

Appendix: Sources

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pp. 575-596


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pp. 597-612

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414547
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412659

Page Count: 640
Illustrations: 92 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Jefferson (Tex.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Jefferson (Tex.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • City and town life -- Texas -- Jefferson -- History -- 19th century.
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