Wealthy Texans, 1870
RALPH A. WOOSTER*
A RECENT STUDY BASED UPON THE MANUSCRIPT RETURNS OF THE 186o
federal census showed that the census listed 263 Texans who held
over $1 oo,ooo each in total property on the eve of the Civil War.
These wealthy Texans, highly successful lawyers, merchant capitalists,
railroad developers, and plantation owners, were leaders in the social
and economic life of the state prior to the Civil War. Many of them
held positions of responsibility and trust during the war itself; and,
like others in the South, many of them suffered great personal loss as
a result of the war and the economic dislocation that followed during
the years of Reconstruction.
The economic loss was greater for some Texas capitalists than for
others." Especially hard hit were the sugar and cotton barons of the
lower Brazos and Colorado rivers. David G. Mills of Brazoria County,
for example, the largest slaveholder in antebellum Texas, lost over
300 slaves as a result of emancipation." His real and personal property
holdings dropped from $614,234 in 186o to $50,000 in 1870.' His
*Mr. Wooster is professor of history at Lamar State College, a Fellow of the Association,
and the author of The People in Power and The Secession Conventions of the South.
1Ralph A. Wooster, "Wealthy Texans, i86o," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXXI
(October, 1967), 163-18o.
'Some of the wealthy antebellum Texans, of course, did not survive the war. Several,
such as Clark L. Owen and B. F. Terry, were killed on the field of battle. Others, such as
John A. Wharton, T. Jefferson Chambers, and William Cocke Young, were killed before
the war ended. Some died of natural causes, and others such as William Marsh Rice,
second wealthiest man in Texas in 186o, left the state.
'David Mills' brother, Robert, was also one of the wealthy prewar Texans, but still
possessed $Soo,ooo in 1870o. He lost much of this fortune in the Panic of 1873. For an
excellent account of Robert Mills see Earl W. Fornell, The Galveston Era (Austin, 1961),
45-50. Mills' role in banking is described in Kenneth W. Wheeler, To Wear a City's
Crown: The Beginnings of Urban Growth in Texas, 1836-x865 (Cambridge, Mass., 1968),
4These and other figures relating to personal and real property are taken from the
manuscript returns of the Eighth and Ninth U.S. Census, 186o and 1870. The originals
of these returns are in the National Archives, Washington; the author used microfilm
copies in the Lamar State College Library, Beaumont, Texas.
It should be noted that the census returns are not altogether complete in listing indi-
vidual property ownership. Sometimes an individual was overly cautious in listing prop-
erty ownership for enumeration and on other occasions the personal data was supplied
by an individual other than the person whose holdings were being enumerated. Too, the
enumerator occasionally missed an individual in completing the returns. As a result
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101200/. Accessed May 2, 2016.