Mobility Through Houston in the 1850s
IN JANUARY, 1852, THE EDITOR OF THE HOUSTON Telegraph EXULTED
that "Almost every boat from Galveston arrives at our landing
crowded with passengers, and the stages on the Washington route are
generally so crowded, that extras are almost daily sent into the inter-
ior." The editor's enthusiasm was well founded for the free population
of Texas nearly tripled during the 185os.1
Some newcomers selected Houston as a likely place to try their for-
tunes. A few of these lived out their lives in the Bayou City, but for
most of them, residence in Houston was brief. Only a third of the city's
free residents in 185o remained there a decade later.2 Since the popula-
tion doubled during these years, only one-sixth of the townspeople in
186o had lived there for at least ten years; the others had all arrived
during the 1850s.
This statement only gauges the minimum turnover during the peri-
od. Many people who arrived in Houston after the census enumeration
of 1850 left the city before the enumeration of 186o.8 Unfortunately, it
is not possible even to estimate how many persons belong to this cate-
gory, since there were no interim headcounts or city directories. One
*Susan Jackson is assistant professor of history at the University of Vermont.
1Telegraph & Texas Register (Houston), January 2, 1852; U.S., Department of the In-
terior, Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States: r850 (Washington, D.C., 1853),
504; ibid., Population of the United States in x86o; Compiled from the Original Returns
of the Eighth Census (Washington, D.C., 1864), 486.
2There were 1,861 free residents in 1850 and 3,733 in 1860. These totals do not agree
with those in the published report because duplicate listings have been deleted from the
data set. These and all subsequent statements about the individual or collective charac-
teristics of the people of Houston are based on the manuscript schedules of the federal
censuses of 185o and 186o unless it is otherwise noted. The characteristics of all persons
(age, sex, birthplace, and occupation, among others) were coded into a machine-readable
format and analyzed by computer. The data employed in this paper include all persons
listed on the schedules of population and are not calculated from a sample. See the Sev-
enth and Eighth Censuses of the United States, 1850 and 186o, Schedule I, Population,
Harris County, Texas (microfilm; Genealogical Section, Texas State Library, Austin). The
census is not error-free. There is, however, no alternate source, such as city directories or
vital records, to use in determining the size of the error.
3It is possible that some persons moved out of the city after the enumeration of 1850
and returned prior to that of 186o.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101205/. Accessed May 4, 2015.