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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979

Some Economic Aspects of Antebellum Texas
Agriculture
RANDOLPH B. CAMPBELL and RICHARD G. LOWE*
ANTEBELLUM TEXAS WAS AN OVERWHELMINGLY AGRICULTURAL SO-
ciety. Three-quarters of its free (and even more of its slave popu-
lation were directly engaged in farming of some type, whether it was
small-scale self-sufficient food production on the northern plains, stock-
raising in southern Texas, or cotton culture in the eastern uplands.
Conversations in taverns and hotels and on the front porches of country
houses sooner or later turned to the fluctuating price of cotton, land
values, slave labor, or the unpredictable weather's effect on crops, for
agriculture dominated the Lone Star State's economy and society. Even
those Texans who were not directly involved in farming (such as mer-
chants, lawyers, wagon drivers, and others) usually depended for their
livelihoods on the patronage of farmers and planters who made up the
bulk of the state's population. Thus, if agriculture prospered, everyone
prospered; and if the crops were poor, all suffered.'
In light of the importance of agriculture in antebellum Texas, there
*Mr. Campbell, professor, and Mr. Lowe, associate professor, in the Department of His-
tory at North Texas State University, are the authors of Wealth and Power in Antebellum
Texas.
1The statement that "three quarters" of antebellum Texas's free population were direct-
ly involved in agriculture is based on extensive samples of the 1850 and 186o manuscript
United States censuses. These samples are described below. In the preparation of these
samples all those who operated farms were classified as farmers, regardless of what they
reported as their occupations. The published summaries of these censuses show a somewhat
smaller proportion of families engaged in farming because they are based on the occupa-
tion as given to the census taker. See Statistical View of the United States . . . Being a
Compendium of the Seventh Census . . . (Washington, D.C., 1854), 128; United States,
Bureau of the Census, Eighth Census of the United States, 186o (4 vols.; Washington, D.C.,
1864), Population, 656-680. The importance of weather and crops to all Texans can be
judged by the frequent references to these subjects in antebellum newspapers and corre-
spondence. For examples that could be multiplied by the hundreds, see Marshall Texas
Republican, July 13, 1849, Sept. 1, 1860; John H. McLean to Preston R. Rose, Mar. 21,
1853, and William T. Scott to Rose, July 30o, 1858, both letters in Preston Rose Papers
(Archives, University of Texas Library, Austin). The importance of farmers' patronage to
merchants, lawyers, and other non-farmers is demonstrated in part by a glance at the
probate records in county courthouses across the state. Most estates that went through pro-
bate belonged to farmers and these records show that they regularly hired lawyers, paid
for the services of physicians, and bought from local merchants. See, for example, the
estate of William J. Blocker, Probate Records, County Clerk's Office, Harrison County
Courthouse, Marshall, Texas. Agriculture was, in effect, antebellum Texas's only major
industry, and service professions and jobs naturally depended for their patronage on the
state's farmers.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101206/. Accessed September 30, 2014.