Early Intracoastal Navigation in Texas
ALLAN D. MEYERS*
THE PROSPERITY OF THE ANTEBELLUM PLANTATION ECONOMY IN TEXAS
depended on efficient and inexpensive commercial transportation.
Before the introduction of railroads, planters and merchants generally
regarded water communications as the most reliable means of delivering
their commodities to coastal ports and for receiving new supplies.
Physical and financial obstacles often impeded regular navigation of
inland waterways, forcing those with business interests to search for cre-
On the agriculturally productive lower Brazos River, prominent local
plantation owners made an early attempt to improve navigation during
the 184os. The shifting sandbar at the mouth of the Brazos had threat-
ened river traffic from the earliest days of Stephen F. Austin's first col-
ony. So to circumvent the dangerous bar, the planters initiated a project
that would cut a canal linking the Brazos River with West Galveston Bay.
Officially designated as the Brazos Canal, the channel project was one of
the first attempts to construct an intracoastal waterway in Texas.'
After some initial success, efforts to complete the Brazos Canal failed,
and it never served its intended purpose of providing more efficient
commercial transportation to the coast. A segment of the canal was, nev-
ertheless, completed in the present-day City of Lake Jackson, Brazoria
County. The canal segment, known locally as the "Slave Ditch," reflects
*Allan D. Meyers is Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Centenary College in
Shreveport, Louisiana. Funding for this research was provided by the Public Works Department,
City of Lake Jackson, through a contract with Moore Archeological Consulting, Inc., of Houston,
'Attempts to improve navigation were being made around Matagorda Island and San Antonio
Bay by 1846. The evidence suggests that these were not "actually constructed or maintained
channels," but rather an "intentional alteration of the natural waterway." Steven D Hoyt and Eric
Oxsanen, Archival Research, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Aransas National WildlIe RfJuge, Calhoun and
Aransas Counties, Texas (Doc. No. 940758, Espey, Huston, and Associates, Inc., Austin), 14.
VOL. CIII, NO. 2 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY OCTOBER, 1999
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/. Accessed April 18, 2015.