The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973 Page: 385
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The Negro Slave in Harrison County
all fifteen slave states and the District of Columbia.2 Harrison County's
advantages for a study of slavery in microcosm do not, therefore, depend
on its being "typical." Instead, the large numbers of slaveholders and
slaves in a limited area and the availability of good county records pro-
vide an opportunity to combine federal census materials and local gov-
ernment documents in a study small enough to be exhaustive in the
use of statistical information and yet large enough to test significant
ideas about slavery. Quantitative information from the federal censuses
establishes the broad framework of slaveholding in Harrison County
and provides evidence of the importance of slave labor there, while
local records illustrate the social utility of the institution.3
Obviously slavery was a central fact in the existence of Harrison
County before the Civil War. But what can be said of the slave's posi-
tion and role in this society? In the first place, Negro bondsmen in Har-
rison County were property, chattels personal whose conduct was sub-
ject to the discipline of their owner just as their labor and services were
at his disposal. Slaves were given a few civil rights by Texas law-such
as the right to trial by jury when charged with a crime greater than
petit larceny-but they had no religious rights, no right to lawful mar-
riage, and virtually no property rights. State law in the 185o's declared
it illegal for an owner to make a contract with a slave allowing the lat-
ter to "hire his time" by paying a set price and then be free to negotiate
his own labor contract with another employer. Under no circumstances
could one slave be hired to another slave or to any "free person of
color." In general slaves had no legally prescribed way to earn or other-
wise win their freedom.4
2 There were 76,781 families and 21,878 slaveholders in Texas in 186o. U.S. Census Office,
Eighth Census of the United States: r86o. Mortality and Miscellaneous Statistics (Washing-
ton, 1866), 348-349; ibid., Agriculture (Washington, 1864), 247; ibid., Population, 486. Some
families had more than one slaveholder, but the use of these figures to determine an ap-
proximate percentage of slaveholding families should be acceptable. The idea that only 25
percent of all southern families held slaves is generally accepted. See Kenneth Stampp, The
Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New York, 1956) , 30-32.
3 Harrison County offers other advantages too. The size of slaveholdings ranged from the
very small to the very large, and slaves were used in a great variety of nonagricultural as
well as agricultural pursuits. See notes 13 and 16 below.
4 This summary of the slave's legal position as property in Texas is drawn from William-
son S. Oldham and George W. White, A Digest of the General Statute Laws of the State of
Texas (Austin, 1859). Sections pertinent to my paragraph are as follows: "Texas Constitu-
tion of 1845," p. 26; "Penal Code," 481, 521, 542-543, 559-562; "Code of Criminal Proce-
dure," 640o, 642, 670-673. Important statutes relative to slavery in Texas are found in
H. P. N. Gammel (comp.), The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897 (1o vols.; Austin, 1898), II,
345-346, 778-782, 1501-1504; III, 29, 911-912, 1502-1516; IV, 499-500, 947-949.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973, periodical, 1973; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101202/m1/441/: accessed November 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.