The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000 Page: 176
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the enterprise, as well as the extra-
ordinary amount of manual labor required for its excavation. Unfortu-
nately, we know less about the canal than local tradition leads us to
believe. The Brazos Canal has been largely neglected in published litera-
ture, and the few historical reviews that do briefly discuss it are incom-
plete and occasionally contradictory.2
This article attempts to reconcile the need for a more complete his-
torical rendering of the Brazos Canal. A recent examination of numer-
ous primary source materials warrants a reconsideration of at least three
key issues and many dates surrounding the organization and execution
of the canal enterprise. First, the Brazoria County "Slave Ditch" was, in
fact, dug to some extent by hired, free laborers. Second, the financial
responsibilities of the principal parties-Gen. James Hamilton, William
G. Hill, Maj. Abner Jackson, and James F. Perry-were not equally divid-
ed as once believed.3 Third, and most significantly, the completed sec-
tion of the canal was successfully navigated on at least one occasion.
The history of the Brazos Canal is a good example of how insufficient
capital and labor impeded the creation of a transportation infrastruc-
ture in Texas during the 183os and 184os. The rise and ultimate failure
of the canal enterprise reflect the interplay of economic, social, and geo-
graphical conditions on the upper Texas coast prior to the Civil War.
The aim of this article, therefore, is to foster a better understanding of
these conditions and so lead to a greater appreciation of the challenges
that confronted early Texans.
The Brazos River flows through the oldest and most productive agri-
cultural region in Texas. The lower Brazos floodplain was the heart of
Austin's original colony, and its soils were "celebrated throughout Amer-
ica for their inexhaustible fertility." Consequently, in the early nine-
teenth century, the traditional monocrop plantation economy of the
Deep South quickly took root in the Brazos bottomlands, most notably
in Brazoria County. Long-staple cotton, corn, sugar, and tobacco were
the predominant cash crops in this region, and the seemingly ubiqui-
tous oak timber from the lower Brazos was also highly valued for its use
in shipbuilding and as a fuel.4
2James A. Creighton, A Narrative History of Brazorta County (Angleton- Brazoria County
Historical Commission, 1975), 211; Allen Andrew Platter, "Educational, Social, and Economic
Characteristics of the Plantation Culture of Brazoria County, Texas" (Ed.D diss., University of
Houston, 1961), 92, 94; Thelma P. Zeitler, "The Brazos Canal" (Research and Markers
Department, Texas Historical Commislon, Austin, 1987).
s Zeitler, "The Brazos Canal," 3.
4 Arthur Ikm, Texas: Its Hstory, Topography, Agriculture, Commerce, and General Statiutcs (1841;
reprint, Waco: Texian Press, 1964), 25 (quotation), 43-46, 66, Richard S. Hunt and Jesse F.
Randel, A New Gulde to Texar Con listing of a Brief Outline of the History of Its Settlement, and the
Colonization and Land Lawv; A General Vzew of the Surface of the Country, Its Climate, Sol, Productions,
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000, periodical, 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/m1/212/: accessed September 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.