During the late 18th and for the first half of the 19th century, the plantation model based on the enslavement of Africans flowed over the lands of a new America. The demand for cotton to feed the spinning and weaving machines created by the Industrial Revolution was insatiable. Subsistence farming, as practiced by small family farms, could never meet the rapidly increasing demand for cotton fiber.
And so with each push of westward expansion planters bought up rich river valleys for growing the single most profitable cash crop of the day – cotton. From Georgia to Texas, from the Chattahoochee to the Brazos the plantation model prospered on the rich, humid river deltas.
In 1848, with the cessation of hostilities between the U. S. and Mexico the plantation model began to spread across the new state of Texas. It continued across the Brazos and the Colorado and moved over the Guadalupe.
At a small, seemingly insignificant stream, called the Cibolo, east of San Antonio, the plantation model stumbled. Unlike the reliably green river valleys east of the Cibolo, west of the Cibolo the climate revealed its unpredictable nature. One year it might be as green as the Mississippi delta, the next, dry as the Arizona desert.
During the 1850s, large-scale plantations came to the Cibolo Valley bringing with them over 600 hundred African Slaves. The western bank of the Cibolo Valley was located in Bexar County where slavery was known but not widely practiced.
Under the terms of a compromise, the U. S. Congress allowed African slaves to be brought to the new State of Texas from only the United States. They could not be imported from Africa or other countries. This restriction caused a dramatic increase in value for African slaves brought to Texas. While planters along the Cibolo could buy land for one dollar per acre, certain young male and female slaves could be valued as high as $1,500.00 each.
Slaves were bought and sold and occasionally traded for land. Many of these transactions were recorded in Bexar County Deed Records as in the case of the sale of Jane an eight year old girl.
The transaction was concluded for $500.00 cash.
Other county recording reveal even more details of the value of slaveowners' holdings. In 1860, Wilson County was formed out of a portion of Bexar County. On the west side of the Cibolo resided the Sutherland family. In January 1863, the Chief Justice was William Sutherland, the County Clerk was John Sutherland. Mrs. A. M. Sutherland had died without a will and her heirs petitioned the Wilson County Commissioners Court to probate the estate. Included in the petition was an inventory and appraisement of the property held by the estate.
All the personal property was listed, from a side-saddle to a wash kettle, and was valued at $814.00. The value of 400 acres of land was set at $1,000.00. The value of the slaves was listed as follows:
Henry and wife Patsy, $500.00; Emiline and Child, $1,500.00; Emanuel, $1,800.00; Robert and Bob, $1500.00; Gergian, $1,200.00; Napoleon, $800.00; Willie, $700.00; Laura, $500.00; Reith, $400.00 – for a total of $8,900.00.
Of an estate whose value totaled $10,714.00, $8,900.00 of that total was comprised of the value of slaves.