The End of the Road for the Southern Plantation
In the mid 1800s, the centuries long march of the Southern plantation made its way to the eastern edge of San Antonio. Here, along the banks of the Cibolo Creek, Southern planters faced a series of challenges they would not be able to overcome. Mexican intolerance to slavery, the rocky soil of the Texas Hill Country, and a drier climate than the coastal plains all converged around San Antonio and conspired to undermine slavery’s expansion west.
For decades, the Southern states had pushed on the federal government to force free states to return runaway slaves to their owners. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, escape to a free state by a runaway slave no longer guaranteed liberty. While the United States made multiple attempts to compel Mexico to sign a fugitive slave treaty, they consistently refused. It was the steadfast belief of the Mexican government that any slave, upon stepping on Mexican soil, were freed from bondage.
The difference in attitude between the Mexican government and Texas planters created something of an underground railroad that was of particular significance to the planters near San Antonio. Regular trade between San Antonio and Mexico was largely conducted by Mexican oxcart drivers, many of whom were sympathetic to the plight of runaway slaves. This would have made San Antonio a major hub on the underground railway, and made it more difficult to prevent the escape of runaways from the area.
To combat the threat of runaway slaves, or the even worse threat of a slave revolt, planters east of San Antonio used their considerable influence in the Texas Legislature and San Antonio city government to create draconian tools to punish runaways and any who would help them. These tools came in the form of terrible slave patrols and San Antonio’s slave ordinance. While these tools may have allowed allowed plantation slavery to exist along the Cibolo Creek, it was not enough to see it prosper like elsewhere in the state. The use of these tools also sowed divisions that would outlast the Civil War and emancipation.
On the eve of the Civil War, slaves accounted for more than 80% of the total population in Wharton county, but less than 10% in Bexar. In 1860, Fifty-one Texans each claimed to own more than one-hundred slaves, but none of them lived in Bexar or the surrounding counties. Only Robert W. Brahan (59 slaves) and J.D. Wyatt (42 slaves) lived in the area and claimed more than 40 slaves. Nearly all of the slaveowners in the area had five or fewer slaves. The map below details the holding and approximate locations of those planters in the area who claimed five or more slaves in the 1860 U.S. Census.
The road connecting San Antonio, Gonzales, and San Felipe was a critical artery of political and commercial traffic during the 19th century. Discover articles recounting the history of the road as well as the places along it, and the people who travelled it.
Using original Texas Land Surveys, contemporary maps, archeological surveys, and field notes, we have reconstructed the path of the lost Texas road that connected San Antonio and Gonzales. The information has been used to create layered maps that show the path of the road in relationship to the original land grants as well as to modern roads and satellite images. To aid researchers and the public the maps and the original land grants have been linked. The links also contain information about the grantees and original patents.