Millionaire Robert Mills, erstwhile "duke of Brazoria," dies
On this day in 1888, Robert Mills, early Texas merchant and the largest slaveholder in antebellum Texas, died at Galveston. In Brazoria, the Kentucky native began engaging in the Mexican trade in 1830. Bars of Mexican silver were stacked like cordwood in the Mills brothers' counting room, and Mills became known as the "duke of Brazoria." In 1839 he built the first cotton compress in Texas. He became a shipping magnate in the 1850s. By 1860 the Mills brothers cultivated approximately 3,300 acres on their four Brazoria County plantations. Mills was reputed to have been worth between $3 and $5 million before the Civil War. He freed about 800 slaves in 1865. His firm lost heavily when customers were unable to pay their debts, and suffered additional postwar losses when the cotton market collapsed. He declared bankruptcy in 1873 and was dependent on relatives in his final years.