ELLIS, WILLIAM H.
ELLIS, WILLIAM H. (?–?). William H. Ellis was a San Antonio businessman who became active in the African-American emigration movement of the 1890s and early 1900s. He was well educated and spoke several languages. In 1889 he advocated the establishment of a black colony in Mexico with the object of raising cotton and coffee. In 1894, with the support of a group of Anglo and Mexican entrepreneurs, he received a grant from the Mexican government in which he promised to colonize as many as 10,000 black Americans in the area of Tlahualilo, Durango, Mexico. Previously in the nineteenth century, the predominant interest in the movement had centered around black nationalist Henry M. Turner, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church who advocated emigration to Africa. At a national convention called by Bishop Turner in 1893, ostensibly to discuss African emigration, Ellis's Mexican colonization proposal gained support as a less expensive alternative. Ellis signed a contract with a well-known black Atlanta emigration agent, R. A. "Pegleg" Williams, to supply 5,000 black laborers by the end of 1895. In February 1895, concentrating their recruitment efforts in Alabama, Ellis and Williams transported the first and only consignments of 816 Alabama emigrants, including 145 families, to Mexico. Before further transfers could take place, the company decided to halt emigration for twelve months to determine if the colony would be profitable.
From the beginning, controversy, often encouraged by the Southern press, surrounded the colony. In early March, Williams returned to the United States and accused Ellis of not providing the housing, rations, and supplies promised the emigrants. The San Antonio Express reported on March 24, 1895, that several colonists, who had walked back across Mexico to the United States, reported that the colony was rapidly dissolving. Other newspapers in Alabama and Texas reported widespread mistreatment, starvation, and death of colonists. Ellis denied the criticism of the Southern press, refuted reports of deaths, and asked the State Department for an investigation. The investigation found the situation similar to that of Mexican workers, "but not as good as is received in [the emigrants'] own States." The report stated that Ellis had failed to provide the proper food and medical service required for the colony, but could not substantiate many of the accusations levied against him in the newspapers. The colony itself dissolved, and the United States paid for the colonists' return. Ellis, who went back to San Antonio, met with King Menelek of Ethiopia in 1903 in an effort to establish an Ethiopian emigrant colony.
Edwin S. Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890–1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969). Alfred W. Reynolds, "The Alabama Negro Colony in Mexico, 1894–1896," Alabama Review 5–6 (October 1952, January 1953).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Douglas Hales, "ELLIS, WILLIAM H.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fel32), accessed May 19, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.