David Abner, Black legislator, was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1826 and brought to Texas in 1843 by the daughter of his master, who, with her husband, settled in Upshur County. Abner remained there until after the Civil War. In 1866 he moved to Marshall. There he came in contact with Mrs. Fannie Richardson, the sister of his first owner in Alabama. Mrs. Richardson rented a mule, some farm equipment, and forty acres of land known as the Nathan Smith Plantation to Abner on credit. After settling in Harrison County the former slave became a prosperous farmer, and after a few years of hard labor and frugal living he managed to buy the farm. By 1876 he was signing notes, bonds, and securities for thousands of dollars for Whites as well as Blacks. According to oral sources, Abner was a natural politician. After settling in Marshall, he was appointed to the State Executive Committee of the Colored Men's Convention of 1873 and was later elected Harrison county treasurer. In 1874 he was elected to the Texas legislature. The next year he was also elected a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875, and in 1876 he was a member and a vice president of the Republican state convention.
Abner participated in many civic activities in Harrison County. He helped to organize Bethesda Baptist Church and became one of its first deacons. He also helped to establish the first elementary school for Blacks in Harrison County. After leaving the legislature he continued his interest in education. He was at the forefront of the movement to establish Bishop College and served as one of the two original Black trustees.
The 1880 census listed him as a farmer. He and his wife, Mollie, reported eight children in their household. Seven were Abner's children from a previous marriage, including David Abner, Jr., and two stepchildren; one child, Lucy, was Mollie's daughter from a previous marriage. When Abner retired from the legislature he went into the ice business in order to enhance an already sizable estate, which included over 300 acres of land in East Texas. He died in 1902 and was buried in a family plot in the Old Powder Mill Cemetery, Marshall.
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J. Mason Brewer, Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (Dallas: Mathis, 1935; 2d ed., Austin: Jenkins, 1970). Randolph B. Campbell, A Southern Community in Crisis: Harrison County, Texas, 1850–1880 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983). Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973).
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Abner, David, Sr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 21, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 29, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: