By: Claude Elliott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: September 29, 2020

Abolition sentiment was never significant in Texas, although antebellum Texans often expressed fear concerning its presence. There were Unionists in Texas, but few, if any, were abolitionists, though many had strayed away from solid Southern sentiment enough to wonder whether slavery did not operate to retard Southern progress. At times, particularly in 1860, during the so-called Texas Troubles, public excitement reached an advanced stage of hysteria in contemplating the presence of abolitionists. Fires of unknown origin destroyed large parts of Dallas, Denton, Kaufman, Waxahachie, and other North Texas towns. Rumors spread that the fires were started by abolitionists to demoralize the people in preparation for a slave uprising. Gruesome stories of slave insurrections were circulated, always exaggerated or wholly without foundation, as were tales of wholesale poisonings, which seem to have been the product almost entirely of fertile imaginations. The Texas press in particular played an important role in promoting the fears of an abolitionist-led uprising. Charles Pryor, editor of the Dallas Herald, in a letter printed by the Texas State Gazette in July of 1860 declared: "It was determined by certain abolitionist preachers, who were expelled from the country last year, to devastate, with fire and assassination, the whole of Northern Texas, and when it was reduced to a helpless condition, a general revolt of slaves, aided by the White men of the North in our midst, was to come off on the day of election in August." Such stories were picked up and carried by papers around the state and throughout the South. Several scholars have argued that at least some of the events related to the Texas Troubles were the result of an organized though ineffective plot, but conclusive evidence is lacking.

To offset these dangers, whether real or imaginary, vigilance committees were organized to ferret out offenders and administer proper punishment. The result was that justice through regular channels disappeared at times and was replaced by mob action. Three Blacks were hanged in Dallas in the interest of public safety. A White man in Fort Worth accused of tampering with slaves was also put to death. The most definitive charge against any one of them, as reported to the press, was that "he had prowled about the country." Texans often dealt harshly with Mexicans as well, fearing that they encouraged unrest among slaves. In 1856 the editor of the San Antonio Zeitung was threatened with a coat of tar and feathers for printing criticisms of slavery. Three years later, Northern Methodists in conference at Bonham made derogatory remarks about slavery and slaveowners and were immediately threatened by intolerant inhabitants. Hostility towards Northern Methodists reached a peak in August 1860 with the lynching of Rev. Anthony Bewley, an ordained missionary suspected of being an abolitionist and slave agitator. While people in antebellum Texas certainly criticized slavery, the danger of expressing those feelings publicly limited the number of outspoken abolitionists.

Walter L. Buenger, Secession and the Union in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984). Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989). Wesley Norton, "The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Civil Disturbances in North Texas in 1859 and 1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (January 1965). Frank H. Smyrl, Unionism, Abolitionism, and Vigilantism in Texas, 1856–1865 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1961). William W. White, "The Texas Slave Insurrection of 1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 52 (January 1949).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Claude Elliott, “Abolition,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/abolition.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 29, 2020

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