Reading Wood Black, merchant, county commissioner, Indian commissioner, and legislator, was born on September 23, 1830, in Springfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, the son of Thomas and Mary Grey (Wood) Black. At Springfield he attended the Upper Friends' School. In 1847 he became owner and manager of the 144-acre Clover Hill farm in nearby Northampton Township. Influenced by his cousin, Capt. William Reading Montgomery of the Eighth United States Infantry, who was then assigned to Fort Gates, Black moved to Texas in the spring of 1852. On April 14, in partnership with Nathan L. Stratton, who had accompanied him from New Jersey, Black purchased an undivided half league and labor of land near the head of the Leona River at the site of present-day Uvalde. One of his nearest neighbors was William Washington Arnett. Black entered into stock raising and acquired a thousand head of sheep. He erected a substantial stone building. With the aid of San Antonio lithographer William C. A. Thielepape, he then laid out a town that he called Encina (now Uvalde). Black also opened a store, cleared a garden, and operated a limekiln and two rock quarries. On June 12, 1854, he purchased an additional 640 acres in order to accommodate more stock and expand his town. In 1858 he built a gristmill, and by 1860 he owned a wagon train that freighted between San Antonio and Piedras Negras. As Uvalde's population grew between 1856 and 1861, Black prospered, and on January 6, 1859, he married Permilia Jane McKinney.
Black was a Quaker. He was remarkably friendly to local Indians, especially the Tonkawas, and on several occasions helped to formulate treaties with the various groups living on or near the Rio Grande. He was not entirely a pacifist, however, but helped to organize and commanded a militia company for protection against marauding Comanches in 1856. In June of that year his company and one from the Sabinal area defeated a Comanche war party some thirty miles below Uvalde, thus effectively stopping Indian raids for two years.
In September 1855 he established the first school in what is now Uvalde County, and in November he successfully lobbied the state legislature to organize Uvalde County and have his town named the county seat. On April 21, 1856, he was elected county commissioner. On May 12 he and his fellow commissioners completed formal organization and on June 14 named Encina county seat. Black was reelected county commissioner in 1858 and elected county judge in 1860. Although opposed to secession, he took the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and continued doing business as usual until the murder of a number of prisoners by Confederate militiamen after the battle of the Nueces, on August 10, 1862. Repulsed by the anti-Unionist activities of Confederate home guards, Black moved to Mexico and remained there until the end of the Civil War. By then he had amassed $50,000 worth of property in Coahuila. In June 1866 he was the Unionist nominee for Congress from the Seventy-first District. He easily defeated Samuel A. Maverick and S. C. Thompson, then returned to Uvalde in July 1866 in anticipation of the opening of the legislature in August. In the legislature he strongly supported ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that the Texas failure to support the amendment would be interpreted by the Radical Republicans as a sign of disloyalty to the Union. Black did not stand for reelection when his term expired in November 1866. In September 1867 he attempted to form a Union League in Uvalde. This "act of disloyalty" to Texas and the South so incensed his former friend G. W. (Tom) Wall that on the morning of October 3 Wall murdered Black in his own store in the presence of several witnesses. Wall fled to Mexico and never returned to Texas. Black's papers, preserved in the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas, were edited in 1933 by Ike Moore and published as The Life and Diary of Reading Wood Black.