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Burton, Walter Moses (ca. 1829–1913)

Merline Pitre Biography Entry

Walter Moses Burton, Black state senator, was brought to Texas as a slave from North Carolina in 1850 at the age of twenty-one. He belonged to a planter, Thomas Burke Burton, who owned a plantation and several large farms in Fort Bend County. While a slave, Walter Burton was taught how to read and write by his master, a skill that served him well in later years. Thomas Burton sold Walter several large plots of land for $1,900 dollars. This land made the freedman one of the wealthiest and most influential Blacks in Fort Bend County. He became involved in politics as early as 1869, when he was elected sheriff and tax collector of Fort Bend County. Along with these duties, he also served as the president of the Fort Bend County Union League (see UNION LEAGUE).

In 1873 Burton campaigned for and won a seat in the Texas Senate, where he served for seven years–from 1874 to 1875 and from 1876 to 1882. In the Senate he championed the education of Blacks. Among the many bills that he helped push through was one that called for the establishment of Prairie View Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University). In the Republican party Burton served as a member of the State Executive Committee at the state convention of 1873, as a vice president of the 1878 and 1880 conventions, and as a member of the Committee on Platform and Resolutions at the 1892 convention. His first term in the Senate was shortened by a contested election, as well as the calling of the Constitutional Convention of 1875. In January 1874 he was granted a certificate of election from the Thirteenth Senatorial District, but a White Democrat contested the election on the grounds that Burton's name was listed three different ways on the ballot and that, consequently, each name received votes in various counties of the district. The Senate committee on election at first recommended the seating of the Democratic candidate but later reconsidered its decision and based the outcome of the election on the intent of the voters who cast ballots for the different Burtons. The Senate confirmed Burton's election on February 20, 1874. By that time, half of the first session of the Fourteenth Legislature was over, and the second session was abbreviated because of the call for a constitutional convention. Burton ran for and was reelected to the Senate in 1876. He left the Senate in 1882 and upon the request of a White colleague was given an ebony and gold cane for his service in that chamber. He remained active in state and local politics until his death in 1913.

J. Mason Brewer, Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (Dallas: Mathis, 1935; 2d ed., Austin: Jenkins, 1970). Clarence Wharton, Wharton's History of Fort Bend County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1939).


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Politics and Government
  • Fourteenth Legislature (1874-1875)
  • Fifteenth Legislature (1876)
  • Senate

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

Merline Pitre, “Burton, Walter Moses,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: