The Brazos Canal Company, chartered in 1841, represented the first effort in the Galveston area to connect inland plantations to Gulf shipping ports. Construction began in 1847 on a "slave ditch" in southern Brazoria County dug by slaves of the owners. The first mile took two years to dig and was soon abandoned.
Another company, The Galveston and Brazos Navigation Company, chartered on February 8, 1850, was authorized to construct a canal between the harbor of San Luis or West Galveston Bay to the Brazos River, to be completed within six years. Among early commissioners were John S. Sydnor and Gail Borden, Jr. The canal became a conduit for the cotton trade of the Brazos and a route to California. Directors of the company were authorized to issue $150,000 worth of capital stock, with the privilege of increasing the issue to $300,000. The canal was completed early in 1855 by contractor David Bradbury. It initially measured fifty-five feet wide and 4¼ miles long. It connected San Luis Bay with Oyster Creek, followed the creek for one mile, cut through the mainland for a mile to East Union Bayou, and followed the bayou for three-fourths of a mile to its confluence with the Brazos River. Though the canal accommodated both sail and steam vessels, it could not compete successfully with river and railroad transportation. The company was granted ninety-four sections of land as a bonus in 1854 and in 1860 was permitted to relocate a part of this land that had apparently originally been located outside of the state. After the Civil War the original canal was deepened and widened.