History Department
History Department

Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project featured in Portal

Fri, September 8, 2017
Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project featured in Portal
See image credit below.

An excerpt from “Establishing History: The Black Diaspora Archive and the Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project” in Portal, the annual review of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies Collections, August 24, 2017. Written by Rachel E. Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist, LLILAS Benson.

Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project

In the spring of 2015, while I was a graduate student at The University of Texas School of Information, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry and I came together to assess the locally available eighteenth- and nineteenth-century archival collections relating to the slave trade in Texas and borderlands with Mexico. Through this work, the Texas Domestic Slave Trade (TXDST) project was born. Our initial research unmasked the lack of scholarship on the domestic slave trade and experiences of the enslaved in the region: it made clear the pressing need to better document and understand this historical period and to bring this content into the public and digital humanities space. Now, as manager of the Black Diaspora Archive, I am able to continue this work through the archive’s collaborative partnership with TXDST.

TXDST research has proven Texas to be a central point in border crossing and slave trading. Texas gained statehood in 1845, almost twenty years before the Civil War, and settlers from across the United States and Mexico flocked to the region to exploit lenient land acquisition policies and a terrain that was prime for cultivating sugar and cotton. These early settlers brought human chattel along with them during the years prior to 1845, when the Spanish and Mexican governments occupied the territory, as well as after Texas achieved statehood. The enslaved laborers brought to the region were often stolen, kidnapped, or purchased from other points around the country. Even though it served as the western edge of the domestic trade in the United States, Texas is often overlooked as a major hub of trade in favor of neighboring Louisiana and New Orleans—a city that notoriously served as the slave trading epicenter of the Deep South. Texas, however, was active in slave trading, which included the illegal trade of enslaved people directly with Mexico, and as far south as Central America.

To best showcase and engage the rich content from this project, it is critical that TXDST research and resources be openly accessible for scholars, researchers, historians, and students. For that reason, TXDST will continue to develop as a digital scholarship project. It is important for us to illustrate this history through images of primary documents, landscape photographs, maps, and other digital content to provide the contextual information from which we encourage expanded scholarship to take place.

Project Team

In establishing this project, Dr. Berry and I, along with our expanded and interdisciplinary research team, now have a platform to better illustrate the legacy and impact of the domestic slave trade and its influence on the state of Texas. Our team brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff from across campus. Their individual areas of expertise in U.S. slavery, border crossing, gender, race relations, oral history, geography and mapping, public history, and the curation of historical content collectively lend valuable perspectives to the project.

Accomplishments

Within the past couple of years TXDST has made continuous, significant progress. During the 2015–2016 academic year, the project received a Media Project Grant, funded by the Humanities Media Project in the UT College of Liberal Arts. This grant was established to promote the use of media in humanities research, with the intention to expand beyond traditional academic audiences. Specifically, the grant funded our project “Mapping the Texas Domestic Slave Trade Routes,” which enabled us to create a digital history of the Matagorda region of Texas.

Located in southeast Texas, just south of Galveston and at the confluence of the Colorado River and the Gulf of Mexico, Matagorda was an active point of commerce throughout early Texas history. However, the city’s role as an entry point for enslaved people and its impact on the domestic and transnational slave trade have yet to be explored. The goal of this project was thus to document, through photos and digital media, the landscape and history of the region. Grant funds allowed for our team to visit Matagorda and surrounding counties to capture this information through research and primary document analysis at sites throughout the area. The grant also allowed for the creation of a website from which to showcase this project, which can be viewed at txdst.la.utexas.edu.

Looking to the future, TXDST is positioned to make significant contributions to the research and study of Texas and its role in the domestic slave trade. It is my hope that as the project advances, not only will the research community benefit, but the students and project team members who work with us will, too.

Image: Storefront image of Wadsworth Store, located in Matagorda, Texas (c. nineteenth century). A Black man sits in a horse-drawn buggy while a group of white men congregate near the door. Image courtesy of the Matagorda County Museum Annex for Research and Collections.

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