Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

The Famous Slave Sale

Bonham Daily Favorite, May 14, 1995

It was estimated that the slave population of Texas, in 1836, was five thousand. Many of the earliest Fannin County residents arrived in the area with slaves counted among their households, but no statistics on the number of slave holdings for the area is available until the 1840 tax rolls.

Solomon Chambliss, Tax Assessor for the county reported that in 1840 there were thirty-seven slave owners residing in the county including three women. The total number of ninety-nine.

Most of these persons owned only one slave. In many instances households with only one slave reported a female slave who was used for household duties, cooking, and child care. Occasionally the single slave was a male who assisted with the farm work. The owners with larger tracts of land placed under cultivation would have several male slaves.

Among the largest of the slave owners on the 1840 tax rolls was Mark R. Roberts who reported ownership of ten slaves. These tax records do not differentiate between males and females but with knowledge of Roberts’ activities over the next few years it seems likely that most of his group were probably males. Roberts engaged in a wide variety of activities in the area including extensive cotton farming and the shipping of cotton down Red River to markets in Louisiana. Records of the Fannin County Commissioners show that at one time Roberts had several “cotton warehouses” on his land grant on Red River.

Interestingly two of Fannin County’s founding fathers were among the larger owners. Bailey Inglish was the owner of four slaves and Dr. Daniel Rowlett owned nine. Four other men who were with Dr. Rowlett’s party in the 1836 emigration to the area were also owners. Garrett Fitzgerald brought six slaves; Jabez Fitzgerald owned three as did John Stephens was the largest owner with twelve.

Tax rolls over the next ten years showed a small but steady increase in the number of slave owners and slaves. The 1850 Federal Census was the first in Texas to enumerate slaves on a separate schedule. Again there is no breakdown of the sexes. The total number in Texas was 58,161.

The number of slaves in Fannin County had increased nearly fivefold and the number of owners quadrupled. Even so Fannin County was still listed as one of the smaller slave holding counties in the state.

There are several interesting points to be considered from the 1850 slave census records. The percentage of households with a single slave was sharply reduced from the 1840 reportings. Among the 137 owners, eleven owned ten or more slaves. Twenty eight persons owned five or more.

Twelve women were slave owners. Many of the owners acquired their slaves through bequests from their now deceased husbands. However, at least two records in the deed books of Fannin County show the transfer of slaves to female ownership from the parents of the recipient. These slaves were always recorded as separate property from joint ownership between husband and wife.

The largest slave owner of 1840. John Stephens, does not show up on the 1850 schedule and was probably dead by that time and his slaves dispersed to the heirs. Richard R. Beal, who owned only four slaves in 1840, became the largest owner in 1850 with a total of thirty-seven slaves. This number put him far ahead of the remainder of the owners. Benjamin Johnson and John S. Pace trailed at a distant second with twenty slaves each. Several men who owned no slaves in 1840 had acquired a small number by 1850.

Without accurate records as proof it is difficult to determine exactly how this increase in slave holdings occurred between 1840 and 1850. Obviously many slaves were brought into the area by the waves of immigrants who crossed into Texas in that second decade of independence.

The records of the county seem to indicate that there was little actual trafficking in slaves among the residents of Fannin County. In comparison with other counties, especially those in the eastern sections of the state, very few transactions are recorded in the deed and probate records.  From the beginnings of the county in 1837 until the 1850 census only twenty transactions are of record. From that point until the end of the Civil War in 1865 only an additional one hundred four transactions are recorded.

The earliest sale is recorded in a deed from Carter T. and Abigail Clift to Charles Quillen on April 23, 1836. This transaction actually took place in Red River County before this area was cut away to form Fannin County but the deed was later filed in Fannin County records. It does not show up in the records

In 1850 the average value of a slave was $362 but by 1860 this had nearly doubled to $672. Field hands generally brought $1,200 to $2,000. Plowboys were valued at $1,000 to $1,500.   A slave with exceptional or unusual skills could bring a considerably higher price. The highest price on record in Fannin County was the $3,200 paid by Nancy C. Hardeman to Thomas Williams on 8 Oct 1863.

There are only two instances of public slave sales in the county. The first was the sale of a single slave by Simpson, Inglish, and White to R. H. Taylor on 4 April 1854. The other, and largest sale, was Jason Pettigrew's sale to the highest bidder W. B. Allen. The latter sale was referred to by J. Taylor Allen in his Early Pioneer Days in Texas, published in 1918, as "the famous Jason Pettigrew sale."

Many slaves were never put up for sale simply because they remained the property of one family for several generations and the slaves and their progeny were simply passed down by will and probate. 

[Note:  details on the slave sales are at the Fannin County GenWeb website]