The Peculiar Institution

BOnham Daily Favorite, May 21, 1995

Since there seems to be no indication that slave sales were conducted in Fannin County to any extent it is understandable that Jason Pettigrew's sale would be noted by several writers of the early days of the county. As ordered by the probate court, Pettigrew advertised in several public locations as well as in the pages of The Northern Standard as detailed in last week's column.

In his final accounting to the probate court Pettigrew reported to the August term of court that the sale had been conducted on the steps of the Fannin County Courthouse on August 7, 1860 with the following results: Candis and her child Eliza were sold to J.R. Russell for $905; Lucy and her child Ross were sold to R.H. Lane for $1260; W.B. Allen was the high bidder for a male, Lewis, who sold for $1190; Aggy was sold to Robert Stuart for $905.

W.B. Allen also purchased the slave Talitha, her ten day old infant, and her child Candis for $1250. Pettigrew's note in the report stated that "owing to the late confinement of Talitha, she and her children were not exhibited on the grounds when sold." This statement clearly defines that this sale was conducted much as other slave auctions were, whereupon the slaves themselves were paraded before the potential purchasers as well as the usual coterie of onlookers.

By the time of Pettigrew's sale the slave population in Texas had increased by some 214%. The number of slave owners in Fannin County did not increase by as large a percentage as other counties. In the 1850 Slave Schedule of the U.S. Population Census there were 139 slave owners. In 1860 this number had increased to only 202 owners. The increase in the number of slaves in the county, however, is more startling. The 1850 count shows only 493 slaves. The 1860 number had more than tripled to 1,682. Even so this number was far smaller than many counties with the same approximate number of citizens.

The higher percentage of slaves is probably attributable to slave owners of 1850 increasing their holdings rather than to a larger number of slave owners emigrating to the county. Bailey Inglish doubled the number of slaves in his household from 5 in 1850 to 10 in 1860. In 1850 S.D. Nunnelee had only 6 slaves by by 1860 his holdings had increased to 24.

As in 1850 most of Fannin County's 1860 slave owners had relatively small numbers of slaves. Only twenty persons owned more than 20 slaves. Twentynine persons owned between 10 and 20 slaves with the remaining 153 owners listing less than ten slaves and most of these reported less than five slaves.

The largest owner in 1860 was John Wofford with 61 slaves. The second largest number, 42, were owned by S.D. Rainey. At least twelve women were reported as slave owners. Since many of the listings of this 1860 census use only initials, it is impossible to determine an exact number, for females were often listed by initials as were the men. The twelve female owners are listed by their given names. The largest of the female owners was Jane Scott, widow of Sabert J. Scott, former partner of Joseph Sowell. Scott was owner of 15 slaves.

Since slaves were considered to be property just as lands, household goods, and farm equipment were property, all transactions concerning the buying and selling of slaves are recorded in the deed records of the county.

The wording of these deed records is particularly revealing. In 1845 Garrett Fitzgerald, one of Daniel Rowlett's first ten emigrant families, deeded to his son John Fitzgerald two male slaves. The condition of the transaction was that John Fitzgerald was to support the family of Garrett Fitzgerald and his wife Margaret and for the support and education of John's sister Eliza Jane.

The transfer of property went on to state that Garrett Fitzgerald is "wholly blind and incapable of attending to any business and has become almost helpless."

There are infrequent references to slave marriages although most of these rarely involved a formal rite. Certainly marriage licenses were not issued by governing authorities to slaves. Occasionally in the deed transactions references are made to a husband, wife, and f amily.

Such a reference is found in an 1846 deed from Colonel Robert H. Taylor who gave to Nancy Hardaway "for love and affection to my mother-in-law, Hatcher Bill age 40, his wife, Judy, age 35, and their children, Buck 10 years, Phillip 8 years, Antoinette, 6 years, Charity 4 years, and Crocker 9 months."

Sadly, these deeds also appear to reflect the breakup of families. In 1861 Elijah Dupree of Ladonia sold to John R. Russell, "trustee of the second part and William McMaster, Jr. representing the firm of Marqueze and Company of New Orleans, Louisiana, deed in trust for $900, twin girls, Mary and Sally, age 11 years."

Transfer of ownership of slaves continued throughout the Civil War. However, only 27 transactions are recorded in Fannin County between the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861 and Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox in 1865. All but one of these were recorded before the end of 1864.

Only one 1865 deed transfer is of record and this particular transaction raises some interesting questions. On June 16, 1865 Reese C. Stewart sold to Franklin Stewart (no relationship given) a man, Alfred, aged 22 years, a girl, Nancy, aged 16 years, and a boy, Jeff, aged 4 years. No money figure is given. This transaction was dated slightly over 2 months after Lee's surrender. Had the word not reached the Stewarts? Had they not heard of Lincoln's 1863 proclamation?

In a final look at what has been called "the peculiar institution," slavery in Fannin County, an examination of the birthplaces of Fannin County's slave holders presents some interesting facts. It is often posited that all slave owners of nineteenth century America were Southern born.

The 1860 birthplace listings show that a preponderance of slave owners were indeed Southerners but the figure is far from 100 %. Tennessee led the way as the birthplace of the largest number of Fannin County slave owners with 80. Kentucky is in second place with 49 slave owners. But states above the Mason-Dixon line are also represented. Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were all counted among the birthplaces of Fannin County slave owners. The most telling of these records also shows that in 1860, 3 Fannin County slave owners were born in England.

Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas