Texas  Slave Codes

Texas  Slave Codes 

Slavery as an institution in Texas began in Stephen F. Austin's colony. when Stephen Austin was recognized as heir to his father's contract  in 1821, each settlers could receive eighty acres of land for each slave brought to Texas. 

The institution of slavery in Texas was supported by the legal system. The entire life of the slave was controlled by rules and regulations. In addition to those passed by individual masters for their own plantations there were many local and state laws.  The slave had no property rights and no legal rights of marriage and family. Slaveowners had broad powers of discipline subject only to constitutional provisions that slaves be treated "with humanity" and that punishment not extend to the taking of life and limb. A slave had a right to trial by jury and a court-appointed attorney when charged with a crime greater than petty larceny. However, blacks could not testify against whites in court, a prohibition that largely negated their constitutional protection. Although the law contained some recognition of their humanity, Texas's institutions, both social and legal, constantly reminded the black man he was property not a human being.

Free blacks and slaves both emigrated to early Texas. Consequently  laws were developed for both free blacks and slaves of African descent. 



The  Mexico government accepted free blacks as equals to white colonists. The state government of Coahuila and Texas national and the government in Mexico City both  threatened to abolish slavery, but because of contradictions with it policy of encouraging emigration neither government adopted any effective policy to prevent slavery in Texas. The end of the Mexican War of Independence (1821) saw many fundamental changes in the lives of free blacks in Texas. Stricter laws were passed governing the lives of free blacks While the Mexican government treated free blacks as equal citizens the Republic of Texas sought to restrict the freedoms they already enjoyed and strengthened the institution of slavery. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836) was the first Anglo-American constitution to govern Texas.The Constitution designated people of one-eighth African blood as a separate and distinct group, took away citizenship, sought to restrict property rights, and forbade the permanent residence of free blacks without the approval of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. Interracial marriages were also legally prohibited. In addition,  the constitution  provided that slaves would remain the property of their owners, that the Texas Congress could not prohibit the immigration of slaveholders bringing their property, and that slaves could be imported from the United States (although not from Africa). After annexation(1845), free blacks were subject to harsh punishments usually reserved only for slaves, including branding, whipping, and forced labor on public works.

 A law regulating sale of runaway slaves was enacted in1841. A notice of the apprehension, with a full description of the slave, was to be published weekly in one of the gazettes at the seat of government, for one month, and printed copies was furnished to the clerk of the County Court, and it was the duty of the sheriff or jailor having custody of the slave, to ascertain as nearly as may be, the name of the owner. 


Cat o' nine tails


In 1846 a system of patrol was started in Texas. A patrol detachment consisted of one captain and not more than five privates nor less than three, provided, that one half of the patrol appointed shall be owners of slaves, or their substitutes. The patrol were charge to search suspected places for harbored, runaway or fugitive slaves,  apprehend and carry the same before a justice of the peace,  and also to apprehend any white person who may be found in any assemblage of slaves, or in or about any negro quarter, without having the permission of the owner of such slaves. A slave caught without a pass was liable to any number of lashes not exceeding twenty-five. The patrol could enter private property to check the negro quarters and all other places that slaves are assembled.

In 1853 a law concerning offences committed by Negroes was enacted. It read in part:

  • That if a slave plot or conspire to rebel or make insurrection,  he shall be punished with death. 
  • That if a slave commit an offence for which a free negro, if he had committed it, might be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for a period less than three years, such slave shall be punished by stripes, not exceeding fifty, at the discretion of the jury. 
  • That if a slave commit an offence, the commission of which, by a free person, is punishable as a misdemeanor, he shall be punished by stripes not exceeding thirty-nine. 
  • That a negro shall be punished with not exceeding thirty- nine stripes, for the commission of the following offences: first, if he use provoking language or menacing gestures to a white person; if he punish a slave, without the consent of his owner or manager, any pass, permit or token of his being from home with authority; if he keep or carry fire-arms, sword, or other weapon, fourth, if he be guilty of being in a riot, rout, unlawful assembly, or of making seditious speeches.

During the Civil War laws were passed making it a crime to incite insurrection or insubordination of slaves; and the hostile invasion of the State of Texas by persons of color was outlawed. In addition, as  the male head of household went off to war, usually a trusted slave was put in charge of the homestead. Owners or employers of slaves were prohibited from placing slave in charge of farms or  ranches. Later a law was passed to prohibit "pretend ownership of property."

Finally, slaves in Texas generally had the legal status of personal property. They could be bought and sold, mortgaged, and hired out. They had no legally prescribed way to gain freedom. Various laws were enacted to protect the slaveowner monetary interest. On January 15, 1839, the Texas Legislature enacted a law that prescribe punishment for any person  who was found guilty of harboring or clandestinely supporting any runaway negro slave. Subsequent legislations made it a crime to buy any article from a slave without  the written consent of his or her master,  the hiring of a slave was regulated, a person who abuse any slave was liable to be sued, the  forced sale of slaves(repealed) was prohibit, and the owner of a slave executed received from the Treasury of the State, one half of the appraised value of the executed slave

Most of the important provisions here cited, though placed under the name of only Texas, prevail in nearly all the slave states, with slight variations in language, and some diversity in the penalties


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