Slavery and Slave Codes: They Tried to Erase the Record in San Antonio

February 20, 2019


According to the Texas Roads website, there were few large Plantations near San Antonio, but one did exist on the Cibolo Creek in the Cibolo Valley. Large slave plantations required large numbers of slaves, usually under the control of an overseer who was often white but sometimes black. Black overseers would often be given time off or extra food to get them to abandon their brothers and sisters. Those that owned human beings paid large sums of money for enslaved people, and owning human beings on the Cibolo Creek were their most important source of riches. Controlling them, to prevent slave insurrections, was one of the most important duties in this brutal system of Confederate and pre-Confederate slavery. The planters demanded and received the support of the City of San Antonio and the Bexar County Commissioners Court to keep slaves under control and to prevent them from using the Underground Railroad to Mexico. The planters were often terrified when they saw the large number of slaves that were under their control, and would often invent fake stories of slaves revolting to organize slave catchers and torture slaves to set examples against running away.


According to the Lost Texas Roads website, slavery rules and customs were different from the Deep South, the customs and legal rules of racial etiquette did not completely exist in Bexar County. This was true in part because of the close proximity to Mexico and freedom. Planters went before the Bexar County and San Antonio authorities to resolve this in the 1800s. Bexar County created “Slave Patrols” and San Antonio passed slave laws that regulated “the conduct of slaves, free people of color and whites according to the wishes of the planters.”  In the City’s ordinance, Section 16 said, “That it shall be the duty of the Marshal or assistant Marshal upon written request of the owner, or person having legal charge and control of any slave, to whip such slave, not to exceed thirty-nine lashes, upon the bare back, for which he shall be entitled to receive from such owner or person having such charge and control, the sum of one, dollar, to be paid upon the presentation of such request.”


 According to Texas Roads, San Antonio slave, Felix Haywood, who was born into slavery on the Cibolo Creek, “expressed his views about being a slave to an interviewer from the Works Progress Administration in 1937.”  His words spelled out the problem slave owners had being so close to Mexico:  “Sometimes someone would come ‘long and try to get us to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande. In Mexico you could be free. They didn’t care what color you was, black, white, yellow, or blue. Hundreds of slaves did go to Mexico and got on all right. We would hear about ‘em and how they was goin’ to be Mexicans. They brought up their children to speak only Mexican.”


One could argue that many former slaves, after the Civil War, became black cowboys, which were needed for cattle herding. The relationship between cowboys and men of color was quite different as blacks would be accorded respect for their skills in bringing the cattle to market. All of this history was purposely erased from the historical record as San Antonio tried to pretend that this was a city without cruel slave codes and lynching. It is time that our school districts tell this story because any real rendering of history must be about the good, the bad, and the ugly.



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