The Slave Trade in Galveston, TX

When I visited Special Collections this past week, I focused on manuscripts about the sales of “negroes” in Galveston, TX. Unfortunately, these manuscripts were too delicate to photocopy, so I cannot include an image of the documents I studied in this blog post. However, by studying these various “Bills of Sale,” I learned that Galveston was a popular port city where slaves were auctioned. Interestingly, freed black people flocked to Galveston after the widely celebrated “Juneteenth” milestone (slaves were freed in Texas in 1865 when Union soldiers returned to Galveston).

The document I focused on the most during my visit to Special Collections was the bill of sale for a young “negro boy.” When I was first reading through the document, which was signed by three people, I was under the impression that a white slaveholder was purchasing a man named Philemon Terrell Jr. The signatures consisted of two full-name signatures and another signature simply comprised of the capital letter P (this signature was labelled as something along the lines as “the primary party”). Upon closer reading, it seemed that Philemon Terrell Jr. was actually named simply as Jack in the document. It appeared that his father Philemon Terrell Sr. was purchasing the freedom of his son, “Jack.” I was also confused as to what was the exact date of this bill of sale. The document reads, “this 27th day of July in the year of one-thousand eight-hundred and eight, the thirty-third year of our American Independence.” The description of the manuscript compiled by the library, however, says that this document was composed in January of 1863. The document also said that this transaction” took place in Liberty County, a county adjacent to Galveston County.

I then decided to look up the genealogy of Philemon Terrell Jr., and I found some interesting  results on geneology.com that may contradict what the document says.

SIDENOTE: I was trying my best to decipher the handwriting in this document. I may have misinterpreted some information.

His father, Philemon Terrell Sr. may have been born in 1744 or 1745 in Georgia, and he may have passed away in 1811-1813. He and his wife, Elizabeth Terrell, had ten children, including Philemon “Jack” Terrell Jr., who were born between 1774 and 1795. Above, I mentioned that the description of the document gave the date of composition to be 1863. However, if I calculate the math according to the date description in the document, the date comes out to 1808, which was, indeed, about thirty-three years after America’s independence (or the start of the American Revolution in 1775).

So, if Philemon and his children were born in Georgia, how did Senior and Junior end up in Galveston? I did more research on the role of Galveston in the slave trade in America. The slave trade in Galveston was actually established illegally in 1818 by the French pirate, Jean Lafitte, who operated mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. Again, though, there are discrepancies between the document and my outside research. The slave trade was established in 1818 in Galveston, and Philemon Terrell Sr. passed away before 1818. What are the missing pieces? I need to further research this issue. I would like to know the whole story of Philemon Terrell Sr. and his family. Finding the document with his name did, however, lead me to learn more about Galveston and the slave trade.

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