Robertson County

The county where Gerard Brandon settled with Henrietta Wood and nearly 300 other Refugeed Slaves during the Civil War.1

The county was settled beginning in the colonial period when the Mexican government granted much of the area to a company headed by Sterling C. Robertson. Most early migrants from the U.S. came from Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, who generally came by following the Mississippi to the Red River “and thence up Red River to Natchitoches aboard a packet steamer,” from when the rest of the trip was made over land. “Travellers from as far as South Carolina came overland along the old Federal Road along the fall line to Montgomery, Alabama, thence westward through Vicksburg or Natchez and on to Natchitoches.”2

When Texas became an independent republic, it was initially part of Milam County but was split off in 1841; it achieved its present boundaries in 1846 after birthing Brazos, Leon, Limestone, Navarro, and Dallas.3 Thereafter it proved especially attractive to cotton planters due to “the extent and fertility of the soils of the river bottoms in Robertson County.”4 “For a century the bottom has been a cotton kingdom, and it is still a cotton kingdom.”5

parker1955, p. 30:

By 1855 the number of slaves in Robertson County had increased to 1,229 and by 1857 to 1,418, some of them valued at $792 and others at $380 and $566 each. In 1858 there were 1,726 slaves in the county, and at the outbreak of the Civil War there were 1,955, valued at $1,244,170, or $626 each, on the average. … By 1880 the Negro population had increased to 10,925 …

(Note: Perry accounts for this large increase by pointing to efforts by planters in the 1870s to recruit “Negro laborers” from other counties, though he doesn’t consider the possibility that Refugeed Slaves swelled the numbers. According to baum2008, the county experienced a 125% increase in “Negroes Taxed” between 1860 and 1864, which represented an increase of 2,437 enslaved people in this period.)

The growth of the county’s slave population helps explain why support for secession was very strong in the county. B. F. Hammond stressed the beneficence of slavery at meetings to discuss secession. Resolutions passed by a county meeting held in Owensville on December 15, 1860, regarded “the election of an Abolitionist, in the person of Abe Lincoln, who declares that ‘this Government cannot endure half slave and half free,’ to preside as the Chief Executive of these United States, as an open declaration of war of aggression upon our rights and domestic institutions, looking to their final destruction.”6 The resolutions went on to give multiple quotes from Lincoln interpreted as abolitionist declarations.

One particularly vocal secessionist was William Harrison Hamman, who had moved to the county in 1858. On December 10, 1860, he wrote a letter back to a Virginia acquaintance:

We must defend ourselves; if we submit, we will be more and more pressed as we withdraw. Emancipation itself will not satisfy these perfidious fanatics, for they declare that the negro must be socially and politically our equal. This done and the condition of the races will be reversed; the negroes and their Northern allies will be the masters and we the slaves.7

After the war, he lamented the results:

The question is not one of dollars and cents, but whether the noblest, the proudest, the most chivalrous, the most moral and Christian people will suffer themselves to be dragged down to the level of the negro, and then still lower to keep pace with the negro in his retrogradation in his liberate state, until finally our rich, prosperous, and happy land shall present the condition of Hayti, Mexico and the Central American States.8

During the war, “in 1863 the Confederate government undertook to establish a combined cotton, woolen, and flour mill in Robertson County,” with construction to be “financed by planter subscribers to a cotton pool.” This became the Brazos Manufacturing Company, with “the planters as subscribers to the stock.”9 As part of the construction of the factory, “Captain Salter impressed one-tenth of the slaves in the county to dig clay and burn brick for the factory building.”10

A letter from November 3, 1865, indicates that Refugees to Texas were leaving Texas to return home to Louisiana without paying wages to freedpeople.11

On April 23, 1866, the Freedmen’s Bureau agent in Sterling, Texas, Champe Carter, Jr., issued a set of rules “for the guidance of citizens & Freedmen” in the county:12

… I. Contracts must be inviolably observed by all parties.

  1. Planters must give fair wages, one half paid Quarterly, and good food Quarters & treatment, and every violation will bring a penalty at least equal to the conditions of the contract & the damage caused.
  1. Every planter who entices away or persuades a freed boy, girl, man, or woman to break an approved contract, or who hires one whom he knows has left in violation of this contract & without cause, will suffer a penalty of $25 & costs and the damages sustained by the former employer.
  1. Every person who maltreats a freedman will suffer a penalty determined by the injury & the facts.

V. Every freedman, who violates his contract, will suffer punishments equal to the conditions of the contract, & the damage sustained by the employer. …

… Freedwomen are included in all provisions applicable to freedmen. And they are specially reminded that those living together as such in the past, are recognized as man & wife by this office, & must continue until divorced by the process of law.

In June, Carter wrote to General Kiddoo askin for a detachment of soldiers:

… The demoralization existing is most deep & wide-spread. I have become almost disheartened, unless there is help on the way & I would most respectfully appeal that a corporal & six men be sent to me for duty, as early as practical. I desire to have the moral influence of immediate representatives of the National Government. So many agents have been thro the co’, that some freedmen are hard to believe that the orders I read are true & that I am the proper agent of the Government, in fact, they have openly threatened that, if another agent comes around without Yankee Soldier, they will ‘put him up the spout’. Most reliable men in distant parts of the county, tell me that if I came around there without a sufficient guard, that they would resist my authority.13

An August 11, 1866 letter received by the Bureau and addressed to Kiddoo detailed some of the measures that local planters in the county took to “oppress the Freedmen,” including charging them for anything they could, selling whiskey and other supplies at severe markups, and getting freedpeople to work outside of contract, while not giving any rations: “now how are they to live without depredating on the stock of the neighborhood is a mistery.” 14

On October 2, 1866, in a reply from Kiddoo to Lemuel Morton, the new SAC, Kiddoo says, of the freedpeople in Robertson County: “Urge them to save the crops.”15

During Reconstruction, an African American, Silas Cotton, was elected as representative of Robertson, Leon, and Freestone, in the 1869 election. According to parker1955, 49, the Huntsville State Penitentiary also leased convicts to planters in the area. Meanwhile, the Houston and Texas Central Railroad began construction into the county in 1867, helping to plat Calvert, Hearne, Hammond, and Bremond along the projected route.


I skimmed through the Civil Court Minutes for Robertson County from 1860 to 1868 (Volume J), but did not see any reference to Brandon or Poole. There were some interesting cases in which enslaved people (Ned, Elizabeth and Sam) were accused of murder, though these appear to predate Brandon’s arrival. Could be useful to examine later for context. There is a huge spike in debt lawsuits after the war. J. S. Able of the Able Family appears regularly (including in divorce proceedings initiated in 1867), as does Hammond and the Brazos Manufacturing Company. I had the reels on a short ILL loan but may need to go back and look more closely later.

On the county at the time:

  • See baum2008, which indicates that the county had a high number of refugees, and also high resentment among locals of refugees
  • Dale Baum’s Counterfeit Justice on freedwoman Azeline Hearne
  • Baum’s chapter in howell2012
  • Billingsley, Communities of Kinship
  • Baum’s essay on Matthew Gaines, which refers to his 1863 attempt to escape to Mexico
  • parker1955, written partly by Andrew Forest Muir
  • See description of county by William H. Wheelock in 1867 Texas Almanac
  • Texas Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records for Centreville, Marlin, Palestine, Sterling, Nacogdoches …

On the county in more recent times:

To-Do List

  • qq Go through Freedmen’s Bureau records on FamilySearch

  1. Will noted in RA Assignments that “in general, Robertson County seems to have a lot of refugee planters with their slaves in 1864, at least compared to Falls and Milam counties. There are a number of individuals reported with no land but large numbers of slaves.”

  2. parker1955, 5-15, quotes on 15.

  3. parker1955, 19.

  4. parker1955, 29.

  5. parker1955, 31.

  6. See resolutions in back cover of parker1955.

  7. parker1955, 156.

  8. parker1955, 157. In another letter on the next page, he calls the “negro … at best not above a half savage.”

  9. parker1955, p. 43. Subscribers included Thomas Anderson, C. O. Barton, William Burnitt, Robert Calvert, Volney Cavitt, Coleman Garrett, J. T. Garret, Dr. B. F. Hammond, J. S. Hanna, C. C. Hearne, Horatio Hearne, J. E. Herndon, Charles Lewis, Mrs. Mitchell, J. C. Roberts, Charles P. Salter, Talbot family, W. P. Townsend, and Aaron Woods, who put up 1,450 bales for the venture to be taken to Matamoras in exchange for machinery.

  10. parker1955, p. 45.

  11. Thanks to Edward Valentin for the source.

  12. Taken from the FamilySearch digital edition of NARA M-1912, Roll 26, Sterling: “Texas, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1870,” images, FamilySearch ( : 22 May 2014), Sterling > Roll 26, Letters received, 1866-1868 > image 5 of 123; citing NARA microfilm publication M1912 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

  13. Champe Carter, Jr., Sub-Asst. Commissioner, to Maj. General J. B. Kiddoo, Galveston, June 21, 1866. “Texas, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1870,” images, FamilySearch : 22 May 2014, Sterling > Roll 26, Letters received, 1866-1868 > images 11 and 12 of 123; citing NARA microfilm publication M1912 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)

  14. “Texas, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1870,” images, FamilySearch ( : 22 May 2014), Sterling > Roll 26, Letters received, 1866-1868 > image 24 of 123; citing NARA microfilm publication M1912 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

  15. “Texas, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1870,” images, FamilySearch ( : 22 May 2014), Sterling > Roll 26, Letters received, 1866-1868 > image 29 of 123; citing NARA microfilm publication M1912 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).