@Book{ kelley2010,
	author = {Sean M. Kelley},
	title = {Los Brazos de Dios: a Plantation Society in the Texas Borderlands, 1821--1865},
	address = {Baton Rouge},
	publisher = {Louisiana State University Press},
	year = 2010,

Kelley’s key contention is that the Brazos area should be thought of as a “borderlands” because of the cultural exchanges, migrations, and fluidity that took place there, but he argues that after the Civil War the area was firmly “bordered” land.

Its proximity to Mexico was crucial for the shape that slave society took there: “Texas was the only slave-based plantation society to originate under Mexican sovereignty, a circumstance that shaped its development profoundly. . . . Lower Brazos slave society took root in a borderland that was disputed by two sovereign republics, one in which slavery was ascendant, and another in which it was moribund.” Proximity to Mexico also made “the institution chronically unstable” because the “border beckoned to enslaved Texans.” All of this made antebellum Brazos “a particular variant of the southern slave society that spawned it: it was a borderland plantation society.”

What made the Brazos a borderland?

  • contested sovereignty
  • demographic diversity, both among blacks and whites
  • "Mexico loomed large in the minds of its resident. ... particularly among the enslaved, who viewed the republic to the south as a symbol of freedom. In the years before the Civil War, thousands of Texas slaves fled southward across the Rio Grande"

Civil War, however, “completed the transition from contested borderland to more static ‘bordered land.’ As long as Texas remained a slave state and Mexico a free republic, the pull of the border was strong. After 1865, slave flight and masters’ attempts at recapture ended. . . . With slavery gone, Mexico’s significance receded in Brazos residents’ consciousness.” This was not true, Kelley notes, of South Texas, which remained a border society.

Chapter 1

Kelley departs from older historiography that just sees slavery in Texas as the importation of “Southern society,” as a folkway that traveled to the southwest along with other Southern traditions. He describes the advent of slavery as part of larger structural changes in the transatlantic economy, changes that also explain the migration streams of Anglos and Germans to the area.

Four major migrations to the area:

  • Anglos and enslaved African Americans from U.S. South started in 1820s
  • About six thousand African Americans came through interrgional slave market
  • About three thousand German-speakers from central Europe
  • Africans shipped through Cuba (several hundred, perhaps as many as 1,000)

“All were in some way connected to the expansion of the Atlantic economy,” and all “were also in some way affected by the border politics of Mexico and the United States, from the Mexican government’s initial invitation to Anglo colonists to the skillfull exploitation of border conflict to import African slaves.”

Kelley notes that the slow importatation of slaves into Texas prior to annexation was due mainly to the uncertain legal status of the institution; once American sovereignty was clear, slave trading increased and the population grew.

Chapter 2

Examines differences in the ways that each ethnic group in the area thought about family relationships. Includes a section on slave families.

Chapter 3

This chapter on “Masters and Slaves” argues for the development of a distinct “borderland paternalism,” a “pidgin” language of master-slave relations that was different from other regions because of:

  • the distinction picture of masters and slaves working together to clear a “wilderness”
  • the border with Mexico, which (after the 1820s tentative attack on slavery by the Mexican government) loomed large in both masters’ and slaves’ consciousness

Kelley says there was “a steady flow of runaways” to Mexican settlements like Piedras Negras, according to testimony from Olmsted and others. This meant that negotiations over work conditions, control of material goods, and community time were “carried out agains tthe backdrop of wilderness conquest and border flight.” He draws several distinctions between Lower and Upper Country neighborhoods in terms of crop produced, form of labor organization used, and autonomy of African American community building that these differences made possible. He argues that there was more of an African presence here than, arguably, any other region of the South in this period.

Chapter 4

“Germans, Anglos, and the Politics of Slavery” documents how “as the section crisis unfolded, and as the German population increased, Brazos slaveholders became obsessed with their neighbors’ views on the question.” Conflicts also arose as market reached Texas. The local conflicts that took place generally failed to challenge “the fundamental consensus on household sovereignty,” however. Interference with a man’s rule of his own house was the opposite of “neighborly” relations.

Kelley uses all this to explain the rise of nativism and Know Nothing strength in the area.

Chapter 5

On the War.

Good quote from Oscar Addison about how slaves were likely to hear talk of the war. “In my estimation, the whites by their talk, (which many of the negroes hear), and manner of doing in the affair, has a legitimate tendency to create the very thing they fear, the existence of which, is confined to the fears.”

Initially the war strengthened the pull of Mexico on the Brazos as trading across Matamoros created an outlet for farmers’ crops and new opportunities for escape to enslaved teamsters. “As the war progressed, however, the Brazos moved gradually out of Mexico’s orbit. Slavery, which for more than thirty years had kept Mexico in the forefront of black and white Brazos residents’ imaginations, began to weaken. . . . When it was all over, the boundary between the two nations no longer meant what it had.”

Paternalism language and master’s control began to weaken thanks to:

  • military impressment of slaves
  • conscription of white men to the army
  • growing dissent from Germans, as evidenced by the 1863 “New Ulm Matter”—a plot that Anglos saw as an attempt to start a slave insurrection simultaneous with the Emancipation Proclamation, but which was really an organized attempt by Germans to defy the draft.
  • new opportunities for escape—“one Brazoria County slave owner spoke of a ‘runaway mania’ caused by the brief Union occupation of Galveston”

Excellent example of the Neblett Farm as a place where slaves began to assert more control in the absence of male masters.