Saturday, May 10, 2014

Tomlinson Hill: Take II

Closeup of map from the US Census of 1860. 

Tomlinson Hill (2013), directed by Lisa Kaselak, who is also executive producer along with Chris Tomlinson; the latter's book of the same name will be published in July 2014.

Historical contextJust before the American Civil War of 1861-1865, most of the population of Texas lived in the eastern half of the state. Most Comanche, Kiowa, Caddo and other "First Nations" (Canadian term) had been driven or "removed" to the North (now Oklahoma) and West by 1860. At the same time, black slave labor had been moved or was being moved into Texas by white slave owners from the "Old Southwest" (Alabama, for instance) and other slaveholding states, as well as illegally via the Atlantic. Slave laborers were concentrated from the Red River line to just above Indianola, and being pushed westward beyond Fort Worth, often having to create and then work cotton fields wherever it was considered feasible. In 1860, about 30% of the population of Texas-- according to the US census count -- consisted of "black" and "mulatto" slaves. As is pointed out in Tomlinson Hill, tens of thousands more slaves were relocated from other parts of the South to Texas in response to Union victories elsewhere in the Confederacy, their owners fleeing -- and forcing them, their slaves, to come along -- from war zones threatened with active emancipation.

Many slaves living in Texas, mostly illiterate by design of their owners, must still have known at least generally about the Emancipation Proclamation by word of mouth, well before Juneteenth -- June 19th, 1865 -- when Union Major General Gordon Granger, who had landed in Galveston backed with troops and ships, announced the facts: slavery was formally ended in the South, even in Texas.* 

For the second half of 1865, some 50,000 Union troops occupied parts of Texas, mostly south of Tomlinson Hill and Marlin, particularly in and around Austin, Indianola, Victoria, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. These troops were a show of force against both Texas Confederates and French imperial claims in Mexico. (Full disclosure: Samuel France, my great great grandfather, was a member of the Union occupying force, serving in the 31st Indiana Veteran Volunteers until he was mustered out in Victoria, Texas, on December 8, 1865, with the rest of his regiment).

Now, with regards to Marlin and Tomlinson Hill, Texas, significant populations of slave laborers were moved into place from Alabama by their white owners in the latter 1850s, before the war: 240, 68 and 24 people respectively among three families. After effective emancipation, many of the freedmen formerly owned by the Tomlinsons adopted the Tomlinson family name. The "black" and "white" Tomlinsons became "like distant cousins," but as Chris Tomlinson also points out, at one count before emancipation, "eight child slaves were mulatto and had been born since the move from Alabama." Meaning, of course, that at least some black and white Tomlinsons were -- and are -- genetically related, too, of "blended" or "biracial" background, and actual blood relatives.

Elsewhere in Tomlinson Hill, Fred L. McGhee, maritime archaeologist and historical anthropologist, points out that Texas [mostly from what now we would call East Texas, out to about Weatherford, situated near what was, by the end of the American Civil War, the crumpled Western frontier of the Confederacy] "is a Southern state. The economic, cultural and social basis of 19th century Texas is slavery. Its basis was plantation agriculture. It was . . . 'an Empire for Slavery.'"

So, how did the freedmen in Texas fare after Juneteenth 1865? And how did the "powers that be" fare in the ensuing 150 years?  Clue: take a look at Texas politics today, from the governor to the state legislature to the US Senate. What do you observe?  

Finally for now, I want to also delve into the growing Hispanic population of Texas in general, and Marlin specifically, at some point. 

[To be continued in a future post].

*Slavery was not ended in the Choctaw Nation, in Oklahoma, until 1866.

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

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