Hous­ton abo­li­tion­ist sug­gested Bri­tish buy Texas, end slav­ery

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - djhol­[email protected] Twit­ter: hol­leynews

A Hous­ton abo­li­tion­ist was noth­ing if not au­da­cious

You’ve seen the soar­ing statue down­town, right? Or maybe the grace­ful tree-lined park­way hug­ging the bayou, the park­way named af­ter at­tor­ney and abo­li­tion­ist Stephen Pearl An­drews?

You haven’t, of course, be­cause me­mo­ri­als to this ear­ly­day Hous­to­nian don’t ex­ist. In fact, if you’re like most Tex­ans — my­self in­cluded un­til re­cently — you’ve never heard of An­drews, even though his ef­fort to shape the Repub­lic of Texas in his abo­li­tion­ist im­age was taken se­ri­ously by both friends and ar­dent foes. Never mind stat­ues and park­ways. Once his fel­low Tex­ans heard of his au­da­cious plan to free the slaves by per­suad­ing Great Bri­tain to buy Texas, he was lucky to es­cape with his head.

I men­tioned An­drews in a col­umn a few months ago af­ter vis­it­ing the site of the for­mer Texas Le­ga­tion in Lon­don, but I knew lit­tle about him un­til I read an es­say re­cently by Mark Sussman, a pro­fes­sor at Hunter Col­lege in New York. As Sussman points out, An­drews’s scheme was not as out­landish as it sounds. He notes that Bri­tain had done some­thing sim­i­lar when it abol­ished slav­ery on its plan­ta­tions in the West Indies. Slave­hold­ers were paid a to­tal of $20 mil­lion ster­ling for their lost prop­erty, al­though they re­tained their land.

Like most Hous­to­ni­ans in the early 1840s, An­drews was a new­comer to Texas. Born in Mas­sachusetts in 1812, he taught at a girl’s school in New Or­leans in his teens and early 20s and de­vel­oped a vis­ceral ha­tred for slav­ery. He stud­ied law in New Or­leans and es­tab­lished a suc­cess­ful prac­tice but de­cided he could do more to com­bat the scourge in the fledg­ling Texas Repub­lic than in the es­tab­lished state of Louisiana.

As An­drews bi­og­ra­pher Madeleine Stern told the story in a 1964 South­west­ern His­tor­i­cal Quar­terly es­say, An­drews and his wife Mary Ann, who shared his abo­li­tion­ist sym­pa­thies, ar­rived in Hous­ton in 1839 and ac­quired 640 acres of land in Harris County. An­drews brought with him a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Mirabeau B. La­mar in­tro­duc­ing the 26-year-old at­tor­ney as “a highly re­spectable mem­ber of the New Or­leans bar … an or­na­ment to the so­ci­ety of this place … and a very valu­able cit­i­zen.”

An­drews set up his Hous­ton prac­tice in an of­fice across the

street from the court­house, took out an ad tout­ing his abil­ity to trans­late Span­ish land-ti­tle doc­u­ments into English and stayed alert for op­por­tu­ni­ties to put his abo­li­tion­ist ideas into prac­tice.

“While he waited, he watched,” Stern wrote, “and there was much to watch in Hous­ton as the city grew and changed. Only the year be­fore, the place could boast but 400 in­hab­i­tants and pine stumps still clut­tered the main street. But soon, An­drews could see the mud holes filled in, brick side­walks laid, farm­ers’ wag­ons laden with pro­duce, and de­spite yel­low plague and worth­less cur­rency he could feel the spirit of the fu­ture — the spirit of ‘go-ahead’ and ‘up sad­dle-bags’ like a wind over Hous­ton.”

A valu­able cit­i­zen

An­drews be­came an or­na­ment and valu­able cit­i­zen in his new abode, as well. He ad­dressed tem­per­ance meet­ings in “the grog-lov­ing city of Hous­ton” (Stern’s de­scrip­tion), be­came a char­ter mem­ber of the First Bap­tist Church, had a hand in the found­ing of Bay­lor Univer­sity and joined the Hous­ton Com­mit­tee of Vig­i­lance, a group of lead­ing cit­i­zens es­tab­lished to so­licit funds from the United States for the Texas mil­i­tary.

In 1841, he laid out his plan for free­ing the slaves. Bi­og­ra­pher Stern ex­plained his think­ing this way: “By the ex­change of Bri­tish money for Texas land, slave­hold­ers could be re­im­bursed for the loss of their slaves and slav­ery could be abol­ished; [Bri­tish] em­i­grants would pour into a ‘free soil ter­ri­tory’ and un­der the pro­tec­tion of the Bri­tish flag ex­pe­di­ency would be made to serve prin­ci­ple.”

An­drews him­self wrote: “My plan is for the Bri­tish na­tion to buy up Texas, which I think she can do. … What I mean by buy­ing is, that she shall … make it most ob­vi­ously the in­ter­est of Texas to abol­ish slav­ery.”

An­drews didn’t seem all that con­cerned that his plan would be hand­ing over a piece of North Amer­ica to a for­eign power, nor did it con­cern his fel­low abo­li­tion­ists. Sur­pris­ingly, he got a pos­i­tive re­sponse when he tried out on his plan on a Hous­ton au­di­ence gath­ered at the court­house one evening. “Im­mense & con­tin­u­ous ap­plause … sealed the tri­umph of the oc­ca­sion,” he wrote.

A few days later, he took his show on the road, to Galve­ston, where the re­sponse was not what he ex­pected. A “gen­tle­manly south­ern mob” that had gath­ered at the Cus­tom House put him on a boat back to Hous­ton.

Pub­lic sen­ti­ment had turned against him here, as well. Word be­gan to spread of a rad­i­cal abo­li­tion­ist plot hatched by a “ne­grophilist” med­dler.

His plan might have helped a strug­gling Texas deal with its po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary pres­sures (from Mex­ico), but the Repub­lic’s problems, as Sussman notes, “were not great enough to over­come its in­vest­ments in slav­ery and its anger at the prospect of col­o­niza­tion by Great Bri­tain.”

An an­gry mob

A mob showed up at the An­drews home, and just to show they meant busi­ness, they brought along a rope. An­drews, who was said to have a work­ing knowl­edge of 32 lan­guages, got the mes­sage. He turned over his law prac­tice to his partner, sold his land and fled to New Or­leans with his wife and son un­der cover of night.

New Or­leans was no more hos­pitable than Hous­ton. Po­lice were un­der or­ders to ar­rest him on sight, so af­ter a few days he took his fam­ily to Nor­wich, Conn., where his wife had grown up.

De­spite the dan­ger down South, An­drews did not aban­don his scheme. He and a col­league sailed to Lon­don, where abo­li­tion­ist groups greeted them warmly and Lord Aberdeen, the for­eign sec­re­tary and fu­ture prime minister, granted them an au­di­ence.

Aberdeen seemed sym­pa­thetic to their cause, un­til he found out from Ash­bel Smith, the Texas charge d’af­faires, that An­drews rep­re­sented no one but him­self. The for­eign sec­re­tary was no sup­porter of slav­ery, but he was re­luc­tant to in­ter­fere with Texas, al­ready in the early stages of an­nex­a­tion by the U.S. as a slave state.

An­drews sailed home a fail­ure, but he didn’t sur­ren­der to dis­ap­point­ment. While in Eng­land, he had be­come in­trigued with a short­hand sys­tem de­vised by a man named Isaac Pit­man, and when he got home he opened a school of “phonog­ra­phy” in Bos­ton. He also got in­ter­ested in spell­ing re­form and wrote sev­eral books and edited a cou­ple of mag­a­zines us­ing pho­netic spell­ing.

An­drews also founded a utopian com­mu­nity on Long Is­land called Mod­ern Times, but it failed too. As far as we know, he never re­turned to Texas.


/ Wikipedia Com­mons

This map was pub­lished in 1845 in the Ne­wark Daily Ad­ver­tiser as the U.S. Se­nate took up a res­o­lu­tion for Texas an­nex­a­tion. Mean­while, an abo­li­tion­ist sought to sell Texas to the Bri­tish.


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