With war on the horizon, many plantation owners pulled up stakes and headed for Texas. Thousands of slaves were force-marched or taken to Texas by ship from as far away as Maryland. Others were imported directly and sold at auction in South Texas markets.
In 2013, I discovered this blurb about William Woods Downs, a 3rd GGU of mine. But only yesterday – 22 Aug 2017 was I able to fill in the blanks.
In 1854 he, in the company of one William Fort, took a trip to Texas and looked at land possibilities. He clearly liked the prospects because he, his immediate family, and all other Downs Family members, relocated to Texas by wagon in 1855. Once in Texas, the family first spent time in Indianola, now a ghost town located on Matagorda Bay in Calhoun County, before settling briefly in DeWitt County.
At some point actually unknown to me, but probably during on his first visit or while in Indianola, he purchased land in Brazos County which he sold while living in DeWitt County and the family, along with 100 slaves, moved near to Waco in McClennan County, where he again set up a cotton plantation.
It’s not definitely known where William obtained his slaves since the great majority of slaves in Texas came with their owners from the older slave states. But there was a slave market in Indianola which peaked in 1852 and I think it safe to say William brought none into Texas with him. It’s also not clear what he paid for his 100, but between 1850 and 1860 when land was selling for about $6 an acre, the average price in for a slave on the Indianola market steadily rose from $300 to $ 800, which means that he had to have arrived with $30,000 to $80,000 cash on hand.
When the war ended, there was nothing he could do in the way of sale of his plantation holdings because there was longer a lucrative market for either land or cotton. Protected by his own accumulated wealth and with freedmen immobilized by General Gordon Granger’s orders dated 19 JUN 1865 and 28 Jun 1865 he chose to parcel it out, possibly on condition of some sharecropping arrangement or possibly as estates in fee.
But, what about his son John Wesley Downs? What’s he got to do with anything? Why would both he and his father be honored by the renaming of the community of freemen from Price to Downsville some thirty years later?
Well, that remains a mystery..
William Woods Downs