Two families on the Texas-México border are notable for their roles in the Underground Railroad heading south of the Río Grande. The Jacksons and the Webbers have similar histories. The women were Black former slaves and the men were White. Jackson was a former slave owner who freed his slaves, including Matilda who became his wife. Webber was a settler from Vermont who met his wife in Texas and made sure she and her children were freed. Both couples moved with their mixed race children to South Texas, looking to live in peace. South Texas was home to many ethnicities, which created a society that was more accepting of marriages across the color line. The families settled in Hidalgo County. There the Jacksons’ ranch and cemetery are national historic landmarks.
Nathaniel and Matilda Jackson moved to Texas in 1857. John and Silvia Webber moved to South Texas in 1853. All settled near the Río Grande-Río Bravo to farm. As occasion arose, they housed and fed escaping slaves. Both families ran ferries across the river to Mexico. Bales of cotton and bushels of sugar cane were not the only occupants of the ferries, they most likely also carried Blacks heading for freedom. Helping runaways was dangerous; punishable by fines, jail time or even death, so there is no surviving list of freedmen and freedwomen from their efforts.
Researchers estimate approximately 4,000 Blacks escaped slavery by stepping foot on Mexican soil. The Jacksons and the Webbers aided a portion of that number, only they knew how many. Myriad Texan unsung heroes contributed to the cause of freedom before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Historians only are beginning to piece together the story.
I’d be happy to read more in history books about the Underground Railroad to México, because Mexicans would not agree to the Fugitive Slave Act, than about Texans chasing runaway slaves across the border. Time to balance those narratives.
“Just a Ferry Ride to Freedom” is a new documentary film I’m very interested in seeing about the Underground Railroad to México. So far it’s screened in Texas and LA. I’ve asked the filmmaker to consider posting it on Vimeo. If you like the idea, please write them on Facebook or on their webpage. Thanks!
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca
Related: South to Freedom from Slavery