African American Genealogy in Hunt County

African Americans who are able to trace their roots to Hunt County, Texas will be interested to note that Hunt County, possibly to a greater degree than any other county in Texas, has a very unique African American heritage. From the first settlers of the county around 1843 to the present, African Americans have played a vital role in the shaping of the county's history.

The first permanent African American residents of Hunt County were slaves who came to settle the area with the first settlement families around 1843. Most of Hunt County's early population hailed from southern or slave-holding states. Natives of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina made up 15% of the county's early population; 29% hailed from Tennessee, and 12% hailed from Kentucky. The remainder came from northern states of from foreign nations. These people brought with them their slaves.

By 1860, Hunt County had a proportionally larger slave population than any other county on the Blacklands not engaged in large-scale agricultural production. (Cotton was not grown in large quantities until after the coming of the railroads. ) In addition to the regular slave population of Hunt County, as hostilities broke out during the Civil War in the deep South, many Southerners sent their slaves to reside with relatives in Texas so as not to be confiscated. This coupled with the migration of more families into Hunt County caused our slave population to reach new heights by the end of the Civil War.

Interestingly, Hunt County citizens had to find ways to deal with the large slave population. In many cases, an individual slave owner had far too many slaves than he could use at any given time. Therefore, it became common practice, especially in town areas, to rent slaves out to those needing a day or perhaps even a week's worth of labor. Because caring for slaves was so expensive, many owners allowed their slaves to use the money earned while working for others to purchase their freedom. One such unique case was that of "Big" Jim Brigham, who purchased his freedom and went on to found Hunt County's first all-black community, Neylandville.

The Story of Neylandville

The history of Neylandville began when "Free" Jim Brigham bought his freedom from Robert Neyland, and then used money that he garnered from working on county road construction and for other farmers to buy land on what is now Farm Road 2874, ten miles north of Greenville. Before emancipation was announced in Hunt County sometime in the late summer or early fall of 1865, Brigham had managed to purchase not only his freedom but the freedom of his wife and some of their children.

Neylandville became a mecca of sorts for freed slaves from all over the county, and from surrounding counties. By 1880, the town had a school, St. Paul School, which became and remained the black educational center for the county for many years. In 1886, the St. Louis and Southwestern railroad reached the city, followed by a post office that operated from 1888 until 1924.

Today, descendants of "Free Jim" still live in Neylandville, and, in spite of a population decline since the 1960s, many of Neylandville's residents can still trace their roots to the days of slavery in Hunt County.

Many county, cemetery, and newspaper and other records from Hunt County have much information about Hunt County African Americans.

Christine's African American Genealogy Website

Recognition of Black Confederate Soldiers Committee

More about Neylandville

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