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