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The Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on the Eve of Secession
by Earl Wesley Fornell
illustrated by Lowell Collins
University of Texas Press, 1961
eISBN: 978-0-292-78919-7 | Paper: 978-0-292-72710-6

The "Queen City" of Texas they called her—or the "Octopus of the Gulf." Galveston from 1845 to 1860 was the center of culture in Texas—or the monster with an economic strangle hold on all Texas trade. It was a gracious city with wide paved streets, impressive buildings, and neat gardens; yet it was also a pestilence-ridden place where no sanitary code was ever enforced and where one in every two children died before reaching maturity. Its citizens, avid for culture and knowledge, attended concerts and plays in great numbers and exhibited an eager interest in science and history; yet they could not be brought to support the school system. Galveston was a city where no person in need was ever left uncared for, where the sick and needy—strangers or friends—were succoured; yet no free Negro was safe from legalized abduction and forced enslavement, and the city served as a center for the revived African slave trade. Earl Fornell makes the charming, colorful, cosmopolitan, contradictory city of Galveston the focal point of his study of the Texas Gulf Coast on the eve of the Civil War. The years 1845-1860 were crucial for this area; during that period the economy became more and more dependent upon slave labor, and thus the stage was set for secession. Dr. Fornell describes with clarity the interrelated events, the decisions, and the conflicts that went into the development of Galveston and the Texas Gulf Coast during these years. He portrays the people and their way of life. He introduces us to some of the notables who helped to shape the destiny of Texas: Sam Houston, the old general; Lorenzo Sherwood, the golden-tongued propounder of radical economic doctrines; Willard Richardson, Hamilton Stuart, Ferdinand Flake, and Edward Cushing, the newspapermen whose writing both reflected and guided the thought of their fellow citizens; Arthur Lynn, the British consul whose observing and compassionate nature brought him onto the stage of Galveston history with striking frequency and whose voluminous letters provide a rich source for historical details; and William Ballinger, a minor player on the stage but one whose conscience and interests mirrored those of many other thoughtful Galvestonians. Always present, affecting and affected by virtually every aspect of life on the Coast, the slave-labor problem grew ever more acute as the expanding railroad system laid more and more of the land open for development. Dr. Fornell shows with keen insight how it eventually forced Texans into a position where conflict with the federal government was unavoidable and the decision to secede from the Union inevitable.

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