Real American values: Slavery in Texas in 1860

1860 US Federal Census, Schedule 2, Slave Inhabitants in Cass County, Texas, Beat 4 ( and the National Archives)

The opening sentence of L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between, says:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

My genealogical research has shown that, through my father, half of my heritage is Southern, beginning in Virginia in the 1640s, then moving on to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and ending in Texas by the 1850s. Almost all of them owned slaves. Of my three ancestors who fought in the Civil War, two were Confederate soldiers.

The 1860 federal census record at the top of this post shows that my great great grandfather, Jesse T S Warren (he’s named on line 14 on the right hand side), owned 19 slaves–10 females, 9 males, all adults–housed in 5 slave cabins. (The Chappels, Heaths and Hardys on the same page are my relatives too.)

In the regular census, Jesse T S Warren is described as a 34 year old farmer, living with his wife and five children (including my great grandfather, James, who was six at the time). He owned $4,480 in real estate and $12,000 in personal property of which his slaves undoubtedly comprised the greatest part. He employed an overseer from Alabama who lived with them.  (His nearest neighbor, Jno. E Jones, who owned sixteen slaves according to the above slave census, was a minister.)

These are people who were living the American Dream, 1860 Southern version. (Except the slaves, of course.) If they attended church on Sunday, they would have heard nothing that challenged their belief in the rightness of their system.

I was raised by foster parents and didn’t know anything about my ancestors until a dozen years ago. Almost everything I do know about them is through census and other public records. There’s no emotional attachment to these people and I have no reason to believe that they were either better or worse than their neighbors.

However distasteful slave holding is to me, what my Southern ancestors were doing until 1865 was completely legal and sanctioned by the Constitution.  Slaves were enumerated in every census beginning with the first one in 1790 because of the rule in Section 2 of Article I whereby five non-free people counted as three free persons for purposes of allotting political representation which enabled the South to dominate the federal government until 1860 and protect its “peculiar institution” of slavery.

It took a bloody war, considered by some scholars as a second revolution, to make the first changes to the status of our enslaved people, and a long, long fight to get to where we are now.  And it’s clear that we’re not done yet.

We hear a lot of talk about the Constitution and “American Values ” nowadays–as if things used to be better some time in the past, as if our United States has not always been a work in progress, always seeking “a more perfect Union”.

(When the members of the US Congress read the Constitution out loud on the second day of their 2011 session, they conveniently left out the parts of the original document that had been amended, including the 3/5 rule.)


  1. I have never believed in the “good ol’ days” not as far as the ordinary people are concerned. It has always been a bitter battle and an up hill struggle to try to improve our conditions, and like you say, were not there yet. As a matter of interest, you say your family started in Virginia around the 1640’s, any idea where you hailed from before that, was it somewhere in Europe, if so where?

    • It’s always hard to make connections to ancestors across the pond. There is a good case to be made that the first one was a member of the Warren family from Dover, later Ripple, in Kent, England, which had definite connections with the early settlement of Virginia. If true, it is a well-documented English lineage and I would actually have “gentlemen” in my family tree.
      My mother’s people are all from the North. The earliest (through the female line) arrived in Massachusetts about the same time as Bob’s. Almost all of them are English, Scotch-Irish or Irish (and all Protestant), with a bit of German thrown into the mix for good measure. The most recent of my mother’s ancestors in the male line allegedly arrived in the US as a deserter from the British forces attacking New Orleans in 1815. He is found for the first time in Indiana in 1818 applying for citizenship and later census records give his birthplace as Yorkshire, England.
      As someone who grew up knowing nothing about my birth parents or my heritage, it was surprising to discover how long my ancestors have been here. Nine of my 4X or 5X great grandfathers fought in the American Revolution–and two of them lived long enough to apply for the pension of 1832 where they had to describe under oath what they did in the war and provide documentary evidence supporting their claims.
      My daughter, who first got me interested in genealogy, is still hoping to find a horse thief in our line but so far, no such luck!

      • A cousin who researched our privateer ancestor says he apparently raided British ships too even though was not supposed to. Fairly close to a horse thief, I’d say.

        • The first Winslow on record was also a pirate, though he dates to the 14th century. I descend through Kenelm Winslow, the brother of Edward who arrived on the first Mayflower voyage. Edward was a peace maker. His son Josiah started the first war fought between Anglos and the Natives. My ancestor Kenelm, so far as I can see, kept his mouth shut about politics, but was a bull-headed and rude man, fined multiple times for for swearing and sued for confiscating his servant girl’s clothing.

          Our ancestors were, on the whole, just people, neither better nor worse than any of us. Some sold Natives (and Irish and Africans) into slavery. Others did their best to make the world a better place. But this my ancestors would have done without fail. because it was a necessity for societal survival: when their neighbors needed a barn raised, they helped. I wonder where that particular American value has gone?

  2. My ancestors came from somewhere in England and the first arrived shortly after the Pilgrims. He was a privateer (legal pirate for the British Crown.) The inheritance laws then gave everything to the firstborn male so everyone else had to fend for themselves or beg off him. I’m guessing he got sent here by his older brother or maybe had to leave…

  3. Just thought that I should let you know that I think we are cousins. I’m descended through William Richard Warren and am one of 7 of the only Warren’s (at least till recently) that still live in/near cass county TX

    • Assuming that you’re Drummer Trev on Ancestry Island, my daughter Christine has been in contact with you via email. We’re looking forward to hearing more about our common ancestor.

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