Fanny McFarland's petition to remain in Texas
An emancipated Texan gets support from her community
Fanny McFarland, an enslaved woman, came to Texas in 1827. Granted freedom in 1835, Fanny moved to Houston where she acquired property and worked to support herself. In keeping with Texas's laws, in October 1840 she requested permission from the legislature to continue living in Texas.
Shortly after independence in 1836, the first constitution of the Republic of Texas legalized slavery. It also prohibited slaveholders from freeing the enslaved, and barred emancipated people from living in Texas without legislative permission. In 1837, Congress decided that free Black Texans — like Fanny — who were in Texas before independence was declared on March 2, 1836, could remain without submitting a petition. Then in February 1840 with the Act Concerning Free Persons of Color, Congress reversed that decision and again required free Black Texans to seek permission from Congress to remain. Anyone without permission had to leave the Republic within two years or risk being sold back into slavery. In response to laws that aimed to remove them, local records show that free Black Texans used their reputations as valuable and respected members of their communities in efforts to stay.
In Houston, Fanny McFarland was one of these people. Granted her freedom in 1835, Fanny moved to Houston where she worked as a laundress and real estate agent, making wide-ranging contacts in the local community. Wishing to stay near her children who were still enslaved, she requested permission from the legislature to continue living in Texas. She argued that "all her hopes and prospects in this life lie here." Over eighty citizens in Houston endorsed her 1840 petition, including justices of the peace, a judge, and the mayor, describing her as a "good and useful citizen." Despite her efforts, Congress did not rule on her petition. As it turned out, Congress, bombarded by protests from white Texans, reversed its decision again in December 1840. Once more, free Black Texans who had lived in Texas before March 2, 1836, could continue living in Texas. Fanny McFarland was free to stay and she remained in Houston until her death in 1866, by which time emancipation had come to all Black Texans following the Civil War.
The petition from McFarland, as well as those from other emancipated Houstonians, highlight the fact that some free Black Texans established and maintained important ties to the city, ones they could call upon for support when needed. Despite broader discrimination, significant collaboration in the community helped some stay and carve out a measure of independence.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Time Period: 1835 - 1844
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