Land Certificate of Samuel McCulloch, 1838

Free African American fought for Texas during the Revolution

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by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

Republic of Texas land certificates were not often awarded to African Americans, but Sam McCulloch, Jr. held a position of honor among Texas Revolution veterans.

Sam McCulloch, Jr. (1810–1893) was born in South Carolina, the son of Samuel McCulloch, Sr., a white man, and an unnamed African American woman. The senior McCulloch moved with his mother, Mary Garrison McCulloch, and son from South Carolina to Montgomery, Alabama in 1815.

McCulloch brought 25 year-old Sam Jr., his three sisters (Jane, Harriet and Mahaly, all born in Alabama), and a fourth enslaved child named Ulde or Huldir, to Texas in May 1835. Because Texas was still a Mexican state, slavery was illegal. McCulloch returned to Alabama and on July 6, 1835, filed paperwork to emancipate his children and Ulde (or Huldir). He returned to Texas and the family settled in what is now Jackson County on the Lavaca River.

Sam Jr. soon joined the Matagorda County Volunteers on October 5, 1835 to fight for Texas’s independence from Mexico. According to battle accounts, he was the first person through the door in the attack on the Mexican fortress at Presidio La Bahía in Goliad four days later, on October 9. He took a severe hit to his right shoulder from a musket ball, which was not removed until nearly a year later in July 1836. In 1837, McCulloch married Mary Lorena Vess, a white woman, even though laws existed to prevent interracial marriage.

By 1840 Sam McCulloch, Jr. had to confront newly enacted laws such as “An Act Concerning Persons of Free Color,” designed to force previously-free persons of color out of Texas or face enslavement.

Supportive community residents circulated a petition requesting that McCulloch and his siblings be allowed to remain in Texas as free people. The Congress ruled in McCulloch’s favor on December 15, 1840, declaring “That Samuel McCulloch, Jr., and his three sisters … Jane, Harriet and Mahaly, and their descendants, better known as the free children of Samuel McCulloch, senr., now in the Republic of Texas, together with a free colored girl, known by the name of Ulde or Huldir, a member of said McCulloch’s family, be … exempted from all provisions of ‘An Act Concerning Persons of Free Color.’”

Although he received his land grant in 1838, McCulloch did not settle the land until 1850, on the Frio Road and Medina River in Bexar County. His wife Mary had passed away in 1847. He worked as a rancher and farmer with his four sons and continued to be active in veteran association gatherings and reunions throughout his life.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Land Certificate of Samuel McCulloch, 1838 Artifact from San Antonio, Texas
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