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Detail, Kermit Oliver, The Battle of Goliad. Image courtesy of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures.

The Saga of Sam McCulloch, a Free Black Man in the Republic of Texas

Black History Month, celebrated annually in the United States in February, emphasizes the unique historical and cultural experiences of African Americans. These experiences are marked by times of great difficulty and tragedy, as well as courage, perseverance, and progress. Due to the practices and prejudices common during the years of the Republic of Texas and early statehood, there are but few records at the General Land Office that tell this story. Samuel McCulloch, Jr. is one example of a free black man who fought for Texas’ independence and remained a Texan for the rest of his life.

Certificate #113 to Samuel McCullloch Jr., 12 April 1838, Bexar 1–000905, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Samuel McCulloch, Jr. was born in South Carolina in 1810. He moved with his white father, Samuel, Sr., to Alabama at the age of five (there is no mention of his mother in any official records). In May 1835, the elder McCulloch moved Sam and his three sisters to Texas, where they were considered free blacks.[1]

The McCulloch family settled on the Lavaca River in what is now Jackson County. On October 5, 1835, barely five months after moving to Texas, Sam, Jr. joined the Matagorda Volunteer Company as a private to fight in the Texas Revolution. On October 9th, two days short of his 25th birthday, McCulloch and fifty other men attacked the Mexican army garrison at Goliad. According to eyewitness testimony, he was the first soldier to enter the fort. During the attack, McCulloch was severely wounded in the right shoulder by a musket ball. He is believed to be the first person wounded in the Texas Revolution.

McCulloch was transported by wagon to his father’s home in Jackson County, where he began a long period of recuperation. He later had to evacuate his home in April 1836 during the Runaway Scrape, to escape Santa Anna’s advancing army. The musket ball was not removed from his shoulder until July, nine months after he was wounded. The wound left McCulloch laid up for over a year, and he remained handicapped for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, the physical trauma of his wounds from the war was not the only difficulty Sam McCulloch faced in the early years of Texas’ independence. When the government attempted to remove free African American citizens from the Republic, McCulloch, “deprived of the privileges of citizenship by reason of an unfortunate admixture of African blood,” petitioned Congress in 1837 for his right to remain in Texas and “enjoy the privileges of citizenship in this Republic.”[2] He was left in uncertain legal status until he was ultimately successful after a second petition was submitted by Patrick Usher. A law, similar to the Ashworth Act, was passed on December 15, 1840, that exempted the McCulloch family “from all provisions of ‘an act concerning free persons of color,’” and “permitted and allowed [them] to continue their residence within the bounds of the Republic of Texas.”[3]

Testimony in support of a Veteran Donation for Samuel McCulloch, Jr., 8 July 1881, Republic Donation Voucher 403, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

As a disabled veteran of the Texas Revolution, McCulloch was eligible for a bounty grant. On December 18, 1837, the Legislature passed “An Act Making provisions for persons who have been permanently disabled in the service of Texas,”[4] under which McCulloch was awarded a certificate for one league (4,428 acres) of land on April 11, 1838. In 1850, he located two-thirds of his league southwest of San Antonio and sold the rights to locate the other third.

McCulloch married in 1837 and he and his wife raised four sons. He became a farmer and a rancher and lived most of his remaining life near Von Ormy, a few miles southwest of San Antonio. His lingering injury did not keep him from serving Texas again as a soldier — he fought in the battle of Plum Creek in 1840 against Comanche Indians, and also served as a spy for the Army of the Republic of Texas during the Mexican invasion of San Antonio in 1842.

Detail, Map of Bexar County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1878, Map #3299, General Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In his later years, McCulloch attended reunions of old soldiers and pioneers. In 1858, after further petitioning on his behalf, an Act for the Relief of Sam McCulloch was passed by the Texas Legislature. This law authorized the Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue McCulloch a certificate for one league and one labor of land, the amount of land to which he was entitled for settling in Texas prior to the Declaration of Independence, and had never received due to his race.[5] He applied for and received approval to locate an additional 1,280 acres in 1881 under “An act granting a land certificate of 1280 acres to each of the surviving soldiers of the Texas Revolution…”[6] As part of his application, he testified that he “received a severe wound in a battle against the enemy at Goliad in the right shoulder, from the effects of which he has not finally recovered to the present day, nor does he now ever expect to.”[7]

Samuel McCulloch, Jr., a free African American man who arrived in Texas in 1835, fought for independence, carved out a life for himself and his family, overcame systemic racial prejudice, and lived through generations of hard times and slow progress. He died at the age of 83 in Von Ormy, on November 2, 1893.

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[1] Handbook of Texas Online, Nolan Thompson, “McCulloch, Samuel, Jr.,” accessed February 17, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmc36. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] Samuel McCulloch, Jr., Memorials and Petitions, Texas Legislature. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

[3] Hans Peter Mareus Neilson Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 Volume 2, pp. 468–469. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6726/m1/472/: accessed February 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu.

[4] Gammel, Volume 1, pp. 1435–1436.(texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth5872/m1/1443/: accessed February 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu.

[5] Certificate #6019/6020 for Samuel McCulloch, 21 January 1858, Lamar 1–000218, Texas Land Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Gammel, volume 4, p. 1244

[6] Gammel, Vol. IX, 127–128.

[7] Testimony in support of a Veteran Donation for Samuel McCulloch, Jr., 8 July 1881, Republic Donation Voucher 000403, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

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