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The Calhoun Plantation

Walker County became a desirable location for Anglo settlers in the mid-nineteenth century, spurred by steamboat navigation of the Trinity River which could transport goods to the Port of Galveston. [1] Significant population growth took place between 1850 and 1860, reflective of the growing plantation economy. East Texas featured rich soil and a long growing season, providing optimal conditions to produce corn and cotton. [2] The remainder of this section will explore one plantation, located at the junction of Bedias Creek and the Trinity River and owned by Samuel Calhoun.

Samuel Calhoun moved his family to Texas in 1845, one year before Walker County was formally established. [3] He came by way of South Carolina, then Georgia, then Alabama -- his migrations represent the growing economic draw and development of the Deep South, which triggered a pattern of migration from the Upper South. He acquired several thousand acres at the intersection of Walker, Madison, and Houston counties and became one of the wealthiest men in Walker County. [4] Strategically located, his plantation served as a river port, ferry crossing, and stage stop in addition to growing the cash crops of cotton and corn. [5]

Samuel Calhoun moved to his plantation home with his second wife, Catherine O’Brien, and many of his children, including his daughter Lucy. His daughter Martha, from his first marriage, also moved to East Texas with her husband James Cabiness, where they established their own plantation along the Trinity River called Pine Prairie. [6] Two children, Louis and Ella, were born in Texas and would go on to inherit pieces of the estate following Calhoun’s death in 1870. [7] On the eve of the Civil War, Calhoun’s land and its enslaved laborers were valued at $62,277. [8] This equates to about $2,343,500 in 2024. His granddaughter Catherine recounted how the plantation home was constructed entirely through enslaved labor, including handmade bricks, shingles, and doors. [9]

The 1850 Federal Census lists 16 enslaved people with Calhoun’s property – a number which grew to 54 by the 1860 census. This suggests not only a growth in personal wealth, but participation in the interregional, domestic slave trade between 1810 and 1860, referred to by some scholars as the “Slave Trail of Tears.” As slavery expanded geographically to the south and west, plantations of the deep cotton south became more profitable than tobacco centers of the east. One million enslaved people endured a forced migration as they were sold from upper to lower states. [10] The familial toll of this migration reveals that an estimated 50 percent of all slaves in the Upper South were separated from a parent or child, and a third of their marriages destroyed. [11] Historical records do not easily reveal the lived experiences of the Calhoun slaves in particular; however, it is important to acknowledge the context in which they lived.

Millie Collins, born into slavery in South Carolina, was moved by Samuel Calhoun throughout the South and eventually to Texas in 1845. She is likely one of the 16 enslaved individuals listed on the Slave Schedule of the 1850 Federal Census. She served as a nurse to Samuel’s children Ella and Louis, then also nursed Louis’ own children. Louis’ daughter Catherine remembers her “as vividly as she did her own parents.” [12] Millie lived to the age of 103. [13] Her cabin is identified by name on the 1979 map of the Calhoun Plantation, and she is mentioned in one of Louis Calhoun’s published obituaries, suggesting she played a significant role in service of the family prior to and following Emancipation.

The decade between 1860 and 1870 marked significant change to the economics and population of plantation life, as had the preceding decade. In Walker County in 1870, cotton production was at 5,524 bales – less than half of what was produced in 1860. Land value also plummeted from about $1.5 million in 1860, to $311,556 in 1870. [14] By 1880, sixty percent of farmers in Walker County worked for shares. [15] After the railroads were completed in the 1870s, trade along the Trinity River effectively disappeared. [16]

In 1870, Calhoun’s estate included 120 head of cattle, 8 and ½ oxen, two mills/gins, 180 bushels of corn and 1,400 pounds of fodder. [17] According to the memoirs of Calhoun’s granddaughter Catherine, formerly enslaved people were invited by Samuel to stay on the plantation where he would provide acreage and build them homes. The 1870 Federal Census includes a few non-family members living with the Calhoun family, perhaps relatives of “Aunt Harriet” which Catherine recalls accepted Samuel’s offer. [18] They are a mixed-race man named Brooks Sampson, a mixed-race women Celia Sampson, a 3-year-old Cornelia Sampson, and a Black woman named Clairence Tucker. Clairence’s birthplace of Alabama suggests that, like Millie, she may have been moved to Texas by the Calhoun family. In Walker County in 1870, another Calhoun family is listed with Venus Calhoun, a woman formerly enslaved by Samuel, as the head of household. Three other individuals live with her and are described as farm hands. Altogether, these details suggest that the Calhoun Plantation continued similar activities following Emancipation, such as farming and ranching, but on a much smaller scale.

After the death of Samuel Calhoun, his son Louis received most of the family estate. [19] At the time of the 1900 Federal Census, he still lived in Walker County with this wife and two daughters – Margaret and Catherine. Catherine describes being born into the “post-Civil War Carpetbaggers Era,” being taught by governesses rather than in public schools, and seasonal activities on the plantation. In the summer, they fished in Moten Lake, Trinity River, and Bedias Creek. In the fall, they gathered black walnuts and hickory nuts. In the winter, they roasted sweet potatoes, popped popcorn, ate dried raisins, and listened to Millie’s ghost stories. Come spring, they went violet hunting and ate wild plants such as wild onions, leaf clovers, and sheep sorrel. [20]

Census data lists additional individuals in Louis’ household: Thomas Madison, Tom Collins, and Marshall Ashley, all farm laborers, and Millie Ashley, a servant – this is likely the same Millie Collins mentioned prior. Described as Black and “boarders,” this indicates that the Calhoun’s post-Civil War business remained largely agricultural. [21] Louis long described himself as a "home farmer," employed by his "own accord." [22] By the year 1918, Louis Calhoun had moved from Walker County to Harris County, Houston and lived there until his death in 1947. [23] Land deeds between January 1912 and October 1937 indicate that following his move, Louis sold or leased the land to gas and oil companies. [24] This suggests a gradual de-population of the Calhoun Plantation in the century following their initial arrival in 1845.

Images

Calhoun Plantation in color
Calhoun Plantation in color Hand drawn map based on recollections of Rose Calhoun Connable Source: Marilyn McNay Robinson, Linda Burgess, Zachary Doleshal Date: 1979
Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. Compiled from the census of 1860
Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. Compiled from the census of 1860 Map has been edited to emphasize Walker County in the context of this entry. Source: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3861e.cw0013200/?r=-0.161,-0.103,1.281,0.872,0 Creator: Edwin Hergesheimer
Walker County Plantation Economy
Walker County Plantation Economy Infographic depicting changes in population, cotton, and corn production based on data about Walker County from 1850-1860 Source: Texas State Historical Association and Federal Census Data Creator: Carina Whiteside Date: April 2024
Millie Collins in front of her cabin on Calhoun Plantation
Millie Collins in front of her cabin on Calhoun Plantation Transcribed information written on the back of the photo reads: "Millie Collins born before 1863 - nursed Aunt Ella and Louis Calhoun - then lived to nurse mother and Aunt Catherine (Millie had her own cabin facing the road according to Samuel Calhoun Plantation Home Rendering in 1979.) Given to us by Aunt Catherine Christmas '77" Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection Date: 1918 or 1919
Calhoun Family Home Porch
Calhoun Family Home Porch Louis Calhoun can be seen here standing second from the left, along with members of the Calhoun family as they pose on the front porch. Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection Date: Date unknown
Gate to Calhoun Family Cemetery
Gate to Calhoun Family Cemetery A simple ear of corn, honored here at the top of each wrought iron post on the boundary of the cemetery. Source: https://www.facebook.com/groups/129410399349/posts/10161121001044350/ Creator: Scott Collier, Walker County Historical Commission Date: October 27, 2023
Calhoun Ferry in Operation
Calhoun Ferry in Operation Providing access between Walker, Madison, and Houston counties, the Calhoun Ferry would move people up and down the Trinity River. Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection Date: Date unknown
Calhoun Family Before 1904
Calhoun Family Before 1904 The back of this photograph reads: “Taken before 1904. Ann Baldwin with gun. Aunt Catherine standing beside her. Grandmother and Granddaddy Calhoun and mother in back row.” Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection
Calhoun Family Photograph
Calhoun Family Photograph Pictured here are members of the Calhoun family: Louis (Samuel’s son, born in Walker County), Kate Hayden (Louis’s wife), and Margaret and Catherine (their daughters), along with one unidentified person. Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection Date: Taken sometime before 1904
Portrait of Ella Louise Calhoun Wilson
Portrait of Ella Louise Calhoun Wilson Pictured here is Ella Louise Calhoun Wilson, daughter of Samuel Calhoun and sister of Louis Calhoun. Written text on the back states, “This is a picture of Aunt Ella’s and daddy’s after rearing the family in a pioneer country. Louis Calhoun was around 7 years of age.” Source: Calhoun Family Archive private collection Date: Date unknown

Location

Metadata

Carina Whiteside

Ezequiel Castellanos, “The Calhoun Plantation,” East Texas History, accessed May 26, 2024, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/390.