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Life in a Frontier State. Unit 7, Section Three Notes. Texas as a State. Texas joined the United States in 1845. By 1847, the population of Texas was a little more than 142,000 people! But what was the state really like at the time of annexation?. Farmers.

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life in a frontier state

Life in a Frontier State

Unit 7, Section Three Notes

texas as a state
Texas as a State

Texas joined the United States in 1845. By

1847, the population of Texas was a little more

than 142,000 people! But what was the state

really like at the time of annexation?


According to the 1850 census, 95 percent of Texans lived in rural areas. Most worked on farms or ranches. Many farmers grew cotton, while others grew sugarcane, corn, sweet potatoes, and wheat. They also raised cows for milk, hogs, and sheep. In the 1850’s, Texas became an important part of the cotton belt. Though cotton was worth a lot of money, it also required a lot of work to grow and pick. Slave labor was an important aspect of the cotton industry.


Planters, or large scale farmers who held at least 20 slaves, were the rich men who owned plantations. They led comfortable lives and could afford expensive clothes and fancy items. Some plantation homes were simple, while others were mansions. Planters were also usually very powerful in government, helping to influence the state’s economy.


After cotton, cattle were the state’s second-most-valuable exports. Many ranchers drove their cattle to other states like Illinois and California, where they could get more money for each animal. Two successful ranchers, Richard King and Gideon Lewis, dominated south Texas ranching. Though it was rare, some women also ran their own ranches.

towns in texas
Towns in Texas

In 1850, Galveston was the largest town in Texas, but by 1860, San Antonio replaced Galveston with a population of 8,235. Other large towns included Houston, Jefferson, Marshall, Nacogdoches, and New Braunfels. Though Austin was the state capital, as it is today, it only had 1,000 residents when Texas joined the U.S. in 1845.

trades and professions
Trades and Professions

Industry was a small part of the Texas economy, with agriculture being the widest profession. Most local industries were family-owned and related to agriculture in some way, like flour milling, the largest industry in Texas. Also, most people in Texas did not have cash. They grew or made most of what they needed at home. Only richer people bought manufactured items from out of state.


After Texas became a state, many Texans called for improvement to the state’s transportation network. They wanted roads fixed and better ways to travel. Stagecoach was still the most common way to travel, even though it was difficult and dangerous. Large items that needed to be shipped were often done so by way of water on steamboats.


With steamboats being one of the easiest and safest ways to travel and ship important items, the city of Houston soon became a transportation center in the state. For trade with the rest of the United States, cotton and other items were sent by steamboat from Houston to New Orleans, which was the South’s busiest port.


Unlike other forms of transportation, railroads could carry heavy loads and people, even in bad weather. But they were expensive and difficult to build. In 1851, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway began construction on the first railroad line in Texas. Later called the Harrisburg Railroad, they charged five cents per mile per passenger. Still, by 1860, there were only 500 miles of railroad line in Texas.

frontier schools and churches
Frontier Schools and Churches

Though the state began setting aside money to build schools in 1854, much of it was used for other things. Still, many towns began building one-room school houses, where desks and benches were cut from logs. Even in the early grades, many children learned world history and foreign languages, such as Latin and Greek. When children weren’t at school, there were often at home helping with the family farm, so school was a welcome vacation. 


Though Texas was a frontier region, the state had a large number of newspapers. They had over 80 being printed weekly in 1860. Most were printed only once or twice a week and contained public notices, editorials, and information about local events. Newspapers began carrying more national and world news after the creation of the telegraph in the 1850’s. In 1854, a telegraph line connected Houston, Marshall, and Galveston. They could now receive news faster than ever before!


The number of libraries also rose in the 1850’s, which was exciting since most people did not have their own books. Many families did have a Bible, and parents would use this to help teach their children how to read. Some families also read the works of local authors, such as Jane McManus Cazneau, who wrote about life in Texas.

slave labor
Slave Labor

By 1860, slaves made up almost 30% of the Texas population. On small farms, slaves were given a large variety of tasks, while on plantations, they usually had specific jobs along with working in the fields. Women and children were also expected to work daily. Slaves also helped build the state’s transportation system, including roads and docks, and railroads. Some were paid a little

and could eventually try to buy their freedom or buy food and clothing for their family.

a day in the life of a slave
A Day in the Life of a Slave

Work began at daybreak. They would eat breakfast in the field as they plowed, planted, or harvested. Men usually plowed while women and children picked. Slaves were expected to pick many pounds of cotton every day, and an adult male could pick around 150 to 200 pounds per day. Men also built fences other such chores, while women worked as cooks, laundresses, or seamstresses. They worked six days a week, while most had Sunday’s off.

slave culture
Slave Culture

Slaves spent evenings and time off just like other Texans. They visited with family and friends, and they often told stories or played games and music. They would also hold dances or picnics. Some slaveholders would allow their slaves to attend church. They also tried to maintain their culture and tradition. Music and religion were important in slave communities, often singing songs while they worked in the fields. Their music was also a way to worship and it gave them strength to face the hardships of life.

slave escapes and rebellions
Slave Escapes and Rebellions

Some slaves were willing to risk their lives to escape slavery. They could try to flee to Mexico, but most did not try to run away for fear of getting caught and never seeing their families again. If a slave did run away and was caught, they were severely punished as a warning to others. Many Texans, especially in areas with many slaves, feared a slave rebellion. One planned uprising happened in 1856 in Colorado County. Before they could go through with it, the slaves’ plan was found out. Many slaves were hanged or whipped to death.

debating slavery
Debating Slavery

Since the state legislature was dominated by powerful Texas planters, they passed many laws that protected slavery and limited the rights of slaves. Slaves could not own property or marry. Also, if you encouraged or helped a slave to freedom, you were charged with a serious crime. Many people throughout Texas defended slavery, saying that the Texas economy could not function without slave labor.

abolition movement
Abolition Movement

There were some people in Texas who supported abolition, or an end to slavery. Some opposed it for moral or religious reasons, believing that it was wrong to own a person and break up families. Others opposed it for political reasons, saying that it went against the ideas of democracy and freedom. But because they were the minority, most abolitionists kept their views to themselves.

immigration into texas
Immigration into Texas

As Texas’ economy began to grow, so did the

population. People from all over the United

States and other countries soon traveled to

settle in Texas. Many different cultural groups

came to Texas, and their customs and

traditions have helped to shape the state that

we live in today.