Timeline: the Forming of Galveston & the African American Experience

The following timeline centers around the forming of Galveston, and later what would become Texas. In addition, the timeline includes significant U.S. and International historical events representing the African American experience from the 1500s to 1900.

The timeline is a work in progress and does not include 18th century Mexican or Indigenous historical events, or major Civil Rights Movement events of the 20th century. It is  designed to help one chronologically look at important events effecting Black American lives leading up to Emancipation and Juneteenth.

The sources include Wikipedia, and authors where noted. Some sources are unidentified and still need attribution.

1528 – Estebanico Dorantes, also spelled Estevanico, an enslaved native of Azamor on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, lands near current day Galveston, in the fall of 1528. He is one of the lone survivors of a failed expedition that first landed in Florida near present day Tampa in the spring of 1528. Rafting along the Gulf Coast with a handful other survivors, Estebanico is credited with being the first known by name Black person to come ashore and traverse what would become Texas. Estebanico was killed around 1539 by native Indigenous tribes in western New Mexico by arrows. His death was blamed on his cruelties to the tribes.

1528 – First Europeans landed, Galveston Island was home to Akokisa and Karankawa Indians who camped, fished and hunted the swampy land and buried their dead here. The Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, sole survivor from second raft, was shipwrecked on the Island and lived among the Karankawa for several years as a medicine man and slave.

1565 –St. Augustine, Florida, “racially based slavery, established by the Spanish, “as an organized system, began on American soil.” On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed

1600s – In the late 1600’s, French explorer Robert Cavelier La Salle claimed this area for King Louis and named it St. Louis.

1786 – Galveston was named for Bernardo de Gálvez, a Spanish colonial governor and general. Gálvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas coast to New Orleans, and on July 23, 1786, de Evia charted an area near the mouth of a river and named it Galveston Bay.

1735 – Settlement for Africans who escaped enslavement from English colonies chartered by Spanish governor and established in St. Augustine, Florida

1817- Spain sells Florida to the United States.

1817 – Privateer Jean Lafitte, a slave trader, established the colony of Campeche on Galveston Island in 1817, numbering about 1,000 people including free men of color and runaway slaves, at its peak. Lafitte was eventually forced to leave (burning his town behind him), and Galveston as we know it was founded by Michel Menard and Samuel May Williams, among others. The homes of these early island pioneers are still standing.


October 17, 1825 – The Congress of Mexico issued a proclamation on October 17, 1825, establishing the Port of Galveston, and in 1830, erected a customs house.[9]


August 28, 1833 – Great Britain abolishes slavery. An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies receives Royal assent.


October 2, 1835 – The Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836) was a rebellion of colonists from the United States and Tejanos  (Hispanic Texans) against the centralist government of Mexico in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. The revolution began in October 1835, after a decade of political and cultural clashes between the Mexican government and the increasingly large population of Anglo-American settlers in Texas. The Mexican government had become increasingly centralized and the rights of its citizens had become increasingly curtailed, particularly regarding immigration from the United States.

1836 – Founded on by Michel MenardSamuel May Williams, and Thomas F. McKinney, and briefly served as the capital of the Republic of Texas

1836 – Republic of Texas forms as a sovereign state in North America, March 2, 1836 to February 19, 1846.  It shared borders with Mexico, the  Republic of the Rio Grande (another Mexican breakaway republic), and the United States of America. Much of its territory was controlled by Mexico or Comancheria; Mexico considered it a rebellious province during its entire existence.

1839 -Incorporated in 1839, Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in the state. This exciting and sophisticated city built the state’s first post office, first opera house, first hospital, first golf course, first country club…the list goes on and on


September 17, 1849 – Harriet Tubman, the famous Cambridge, Maryland born, Underground Railroad Conductor, known as Moses, self-emancipates herself from bondage, about the age of 27 years.

1850s – During the mid-19th century, Galveston emerged as an international city with immigration and trade from around the U.S. and the world. The city became one of the nation’s busiest ports and the world’s leading port for cotton exports. Galveston became Texas’ largest city and, during that era, was its prime commercial center.


Dred Scott

March 6, 1857 – Dred Scott decision, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on March 6, 1857, ruled (7–2) that a slave (Dred Scott) who had resided in a free state and territory (where slavery was prohibited) was not thereby entitled to his freedom; that African Americans were not and could never be citizens of the United States; Also see 13th Amendment, 1865.  “Dred Scott decision”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 May. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/event/Dred-Scott-decision.


October 16, 1859 – John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, October 16-18, 1859. Brown hoped to initiate a slave revolt in Southern states.


April 12, 1861 – The American Civil War begins.


December 31, 1862 – Freedom’s Eve, December 31, “or the eve of January 1, 1863, the first Watch Night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States. Only through the Thirteenth Amendment did emancipation end slavery throughout the United States.” National Museum of African American


January 1, 1863 – Emancipation Proclamation is issued and signed by President Abraham Lincoln and enacted as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory. (National Archive)

January 1, 1863 – Battle of Galveston was a naval and land battle of the American Civil War, when Confederate forces under Major Gen. John B. Magruder expelled occupying Union troops from the city of Galveston, Texas.


June 1, 1863 – Harriet Tubman leads USS John Adams and two other gunboats, with 300 men aboard, some formerly enslaved, from the port of Beaufort, SC on Combahee River Raid, six months after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Considered the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. Seven hundred and fifty-six enslaved people are freed.


April 14, 1865 – American Civil War ends on Sunday April 9, following General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant after the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Five days later President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on Friday April 14.


April 15, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln succumbs to his wounds and dies at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday April 15, 1865.


May 13, 1865 – Confederate soldiers in Texas fight on into May after war ends. Win last battle, May 13, 1865, against the Union in the Battle of Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas.


June 2, 1865 – General Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Army of the Trans Mississippi surrenders in Galveston on June 2, 1865, to the Army of the United States of America.


June 17, 1865 – Some 2,000 Union troops arrive in Galveston Bay.


June 17, 1865 – Two days before Gen. Granger arrives in Galveston, Black men working on the wharves begin to shout with joy over news of their freedom, Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth


June 19, 1865 – General Gordon Granger, of the Army of the United States of America arrives in Galveston from Louisiana to take command of the Army in Texas.


June 19, 1865 – The Juneteenth holiday, Monday June 19, 1865, commemorates the day when 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas, which became the last bastion for slavery during the final days of the Civil War, were declared free by the U.S. Army.


Black codes and Jim Crow laws were laws passed at different periods in the southern United States to enforce racial segregation and curtail the power of Black voters. After the Civil War ended in 1865, some states passed black codes that severely limited the rights of Black people, many of whom had been enslaved. These codes limited what jobs African Americans could hold, and their ability to leave a job once hired. Some states also restricted the kind of property Black people could own.” National Geographic


December 18, 1865 – Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was ratified by the required 27 of the then 36 states on December 6, 1865, and proclaimed on December 18. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War.Wikipedia

June 19, 1866 – The Texas African American community begins observing Emancipation Day as Juneteenth, a day of Jubilee and celebration.

1865-1877 – Era of period known as Reconstruction begins.

1870 – End of Reconstruction in Texas

1872 – Richard Allen, Richard Brock, Elias Dibble, and Jack Yates, pool resources and raise money to purchase 10 acres of land to hold annual Juneteenth celebrations. The park would come to be called Emancipation Park, one of the oldest parks in Texas.

1900 – on September 8, 1900, Galveston was battered by what stands as the most deadly natural disaster to strike this country, known 100 years later as the Great Storm. At the time of the 1900 Storm, Galveston had a population of 37,000 and was the fourth largest city in Texas following Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. One-third of the city was completely destroyed, more than 3,600 buildings. More than 6,000 people were killed – so many, in fact, that the bodies were too numerous for conventional burials. At first, they were weighted and buried at sea; later they washed ashore. From that point on they were burned on funeral pyres all over the city. The 1900 Storm looms large in the island’s collective memory as Galveston families pass down stories of survival and loss. For the complete dramatic story, the film The Great Storm (shown daily at Pier 21 Theatre in the Strand district) is well worth seeing.

Other Important Dates

1920s-1930s – During the 1920s and 1930s, Galveston re-emerges as a major tourist destination centered on casinos and other vice businesses. Featuring venues, such as the famed Balinese Room, the city became nationally known as the sin city. The illegal businesses were finally closed in the 1950s, leading to a long, stagnant economic period.

1980 – Texas becomes the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday. Shortly thereafter, other states followed suit, along with organizations and businesses across the nation hosting events and educational opportunities dedicated to commemorating the significance of this day.


June 17, 2021 – Juneteenth National Independence Day Act becomes a national holiday,