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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

San Marcos Public Library

625 E. Hopkins St.


Q. I get my electric power from a Texas co-op that sends me a magazine every month. It recently included an article about African American freedom colonies. Was there one in Hays County?

A. Yes, there was at least one. I found three interesting sources here at the library.

The following information on a Hays County freedom colony was written by Laurie Jasinski. It can be found under ‘Antioch Colony’ in the “New Handbook of Texas” online or you can read it at the library in a six-volume print edition.

Jasinski writes: “Antioch Colony is a rural African-American community located off Farm Roads 967 and 1626 a mile northwest of Buda in eastern Hays County. On Feb. 1, 1859, Joseph F. Rowley, who had emigrated with his family from California to Texas, purchased 490 acres near Onion Creek.

“After the Civil War, he sold tracts to former slaves for the purpose of establishing a farming settlement. Many of the freedmen came from Missouri. They founded Antioch Colony, named for the Turkish city, in 1870 and 1871. Ten to 15 families lived in the community, also known as Black Colony, in the early 1870s.

“Settlers included the Bunton, Champ, Harper, Beard, Taylor and Kavanaugh families. Farmers raised corn and other grains, cotton, and sugar cane, and mule-powered mills processed corn, bran, and produced sorghum molasses.

“On July 15, 1874, Elias and Clarisa Bunton donated land for a school. Residents constructed a two-story building that soon served 57 students as part of their own district – Antioch School District 5. The structure also hosted meetings of a Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star. Citizens established the African Methodist Church and the Antioch Cemetery.

“Antioch Colony remained an active farming community into the 1930s and 1940s. Social life centered around the school and church, which had some 70 to 80 members. By the mid-1950s, however, most residents had moved away in search of better jobs. Ironically, after this time, Antioch Colony finally received telephone and electrical service. The community became almost a ghost town of ramshackle structures and overgrown homesteads.

“In the late 1970s, a few former residents returned to the area and bought back the land of their ancestors. Winnie Martha Moyer, a descendant of the Harper family, returned and was soon joined by other family members. This slow rebirth of the colony continued throughout the 1990s. LeeDell Bunton, a greatgreat grandson of one of the founders, bought back part of his family land.

“In 1997, residents established the Antioch Community Church, and in 1999 approximately 300 people attended the first Antioch Colony reunion. Local residents continued to maintain Antioch Cemetery located on Old Black Colony Road. By 2000, some 20 people, members of three extended families, lived in Antioch Colony. All were descendants of early settlers.”

The second source is “Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow.”

Here is the publisher’s description of the book: “In the decades following the Civil War, nearly a quarter of African Americans achieved a remarkable victory – they got their own land. While other ex-slaves and many poor whites became trapped in the exploitative sharecropping system, these independenceseeking individuals settled on pockets of unclaimed land that had been deemed too poor for farming and turned them into successful family farms.

“Thad Sitton and James Conrad focus on communities in Texas, where blacks achieved a higher percentage of land ownership than in any other state of the Deep South. The authors draw on a vast reservoir of ex-slave narratives, oral histories, written memoirs, and public records to describe how the freedom colonies formed and to recreate the lifeways of African Americans who made their living by farming or in skilled trades such as milling and blacksmithing.

“They also uncover the forces that led to the decline of the communities from the 1930s onward, including economic hard times, as well as legal and illegal means of taking black-owned land.”

This patron checked out “Freedom Colonies” and a two-volume archaeological study: “The Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead: Post-Emancipation Transitions of an African American Family in Central Texas.” This book discusses Allen’s Prairie, Mountain City, and Antioch Colony communities and African American pioneers in slavery and freedom.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666