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The Untold Story Of The Underground Railroad From Texas To Mexico

Jade Robinson | Travel Noire | April 14, 2021

The history books overlook the significant role Mexico played in

providing a sense of safety for enslaved people. The country often

spoke out against slavery and the freedom they offered.

In 1829, Vicente Guerrero, who was of African descent, abolished

slavery in Mexico— just 34 years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation

Proclamation. Mexico freed over 200,000 enslaved people and opened a

pathway for enslaved Africans seeking freedom. One of the many paths

was the Rio Grande.

Texas, which was once a part of Mexico, was heavily populated with

white enslaver, leading to the Texas Revolution. The Revolution

birthed the Republic of Texas, which officially turned into a state in

1845 where they began to enslave Africans again.

Most of us are familiar with the northern underground railroad and how

people like Harriet Tubman led them to safety or how others sheltered

enslaved people in their homes. However, enslaved people traveling

south went through rough terrain, rivers, and pathways to finally

reach the end destination, Rio Grande. When they crossed over the

muddy waters, they were free.

It is estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 enslaved men and women escaped

through the Rio Grande pathway. While the majority came from Texas,

individuals from North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama were

also said to have escaped to Mexico, using the southern underground


Those who were caught were killed and lynched. There aren’t many

records about the southern routes and how exactly they managed to

learn them. However, it has been said that local Tejanos (natives of

Mexico), as well as recently freed persons who resided in Mexico,

assisted along the way.

“I’m very proud to be a Webber,” 70-year-old Olga Webber-Vasques said

to NPR, after her daughter-in-law uncovered part of her family’s

history. She recently discovered her great great-grandparents had a

hand in the underground railroad, the path that went from South Texas

to Mexico. Thousands of enslaved people escaped plantations through

“The River of Deliverance”.

“I don’t know why there wasn’t anything that we would’ve known as we

were growing up. It amazes me to learn the underground deal — I had no

idea at all.”

Escaped slaves adopted names of native Mexicans, married into Mexican

families, or migrated deeper into Mexico— causing them to disappear

from any records or history. From the records that do exist and with

the help of Roseann Bacha-Garza, a program manager of the Community

Historical Archeological Program with Schools at the University of

Texas Rio Grande Valley, we know of a man named Nathaniel Jackson.

Nathaniel Jackson, whose father was an enslaver and his mother an

enslaved woman, along with his wife Matilda Hicks— an enslaved woman

at Nathaniel’s father’s plantation— moved to South Texas to raise

their kids. When they settled in San Juan on a ranch, they used their

home and property as a safe haven where they housed, clothed, fed, and

guided enslaved Blacks into Mexico. They helped transport people onto

the trade ferries for their crops and cattle, along the Rio Grande and

eventually landing in Mexico.

“Mexican authorities at times would help the now-free men and women in

Mexico from being taken and returned to the United States,” says Maria

Hammack, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and

currently writing her term paper on the Webber family.

While this important piece of history is still not being share enough,

students in Texas schools are now beginning to learn this missing

piece of history and the impact Mexico truly had on United States



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