North of Galveston, Texas City harbors several historical distinctions: the city remains the nation’s 11th largest seaport, and it’s also the site of America’s worst industrial catastrophe — a 1947 chain-reaction explosion that killed 600 people, nearly one-third of the town’s population.
Distinctive African American heritage is found in the 1867 Settlement Historic District, the only Reconstruction-era African American community in Galveston County. The Bell, Britton, Caldwell and Hobgood families, whose patriarchs were African American cowboys, pioneered the community, which was self-sustained for more than 100 years.
The men survived the hardships of slavery, including being torn from their families during the Civil War to serve their masters on the battlefield and drive cattle for the Confederacy. When freedom came in June 1865, the men worked on the Butler Ranch in north Galveston County; some had been slaves of the Butler family. In 1867, they began contracting acreage from Judge William Jones with money earned by driving cattle up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas. After the Civil War, Judge Jones set aside the only land in the county available for purchase by freedmen who could get testimonials from local businessmen proclaiming their good morals and work ethics. Many descendants of the original pioneers still reside or own property within the historic community boundaries, where trail rides and horses are common sights. Tours are available, and interpretative kiosks are located throughout the district. The oldest structure, the 1887 Frank Sr. and Flavilla Bell home, is being restored for development as a community museum.