Texas History - General Order #3

General Order No. 3

On June 16, 1865 a troop transport approached a wharf in Galveston. A band aboard the craft struck up “Yankee Doodle” as some 300 Galvestonians on shore watched in silence.

Three days later, General Gordon Granger issued his General Order No.3, announcing to Texas that the slaves were now free.

It read:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Of course not everyone in Texas was in Galveston to hear it. Most read it in their local newspapers in the days that followed.

Many blacks were read the news by their former masters.

That’s what happened at the plantation of Isaiah Cates Day in Liberty County.

Laura Cornish recounted the scene when she was interviewed in the 1930s:

"One mornin’ Papa Day calls all us to de house and reads de freedom papers and say… If you wants to stay you can and if you wants to go, you can. But if you go, lots of white folks ain’t gwine treat you like I does.

For de longest time, maybe two years, dey wasn’t none of Papa Day’s cullud folks what left, but den first one fam’ly den 'nother gits some land to make a crop on, and den daddy gits some land and us leaves, too."

Sarah Ashley, who lived in Polk County, had a different experience:

“When de boss man told us freedom was come he didn’t like it, but he give all us de bale of cotton and some corn. He ask us to stay and he’p with de crop but we’uns so glad to git ‘way dat nobody stays. I got ‘bout fifty dollars for de cotton… Den I got no place to go, so I cooks for a white man name’ Dikk Cole. He sposen give me $5.00 de month but he never paid me no money. He’d give me eats and clothes.”

How did most whites take the news?

E. H. Cushing, writing in his Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, gives us an indication:

"It will be seen by our telegrams today that Gen. Granger assumes command in Texas. His first orders are much the same as those issued by the United States authorities in other States, and for which we have endeavored to prepare our readers heretofore.

They contemplate delivery of all government property at depots appointed for that purpose; the declaration of illegitimacy of all legislative acts after secession; the changing of the condition of the negro into free labor, etc. This is what we have expected and endeavored our readers to expect. The people are for the most part prepared for the change, and ready to acquiesce to it."

Cushing further editorialized about the need for all to work together for the good of themselves and the country:

"It is the fashion of weak minds to sneer at the earnest efforts of many, who, during the existence of the Confederacy were devoted in its support, now that it is dead, endeavor to restore peace, order and prosperity to the country… It is enough for the present to say to them, follow in peace the path you have chosen. The world is wide enough to hold us all.

For our own part we believe it to be the duty of every good man and woman to do all in his or her power to bring about the earliest settlement of affairs possible… And so far as personal ill feelings are concerned, let by-gones be by-gones. Those whose ideas of patriotism have led them to personal unkindness have a lesson to learn, and it is one of the hardest human nature can learn. It is as old as the records of man that they hate most who have injured most. And to unlearn hates and forgive those one has injured, is the task many have now to undertake.

The restoration of civil authority is the great object to be attained, and the most potent means for this purpose, is the harmonious union of all classes in desiring and laboring for it."

Sadly, the “malice towards none” and “charity for all” of Lincoln would soon give way to Radical Reconstruction, followed by the unequal and opposite reaction of Jim Crow.

But on Juneteenth 1865, people in Texas of all colors were looking hopefully, if cautiously, to the future.


From the same issue of the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph that contained the news of emancipation.

Texas Quote

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it.”

Governor Sam Houston - 1861