The Sam Houston Memorial Museum created a new exhibit called, “12 Plus 1.” It explores how little is known about the lives of Sam Houston’s 13 slaves.
“We don’t know what happened to them, especially the women. And those are lost souls to me. They need their footing in history,” said Jude Routh, Curator of Exhibits.
It is based on an inventory of Sam Houston’s assets in 1863 listing the first names of twelve enslaved people but none of their surnames. The document inspired museum staff’s research into these individuals and this exhibit. It showcases the progress already made, but highlights how much is still missing.
The, “Plus 1,” refers to Tom Blue, an enslaved man who ran away before emancipation, making it all the way to Mexico before eventually coming back to reside in what is now Houston until he died at 115 years old.
One wall of the exhibit displays thirteen large figures. A few are enlarged pictures of the enslaved people who have already been identified but most are blank silhouettes representing the person each name could be.
Routh said she felt the blank silhouettes had to be included so visitors could see the people still missing.
“Where did they go? What contributions did they make? You know, where are their offspring, and what are they doing?,” she said. “We want to have the whole story.”
Each figure has a name plate on calico fabric, which Houston’s family bought for everyone on their property to wear, and lists potential surnames for the remaining unidentified people.
Museum staff searched population censuses and other materials to identify Jeff J., Tom Blue, and Pearl Lee, but they continue to search for more. Searching these materials is tough because most were written by hand, said Routh. One individual, Nash, may be harder to find than the rest because of that.
Capitalized Ns and Ws from that time often looked similar and could have been transposed as Wash instead of Nash.
“I would love to put their image where it belongs as an asset to Sam Houston’s career. If not for those people, he wouldn’t have been as successful,” she said.
The museum asks visitors and locals to submit documents and artifacts or to reach out if they have an old family story possibly relating to the exhibit. Routh believes this project could last many years but hopes that more people will reach out with potential leads.
“I know it’s a needle in a haystack and everybody’s told me it’s impossible. But I found Pearl. And I refuse to believe that they can’t be found. I just refuse to believe,” she said.
A newspaper clipping of a speech Houston gave voicing his opinions on slavery is also on display there, along with a wall of quotes from the many letters Houston and his wife sent each other while he was in Washington.
“He was way ahead of his time,” said Routh. “They made sure that all their slaves could read and write. And that they all studied the Bible every Sunday.”
The exhibit opened on Jan. 17 and closes on Feb. 26. Viewers can find it at the Katy & E. Don Walker, Sr. Education Center during museum hours.
“It may be the same exhibit every year. But that’s the history we have. We’re doing black history on Sam Houston’s property,” said Routh.
“12 Plus One” Exhibit To Open At The Sam Houston Museum
Jude Routh, Curator of Exhibits