African American History Forum
Burton, McCabe and Ferguson
The ravages of the Civil War left much of the South in smoldering devastation. Although the war never reached Fort Bend, the widespread destruction affected it and all of the U.S.
The Republican Party gained a stronghold in Fort Bend County, and throughout much of the South, during Reconstruction. There was noted tension between those who wished to maintain antebellum ideas and those who wished for change and progression.
These conflicting visions of the future put a significant strain on the politicians who led the citizens through such trying times. After emancipation, however, African-Americans were able to participate in county politics for the first time since their arrival during colonization in the 1820s.
Walter Moses Burton (ca.1840-1913) was a prominent Fort Bend County political leader during the Reconstruction era. Burton came to Fort Bend before the Civil War with his “owner,” Thomas Burke Burton, of North Carolina, whose last name he took and whose plantation was in the Isaacs league outside Richmond.
Burton’s “owner” taught him how to read and write, which became an asset for his future advancement. Following emancipation, Burton acquired a significant amount of land throughout the county, including a gin in Richmond.
In 1869, at the age of about 28, he was elected sheriff and tax collector, positions he held until 1873. In addition to those duties, he served as president of the Fort Bend County Union League and as inspector of Cattle and Hides, a position created to curtail cattle theft by monitoring all hides and animals that left the county for sale. Fort Bend was one of the few Texas counties that maintained this office into the new millennium as a nostalgic gesture.
Burton campaigned for and won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1873, serving as a senator in the 14th-17th Legislatures, 1874-82. In the senate, he introduced a resolution to establish Alta Vista Agricultural College, which would later become Prairie View A M.
Nearly 75 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala., Burton’s wife, Abie, refused to leave the ladies’ coach of a train. The coach was reserved for Caucasians, and Abie Burton was thrown headfirst from the train after it left the platform. She survived the incident and outlived her husband and three children. After the incident, her husband legally challenged the railroad and their mistreatment of black passengers.
Around the turn of the century, Burton and his daughter Hattie, a schoolteacher, were both victims of gunshot wounds during a confrontation with a third party in front of the Richmond Post Office.
After the shoot-out, Burton’s left leg was “badly shattered near the thigh,” according to a newspaper account that predicted his imminent demise, claiming he would “probably lose his life for defending his daughter.”
Hattie Burton was shot in the face and a large portion of her upper right jaw was removed to extract the bullet.
In the community, Burton was well-liked across racial lines that divided much of the South. He continued to support the widow of his former “owner,” who was destitute after the war, until her death. Following the close of his political career, he was a farmer, preacher, and active citizen.
Burton and his son Horace were thought to be the only two African-Americans buried in Morton cemetery at the time a historical marker was placed by his grave in the 1990s.
Lloyd Henry “Mac” McCabe (1847-1930) also played a notable role in local Reconstruction-era politics, although he was born in Troy, N.Y.
The adventurous McCabe was a railroad porter in New York City, a worker at the Galveston Customs House and a teacher along the banks of the Brazos River before arriving in Richmond sometime around 1870.
He was the county’s district clerk from 1874-82 and was selected as one of six black delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1875. The Constitution that was ratified by McCabe and others at the Convention is the same Constitution Texas follows today, with some modifications, of course.
The Ferguson brothers, Henry and Charles, were also a political force during Reconstruction.
Henry Clay Ferguson (1847-1923) went from Jasper County to Houston, where he served as secretary of the Harris County school board before joining the police force in 1869. He was in Fort Bend County by 1873 ,when he succeeded Burton as county sheriff.
Henry fulfilled two terms as sheriff and then served as tax assessor until 1888. After leaving Fort Bend, he served as chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
Henry sent his brother, Charles M. Ferguson (ca. 1860–1906), to school at Fisk. When Charles returned to Fort Bend, he was elected as district clerk in 1882, succeeding McCabe.
Charles served three terms as district clerk and in 1888, he was chosen as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago, where Benjamin Harrison was nominated for president. Charles was also a delegate in 1892, 1896, 1900 and 1904.
He later served as a clerk as a clerk of the Federal District Court in Paris, Texas and as deputy collector of customs in San Antonio.
Reconstruction was a difficult time for America, for the South and for Fort Bend County. In spite of opposition, these courageous and talented leaders guided the county through significant changes and challenges.
Some of these leaders participated in state and national politics as well, making decisions that still impact our world today.