A Girl Named Loise: 19th Century Documents Record Hidden Lives

By Richard Gilreath, Reference Archivist

Historical records at the State Archives provide insight into the lives of enslaved African Americans residing in Texas in the 19th century. Various government documents available through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) provide dates, names, and geographic locations important to family historians and other researchers hoping to identify individuals who may have lived in bondage. Deeds, wills, court cases and tax records are some of the evidentiary documents establishing intermittent timelines of those whose lives intersected with legal transactions, including those considered, under the law, as property. One such individual was a young African-American girl known as Loise. Loise makes several appearances in records dating from 1848 -1851. By using the names and locations mentioned in a single document as leads, we may follow Loise’s path for several years through the historical record.

We locate Loise on an 1849 Harris County tax-assessor’s deed which states that her owner, C. W. Bassett, owed the state back taxes. Loise was put up for auction. With no bidders, the State of Texas purchased her for $5.90.

This Harris County document reveals that C. W. Bassett owed back taxes for the year 1848. Tax Assessor and Collector, John N. Reed therefore levied “upon the following property of said C.W. Bassett to wit: One negro girl named Loise about ten years old slave for life.”
John N. Reed Deed, July 25, 1849, Miscellaneous File, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

In our Texas Treasures online exhibit, we noted that Loise’s fate is unknown. However, by using other resources available at TSLAC, we can develop a better understanding of the life of Loise after this point. Loise’s own voice and words are not reflected in the records, but we are able to reconstruct an incomplete timeline of her life through the probate records of Harris County. These records, which have been microfilmed, are part of our county records on microfilm.

The probate record refers to Loise as “Louisa.” These similar but slightly different names add an additional layer of uncertainty. However, we believe – based on the locations and times in which these individuals lived – that Loise and Louisa are the same individual.

Loise is first referred to in the Harris County probate record on August 28, 1848 with the assigned value of $100.00 and as the legal property of Adam Erastus Cloud. Cloud, a minor, was represented by his guardian, James Walker. However, the probate record shows Loise under the possession of Harris County Sheriff, D. Russell, not Cloud. Walker sought to acquire physical possession of slaves that Cloud claimed.

On July 25, 1849, records reveal that the tax assessor and collector for Harris County, John N. Reed, put up for public auction in Harris County the young girl named Loise. She was described as “about ten years old” and “a slave for life.” As no one bid on her, the state purchased Loise for $5.90. Her purchase by the state is listed in a Comptroller’s Office register of tax sales. The finding aid for these records is available online. Although the finding aid references the sales of land, sales of slaves are also included in the volumes.

In an entry in the probate record dated June 27, 1850 – nearly a year after the auction – James Walker and Adam Cloud continued to claim Loise as Cloud’s property. The record noted that she was gifted to Cloud by his grandfather’s will. Several other slaves claimed by Cloud were found in Brazoria County, on property owned by F.J. Calvit. James Walker filed a lawsuit against Calvit to claim the slaves on Cloud’s behalf.

Texas Supreme Court document M-2980 – part one. James Walker filed a lawsuit against F.J. Calvit to claim slaves on behalf of Adam Cloud.
Texas Supreme Court document M-2980 – part two.

This court case ultimately went to the Texas Supreme Court. The case file went missing, but TSLAC recovered a portion of the file in 2008. The portion of the case file recovered does not mention Loise. (You can read more about TSLAC’s replevin efforts here.)

The probate record also reveals some of the circumstances of the death of Clement N. Bassett. A petition by August C. Daws, dated November 11, 1850, averred that Bassett died in 1848 (though it did not provide the exact date). This petition noted that litigation was ongoing between Adam Erastus Cloud and Bassett regarding the ownership of Loise. Daws applied to be the administrator of Bassett’s estate and swore that Bassett died without writing a will.

Bassett’s widow, Julia, protested Daws’s application on November 16, 1850. In response to her protest, Loise was mentioned by name, and appraised at $375.00 by the court. She was noted to be “about thirteen years of age.” On January 28, 1851, Daws submitted a motion to withdraw his application for administration of the Bassett estate. He cited a decision against him in a lawsuit, which also referenced Loise, as his reason for withdrawing the application. The other party in this lawsuit is not mentioned, but may have been Julia Bassett.

On July 31, 1851, Adam Erastus Cloud appears again in the probate record. He reached 21 years of age and asked to receive property held by James Walker as his guardian. In this entry in the record, Loise is assigned a value of $400.00. An entry in the probate record on October 2 of that year reveals that legal difficulties still surrounded Loise. She was excepted from the property returned to Cloud by Walker, due to “the prosecution of the suit in the District Court … in favor of said Cloud against Clement N. Bassett for a negro girl Louisa, commenced by said defendant as Guardian of said Cloud.” It appears, at this time, that Loise worked for a man named James W. Henderson, also in Harris County.

The probate court ordered Loise be returned to Cloud, but that she would remain in Henderson’s possession until the conclusion of the suit in District Court. The probate record noted that Loise was hired by Henderson, rather than owned by him.

After October 1851, we did not find further reference to Loise in the probate record. Her exact fate remains unknown, but the probate record allows us to reconstruct claims over her ownership and have a sense of what may have happened to her. After Bassett died, she was moved to the property of Henderson. It appears that several of Cloud’s slaves were sent to work on others’ property during this time period, and that Cloud took legal action to attempt to recover them.

Loise and the other slaves owned by Cloud were discussed as property, and the impact these decisions would have on their lives was never considered in the record. We do not have documentation of the hardships Loise experienced and survived during this time. However, these records provide us with the opportunity to understand a little more about the lives of slaves like Loise, who, to the best of our knowledge, left no written record of her own experiences.

Additional records at TSLAC and other institutions may provide more of the story. Harris County District Court records might provide the court case records of Adam Cloud’s and James Walker’s efforts to claim ownership of Loise. Her descendants may know the rest of the story. If you have additional information regarding Loise, please contact us at: ref@tsl.texas.gov.

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