Juneteenth in Galveston – General Order No. 3 by Union Troops Marked the Official End of Slavery in the U.S.

February 17, 2020

The issuing of General Order No. 3 by Union troops on June 19, 1865, marked the official end of slavery in Texas and the U.S.

In the early 1800s, privateers and smugglers who were involved in the slave trade periodically used Galveston Island as an outpost for operations. The sandy barrier island in what is now Texas appealed to smugglers because of its proximity to Caribbean slave-trading islands, its natural harbor, and the abundance of streams and rivers that could serve as hiding places.

By 1860, about one-third of Galveston’s population lived under the oppression of chattel slavery. Even after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, in the midst of America’s Civil War, change came slowly to Galveston. Most enslaved people were unaware of Lincoln’s executive order, and the practice of buying and selling black people based on race continued in Galveston and other parts of Texas until well into 1865. As long as the Confederate Army still held power in the region, there was no way to enforce Lincoln’s order.

Circumstances changed in April 1865 with the arrival of U.S. Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union troops. On June 19, 1865, Granger issued General Order No. 3 and Union troops marched through Galveston and read the order aloud at several locations, including Union Army headquarters at the Osterman building.

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

As news of the order spread, spontaneous celebrations broke out in African-American churches, homes, and other gathering places. As years passed, the picnics, barbecues, parades, and other celebrations that sprang up to commemorate June 19th became more formalized as freed men and women purchased land, or “emancipation grounds,” to hold annual Juneteenth celebrations.

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