August 4th, 1840 - June 11th, 1900
Texas Senator, Minister, Herder, Blacksmith
Matt Gaines grew up on the Despallier plantation in Louisiana. He learned to read and write by candlelight with help of a local boy. He later was sold to C. C. Hearne's plantation in Texas where treatment was notoriously harsh. During the Civil War, Gaines fled to the Hill Country and was captured near Fredericksburg. He remained a captive in the Hill Country until the end of the Civil War but was never returned to Hearne. Instead, he worked as a herder and blacksmith. After the war, Gaines became a minister and ascended to a leading political figure of the black community in Burton, Washington County. He was elected Texas Senator under the Davis administration, during which he became a vocal proponent of public education. While Germans and Blacks were political allies in the Republican Party, the relationship soured over time—a fact illustrated in Gaines' political speeches. Strained relations with the German base of his own party very likely hastened the end of his political career in 1872. In spite of his re-election, he was denied his seat in the legislature over trumped-up charges of bigamy. Throughout the next 30 years, Gaines continued to serve as a Baptist minister in Lee County, where he died in 1900. In November 2021, Texas A&M University revealed a statue (see picture) in remembrance of Gaines for his active role in passing the Morrill-Land Grant that led to the founding of Texas A&M University. In the audio clip below, Bill Page from the Texas A&M library speaks about an ad for a run-away slave that he found in several issues of The Weekly State Gazette of 1864. He thinks the run-away slave named "Bob" captured near Fredericksburg in 1864 was actually Matt Gaines. You can read the ad in the media gallery below.