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Texas Originals

Texas Originals: Frederick Law Olmsted

He documented the cruelty of slaveholding in the 1850s and his writings about the subject remain some of the most descriptive and informative of the period.


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Frederick Law Olmsted
April 26, 1822–August 28, 1903


Connecticut-born Frederick Law Olmsted is best known for his design of New York’s Central Park. But his writings on the slaveholding South, including Texas, enjoyed critical acclaim in the 1850s for their detailed descriptions and keen social commentary.

The New York Times commissioned Olmsted to journey through the South recording his observations. Olmsted made two separate trips. On the second, he and his brother John arrived in Texas on Christmas Day, 1853.

The brothers traveled two thousand miles on horseback throughout the state. Their journey took them through the East Texas swamps, the coastal plains, and cities such as Austin and Houston, but Olmsted was most impressed by the German settlers in towns like New Braunfels and Sisterdale, calling them “free-thinking, cultivated, brave men.”

Olmsted recorded local slang, the prices of various commodities, and what he called the “bewildering beauty” of the landscape. But he also described the cruelty and economic inefficiency of slavery.

While he did not identify himself as an abolitionist, Olmsted found slavery morally repugnant and hoped to encourage non-slaveholding immigrants to settle in Texas.

Olmsted was so taken with this land of “inexpressible” beauty that he and John briefly considered settling near one of the German colonies he so admired. Although this plan never came to fruition, Olmsted’s writings remain some of the most thorough and engaging nineteenth-century travel accounts of the state.



Selected Bibliography

Hall, Lee. Olmsted’s America: An “Unpractical” Man and His Vision of Civilization. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1995.

McLaughlin, Charles C. and Charles E. Beveridge, eds. The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.

Martin, Justin. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. New York: Da Capo Press, 2011.

Mitchell, Broadus. Frederick Law Olmsted: Critic of the Old South. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1924.

Olmsted, Frederick Law. A Journey Through Texas. Introduction by Witold Rybczynski. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Olmsted, Frederick Law. A Journey Through Texas, Or, A Saddle-trip on the South-western Frontier. Edited by James Howard. Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones Press, 1962.

Roper, Laura Wood. FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Roper, Laura Wood. “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Western Free-Soil Movement.” The American Historical Review 56 (1950): 58–64.

Roper, Laura Wood. “Frederick Law Olmsted in the ‘Literary Republic.’” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39 (1952): 459–482.

Rybczynski, Witold. A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and North America in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1999.

Stevenson, Elizabeth. Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted. New York: Macmillan, 1977.

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.



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