Summary & Background


It is important that the students learn about slavery and peonage because it helps them understand the differences of the work systems we have today, compared to about 150 years ago. Peonage, also known as debt slavery, was a system in which an employer would compel a worker to pay off a debt with work. Some of the cases of peonage that were heard in the RGV area were from Raymondville in the 1920s; with almost 400 illegal cases when peonage was already “prohibited”. Until one created controversy.


Peonage, also known as debt slavery, was used as an option for farmers to control labor. The Raymondville peonage cases, which were the first of their kind in Texas history, were tried in the Nueces County federal court in January 1927. Although the practice was illegal, peonage labor was used during the early twentieth century in some counties of South Texas, where it had become common to force laborers, usually Mexican or African Americans but also whites, to work off debts owed to farmers. During times of labor shortage, the practice included charging individuals with vagrancy in order to force them into labor; "friendly farmers" paid off their fines and then had the prisoners work off the debt by picking cotton, often under armed guard. 

Handbook of Texas Online, Alicia A. Garza, "RAYMONDVILLE PEONAGE CASES," accessed July 29, 2019,

Summary & Background