Back when Galveston was a busy port with a booming commercial district, a hardware store owner named James Moreau Brown sold his business and bought a slave named Alek, who was a stone mason. In 1859, Brown, who soon became the fifth-richest man in Texas, and Alek began building a Victorian mansion.
Brown called his grand residence Ashton Villa and threw lavish parties, including one of the best annual New Year’s balls Galveston had ever seen. And when Ulysses S. Grant was elected president, Ashton Villa was the only private dwelling he entered while in Galveston.
That is fitting, because it is also the place where, on June 19, 1865, one of Grant’s generals stood on the balcony to read a proclamation that would change everything for Texas. General Order No. 3: All slaves are free. The date is crucial; slaves in Texas were finally given this news two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had already freed them.