While our physical offices are closed until at least April 13 due Austin's COVID-19 "shelter-in-place" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Art Leatherwood
Oil rigs in the Galveston Bay
Photograph, Oil rigs in Galveston Bay. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Galveston Bay Map
Map of Galveston Bay. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GALVESTON BAY. Galveston Bay, the center point of which is 29°34' north latitude and 94°56' west longitude, is part of Harris, Galveston, and Chambers counties. It is the largest estuary on the Texas coast and the seventh largest in the United States. It extends thirty miles south to north and seventeen miles east to west. The bay is seven to nine feet deep. It has a mud bottom and about 600 square miles of surface. Fresh water from the Trinity and the San Jacinto rivers mixes with the tidal salt water from the Gulf of Mexico through the channel between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula (Bolivar Roads). During the 1980s the bay provided nursery and spawning grounds for 30 percent of the state's total fishing products. The Houston Ship Channel passes through Bolivar Roads, Galveston Bay, the San Jacinto River, and Buffalo Bayou to the Port of Houston, which in terms of tonnage was the third largest United States port during the 1980s. At that time around 4,700 ships traversed Galveston Bay each year to and from its principal ports: Galveston, Texas City, and Houston. Also in the 1980s, three-quarters of the Texas coastal population lived in the counties bordering Galveston Bay, and 29 percent of all marinas on the Texas coast were on the bay. Between 1817 and 1820 Galveston Bay provided the water connection for the illicit smuggling and privateering activities of the Laffite brothers (see LAFFITE, JEAN). During the Civil War, the battle of Galveston was fought on land, along the wharf area, and on the waters of the bay in December 1862 and January 1863.


"The Big Bay," Texas Shores, Spring 1987. Charles C. Cumberland, "The Confederate Loss and Recapture of Galveston, 1862–1863," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 51 (October 1947). Stephen Harrigan, "Worked to Death," Texas Monthly, October 1988.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Art Leatherwood, "GALVESTON BAY," accessed March 28, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rrg01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 20, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...