While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" 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 »


Map of Galveston Island
Map of Galveston Island. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Early Spanish Explorers of Texas
Map, Spanish Explorers of Texas (1519-1601). Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GALVESTON ISLAND. Galveston Island is a sand-barrier island on the southeast coast of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, fifty miles southeast of Houston (at 29°18' N, 94° 47'W). The island is twenty-seven miles long and less than three miles wide at its widest point and runs parallel to the coast two miles out. Years ago it was a marsh cut by several short bayous. Between the island and neighboring Pelican Island runs the Galveston channel, which formed a natural harbor for nineteenth-century sailing vessels and small steamers. The gap between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula offers the principal entrance into Galveston Bay, while San Luis Pass affords a smaller entryway at the island's western end. In 1519 the Alonso Álvarez de Pineda expedition sailed past Galveston Island en route from the Florida peninsula to the Pánuco River. Pineda may or may not have actually seen the island, however, Spain lay claim to the entire Gulf Coast, including Galveston Island, based on the 1519 Pineda expedition. In 1528 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca landed at Follet's Island, while the remainder of his expedition made landfall across the island called Malhado, variously known to Spanish navigators as Isla Blanca, San Luis Island, and Isla de Aranjuez. A Spanish navigator, José Antonio de Evia, made a survey of the island, bay, and harbor in 1785 and named the bay for Bernardo de Gálvez, viceroy of Mexico. The island was often called by the Spaniards Snake Island or Isla de Culebras, as were several others of the Texas coastal islands.

Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston
Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The island, originally a periodic habitat of the Karankawa Indians, was first occupied by Europeans under Louis Michel Aury in 1816. Aury abandoned the location to Jean Laffite, who occupied it until 1820. In 1825 Stephen F. Austin petitioned the Mexican government to establish Galveston as a port, but the island remained unoccupied until the establishment of a Mexican customhouse in 1830. Robert Justus Kleberg settled temporarily on the island early in 1836. During the Runaway Scrape the ad interim government under David G. Burnet fled to Galveston Island, as did many other refugees, some of whom built temporary shelters that formed the nucleus of settlement. A few emigrants from Maine located on the east end of the island and named their settlement for Saccarappa, Maine. In December 1836 Michel B. Menard organized the Galveston City Company to promote the town of Galveston. Galveston became a port of call and in 1837 was made a port of entry for the Republic of Texas with Gail Borden, Jr., as collector of customs. A steam ferry began operation to the mainland in May 1842. A bridge was completed in 1859, when the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad built a wooden trestle that was used by all the other railway lines to the island until the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe built its own bridge in 1875. Both railway bridges and a wagon bridge were destroyed in the Galveston hurricane of 1900. An all-traffic causeway was opened in 1912. Major storms that swept the island were recorded in 1818, October 1837, October 1842, September 1854, October 1867, June 1871, September 1875, October 1886, and September 1900. By reason of its climate and location the island was subjected to yellow fever epidemics in 1839, 1844, 1847, 1853, 1854, 1858, 1859, 1864, and 1867. Galveston College, which opened as a two-year college, was established in 1966. Galveston Island State Park, a 2,000-acre preserve, includes wetlands, salt meadows, beach, dunes, and coastal prairie and offers camp and trailer sites, fishing, swimming, and nature trails. The park opened in 1970, and provides a permanent residence for birds along a migratory flyaway. Starting in 1977 a dramatic production entitled Lone Star was performed in the park each year during the summer months until 1990. The performances of Broadway-style musicals relocated to Moody Gardens in 2004, but ceased in 2014.


David G. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).

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, "GALVESTON ISLAND," accessed August 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rrg02.

Uploaded on September 19, 2010. Modified on January 9, 2018. 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...