Galveston has a rich and colorful history, with its roots in a pirate settlement that Jean Lafitte called home between 1817 and 1821. The Port of Galveston was established as a small trading post and customs house in 1825, when Texas was still part of Mexico. It was an important commercial center and by 1835 it was the home port for the Texas Navy.
Beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, groups of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants began arriving in Texas, with many entering via Galveston. During this same period, large groups of Germans were also settling in Texas, predominately in the Galveston/Houston areas, with some moving on to San Antonio. Competing with Galveston as a port of entry were Matagorda, Velasco, Aransas, Corpus Christi, and Indianola, but European immigration via Galveston continued to increase.
In 1837, Charles Morgan began steamship service between New Orleans and Galveston. His shipping companies would go on to dominate trading throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1861, the Union Navy began a blockade of Galveston and, after a brief battle in 1862, Confederate troops evacuated Galveston for more defensible positions on the mainland. Union occupation was short-lived, as the Confederate forces retook Galveston on 1 January 1863 and it remained under Confederate control for the remainder of the war.
With the blockade of Mobile beginning in August 1864, Galveston became a hotspot for blockade runners supplying Confederate troops, as it was one of the few open Confederate ports in the Gulf.
Following the Civil War, Galveston grew as an important center of trade in the Gulf, but on 8 September 1900, a devastating hurricane struck the island, washing away structures and killing an estimated 6,000-8,000 people. Following the storm, a seawall was built to protect the island from future storms, and efforts were put in place to raise the city; these efforts which were met with varying degrees of success.
Between 1907 and 1914, Jews escaping the Russian pogroms were encouraged to immigrate through Galveston because there were fears that an influx of Jewish immigrants through the more popular Atlantic ports would result in a wave of anti-Semitism. It is estimated that 10,000 Jewish immigrants passed through Galveston during this period.