Unique Discoveries at a Former Brazoria County Plantation

Archeologists from the University of Houston have unearthed a snapshot of life for former slaves and share croppers in 19th century Texas. As Rod Rice reports this treasure trove of artifacts is result of a mass exodus from the Levi Jordan Plantation that has resulted in the clearest picture yet from the period.

“Oh, this is a unique location of what we know so far about southern plantation quarters. There has been no deposit like that found anywhere else.”

Anthropologist Ken Brown and his students spent 13 seasons digging at the site about an hour south of Houston. 

The family home still stands but it’s the area behind the weathered old wooden house that once was home to more than a hundred people.

We walked back to the quarters on a recent tour. 

The area today is overgrown and pocked marked with diggings of feral hogs but it once was the site of four brick buildings.  Each had a hall down the middle with 16×16 foot rooms on either side. The uniqueness of the location is that artifacts were found that should have been taken with people when they left. Things were found right where they had been used, as if everyone just disappeared. Ken Brown says it may have been something like that.

“Sometime in March or April of 18-87 these people left and they left suddenly and they left all their possessions behind, so what we’re really getting is almost a snap shot of what those people had and how they arranged their space and how the community functioned that we don’t have anywhere else.”

Brown believes at about this time the two grandson’s of Jordan, who had been planning to stop farming and raise horses, killed two people and assaulted four others. Eleven witnesses, all of them black, claim to have seen it, but no charges were brought.

“That might make you want to move because you didn’t feel safe anymore and clearly the boys had an intention to change the function of the plantation and they didn’t need tenants and sharecroppers any longer.”

But that doesn’t explain why they left so much behind. Brown thinks it’s because of chattel mortgages.  He says they were used to buy on credit. You promised to repay a purchase with the profits from ten acres of sugar or five acres of something else.

“For a lot of the African Americans, especially during the 18-80’s on those chattel mortgages, it also said ‘and everything that I own or shall acquire’.  The only legal way for people to leave this place would be to leave everything behind.”

That way their belongings could be sold off to repay their debt and they couldn’t be brought back to work off the debt.

Dr. Brown will soon publish a book about the Jordan Plantation called….And Everything That I Own or Shall Acquire.

The property in now owned by the Texas Historical Commission which will preserve and develop it into a public attraction.

For more on the Levi Jordan plantation, visit www-dot-webarchaeology-dot-com.