Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Texas Drought Exposes African American Burial Site

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on September 6, 2011

Over at Interpreting Slave Life, Nicole Moore highlights a recent news item from north Texas, where a previously-unknown African American burial ground has been exposed by the drought in Navarro County, near Corsicana:

Forensics experts told Bailey the remains appear to belong to an African-American man, about 40 years old, who was likely a freed slave.

“We believe it was a person who worked on a plantation in that river bottom [sic.],” [Navarro County Sheriff's Deputy Frank] Bailey said.

The reservoir is one of Tarrant County’s [i.e., Fort Worth's] water sources.

Cemeteries were noted and moved before it was filled in the 1980s, but this small cemetery was not marked, and the graves did not have tombstones.

Boaters first found the remains in 2009 along the shoreline. But lake levels rose again within days, quickly reclaiming the site.

So, for three years, archaeologists and historians have waited for the reservoir to reveal them again.

The site was uncovered by the receding waters of the Richland Chambers Reservoir. It’s not actually a river bottom, but formed by the flow of Richland and Chambers Creeks. The Navarro County Times is also covering the story, as is the Corsicana Daily Sun.

There weren’t a lot of what what’s commonly thought of as plantations in that area in the mid-19th century. Navarro County had a total of 251 slaveholders in 1860, owning in aggregate 1,890 slaves. Seventeen slaveholders owned twenty or more slaves — one of the common standards for what designated a planter as opposed to a mere farmer — and only one of who owned more than a hundred.[1]

The largest slaveholder in Navarro County was Anderson Ingram (c. 1799 – c. 1875), who with three brothers purchased thousands of acres of land along the Trinity River, which forms the county’s eastern boundary.[2] In 1859, Ingram was actively farming 900 acres, on which his slaves cultivated 6,500 bushels of corn and 382 bales of cotton.[3]

Far more common were relatively small farming operations like that of Aaron Perry in neighboring Limestone County, who raised hogs and corn, much of the latter likely used for fattening the former before killing time in the fall.

I haven’t been able to locate Anderson Ingram’s property on plot maps from the General Land Office dated to 1858 and 1872, but if it was in the eastern part of the county, it was in the same general part of the county as the reservoir. In any event, the exact location of the site is held in confidence by local authorities to prevent its disturbance by both looters and the curious. There are likely more burials nearby, which may help present a more complete picture of north central Texas on the eve of secession.


[1] University of Virginia, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center. “Historical Census Browser.” Retrieved September 06, 2011, from the: http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html.

[2] Christopher Long, “Ingram, Anderson,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fin07), accessed September 06, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[3] Ralph A. Wooster, “Notes on Texas’ Largest Slaveholders, 1860,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 65 (July 1961).

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Image: The Richland Chambers Reservoir, Navarro County, as imaged in ArcGIS Explorer. In this view, which incorporates bathymetry data, the original courses of Richland and Chambers Creeks can be seen faintly. The city of Corsicana appears at upper left. Full-size image here.
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