1/8/2002 BILL YOUNG: Joseph Burleson
plantation an interesting find
Even though this site was not entirely
within the Richland Chambers Lake project, the historical archeologists with SMU
knew that this would be a very important site to do some testing. Since both
sites started at about the same time period, they felt that any artifacts
recovered in the testing phase would allow them to make comparisons between an
upper class family, the Burlesons, and a middle class family like the Bakers.
They also could make other comparisons between slightly later sites such as the
Mingo Burleson house site. Mingo Burleson was a freed slave who moved nearby the
original plantation after securing his freedom at the end of the Civil War.
There are several direct descendants of
the Joseph Burleson family living today. They were able to provide a lot of
useful information pertaining to the family history and what the original
structure looked like.
In the Richland Chambers report, Joseph
and Mary Burleson moved to Texas in 1834 and by 1835, they were living in
Bastrop. According to the 1860 census report in "Old Northwest Texas," compiled
by Nancy T. Samuels and Barbara Knox, Mr. Burleson was from Tennessee and his
wife, Mary, was originally from Kentucky. By the time the census was taken in
Navarro County in 1860 after the Burlesons moved here, they had four children,
two boys and two girls. In 1860, August was 24, his brother Thomas was 20, then
a sister named Mary was 16, and finally another sister Louisa was 14. If all of
the records are correct, none of the children were born in Navarro County.
The living descendants were able to
describe how the original plantation house was built and the archeologists with
SMU put together an artistic rendition of how the structure was built. The house
is described as a central hall dwelling with large windows. Houses in those
early years that had windows larger than normal indicate a higher social status.
The structure was constructed using mortise and tenon technology with hewn post
oak and red cedar beams. David Journey of SMU, the dendrocrynolgist (which means
one who specializes in dating tree rings) was able to date several of the post
oak logs. One pier in the main house dated to 1859 while a second date of 1855
was obtained from acorn crib nearby. The 1859 date from the pier was a
non-cutting date which meant that the pier was slightly older while the 1855
date was the exact year this log was cut. This 1855 cutting date means that
there is good evidence that the Burleson family first arrived here in 1855.
A copy of the original Burleson deed could
not be located but a Dunn Family owned the tract of land as late as September in
1855. On Oct. 16, 1869, he divided his estate among his children, T.J. , A.L.,
Mary Hail, Sarah Bonham and Ed indicating that one of his original daughters,
Louisa, must have passed away and the last two, Sarah and Ed must have been born
Since this site was originally a
plantation, the archeologists decided to put in a larger 8-meter grid across the
area to determine the extent of the site. Eventually, they put in 201 test units
of the same 50-by-50 cm size utilized on all of the historic sites. A total of
almost 5,100 artifacts were recovered in the test units with enough diagnostic
material to date the site from the 1850s to around 1910 when the family
abandoned the site. The artifact count is lower per unit due to the fact that
they used an 8-meter grid which meant with each unit, they moved away from the
house at a faster rate. At the Baker site with the units spaced closer together,
a higher count of artifacts was achieved but the Burleson site would have
produced a far greater overall total, estimated to be in the neighborhood of
Based on the sheet refuse, the size of the
entire site is estimated to be 6,550-square meters while the Baker site was
4,000-square meters. Part of the sheet refuse is attributed to refuse from
several outbuildings that served as slave quarters. They felt sure that two
brick scatters were indicative of a slave house. There isn't any doubt that
slavery today or back then is wrong. On the other hand, some slave owners
treated their slaves with a certain amount of trust and respect. This is obvious
at both the Burleson and Jones plantations (which I will describe in the next
few weeks). The reason I can make this statement about these two locations is
the fact that the slave houses were scattered about. Many plantations built all
of the slave quarters in one area, next to each other. Another factor indicating
a trust and respect is the freed slave, Mingo Burleson, who occupied a house
just outside the boundary lines of the original plantation for many years after
the end of the Civil War.
Bill Young is a Daily Sun columnist. His
column appears Tuesdays.
Reprinted with permission of the Corsicana Daily Sun
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