Joseph Burleson Plantation
an Interesting Find
Navarro County, Texas


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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 here.

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 625,000 artifacts.

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.


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This Page Last Updated on 11/16/12
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Copyright 2001 Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox