CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE PAST
Levi Jordan Plantation
History: A brief history of the Plantation
(with inserted comments from some family members and a copy of a passage from Levi Jordan's Will. See Jordan Genealogy for more on the family lineage).
by Kenneth L. Brown, Ph.D.
Ken Brown, in front of the plantation house
Questions or Comments?
"Material Culture & Community Structure: The
Slave and Tenant Community At Levi Jordan's Plantation,
1848 - 1992", by Kenneth L. Brown (2).
Levi Jordan and twelve slaves [please see some comments on the use of the word "slave"] arrived in Brazoria County, Texas in 1848, from Union County, Arkansas, in an attempt to establish a new plantation. According to the familys oral history, Jordan was attempting to obtain land that would "outlive" him. In 1848, Jordan purchased 2222 acres of land from Samuel M. Williams for $4.00 an acre (1). Shortly after this land purchase, Jordan returned to Arkansas, and adjacent Louisiana (where his daughter, Emily, her husband, James McNeill, and their children resided), to sell their plantations and move to Texas. The twelve slaves remained behind to begin the development of what would become one of the largest sugar and cotton producing plantations in Texas.
Throughout the antebellum development of the plantation, the primary cash crops produced were sugar and cotton. Also adding to the profitability of the plantation, Jordan built the largest sugar "mill" (actually a factory) in the county to process the cane raised by himself and several of the surrounding planters. Further, based upon a variety of historical records, Jordan also raised and imported slaves for sale. Over time, and increasingly in the postbellum period, the importance of his sugar production declined. After 1865, when it was very difficult to obtain the massive amount of labor needed for a successful sugar operation, sugar was produced in very small quantities, while cotton production increased. In fact, by the time of the division of the plantation in 1892, cotton had become the major cash crop (3). Staple food was produced on the plantation in large quantities throughout both periods. Thus, after 1865 Jordan shifted to a farming system which employed many of his former slaves and their descendants in a system of sharecropping and tenancy.
Levi Jordan died in 1873. In his will he divided the plantation among his three surviving grandsons James C., Charles P., and William A.C. McNeill. He effectively disinherited his one surviving granddaughter Anne (McNeill) Martin, although he did provide that funds ($5,000) for the education of Annes four boys be set aside.
The Martin Brothers, sons of Anne Royal (Annie) Martin and Robert Furniss Martin
An excerpt from Levi's Will, where is stipulates that Ann and her husband, Robert, are not to be allowed on the plantation without his wife Sarah's permission. Another clause in the will stipulates the $5,000 bequest.
|While underage at the time
of Jordans death, William A.C. McNeill was to
inherit the northern half of the original plantation.
This portion included the ten acres where the main
houses, kitchen, smoke house, slave/tenant quarters, and
other outbuildings had been constructed. This is the area
that is the focus of the current archaeological
In 1876 William A.C. McNeill turned 21 and inherited the portion of the plantation willed to him by Jordan. Unfortunately, he accidentally shot himself while cleaning a shotgun, and died shortly after taking control of his inheritance. W.A.C. McNeill died without leaving a will, so Mrs. Sarah Jordan, Levi Jordans wife, resumed ownership of the northern half of the plantation. Mrs. Jordan died in 1882 without leaving a will. At this point, W.A.Cs inheritance was taken over by his mother Emily (Jordan) McNeill [Mrs. John McNeill]. Also during the period after Levi Jordans death, his granddaughter Anne McNeill Martin died. After her death in 1874, her four boys spent a great deal of time living on the plantation. Apparently during this period, Emily developed a strong attachment to the boys. In 1879 she and the boys instituted a law suit to obtain some of W.A.C.s inheritance for the boys. While this succeeded, shortly after her mothers death in 1882, Emily sold the northern half of the plantation to the "Martin Boys" for $10.00. Historical records indicate that Emily did not inform her two surviving sons of this sale, and, indeed it was filed in Matagorda County (an adjoining county) rather than in Brazoria County. The sale became "known" after Emilys death in 1885.
|Carol interviewed Ewing Martin, Robert Martin and other family members in the summer of 1998, and Ken had interviewed some of them many times prior to that as well. Most family members seem to feel that, based on what they had heard through the years, that while there were bad feelings between Levi and his son-in-law Robert, that this animosity was limited to Levi and Robert, at least until the lawsuits described below took place. The boys spent part of their lives living on the plantation, and Robert Furniss Martin sent at least two letters to W.A.C. (Archie) McNeill that indicate a reasonably friendly relationship. One of those letters is attached; the image is 56 K, and may take a couple of minutes to download.|
|After 1885, when the
northern half of the plantation became the sole property
of the Martins, until 1892, the tenant population
continued to remain on the plantation and live within the
old slave quarters. However, relationships between the
McNeills and the Martins seem to have deteriorated. In
1889 a court suit was filed on behalf of tow the Martins
Royal and McWillie against the McNeills for
the boys share of the money left in Levi
Jordans will [the $5,000 he had left for their
education]. The McNeills claimed that the money had
already been spent in the maintenance of the boys and
their property. Given the postbellum economy of the
south, this had clearly not been an easy task for the
McNeills. The McNeills brought in two of the ex-slaves
John McNeill and Promise McNeill to testify
in the court case. In 1891 The Harris County Civil Court
ruled against the McNeills, and ordered the payment of
the money to the boys or their creditor. The Texas
Supreme Court upheld this ruling on appeal in 1892.
Shortly after this appeal, the Martins divided the 1111 acres of the northern half of the plantation along with nearly 360 acres obtained in the 1879 court suit, among themselves. They also appear to have forced the tenants out of the old slave quarters, possibly on the grounds that their services were no longer necessary, or because of the testimony given on behalf of the McNeills by John and Promise McNeill, or for some other reason. See "Abandonment" for a discussion of this hypothesis and its continued testing.
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‹ Carol McDavid 1998