The Old Plantations and Their Owners 
of Brazoria County, Texas 
by Abner J. Strobel

When still inside TDCJ hell, a friend asked me to see what I could find about the connection to plantations and the prison units he was imprisoned in: Ramsey Unit. Excerpts of my letter responding:

There’s really not a major work on Ramsey Plantation / Prison. I consulted two resources about this topic, with just a little digging. The Old Plantations and their Owners of Brazoria County is a little pamphlet by Abner J. Strobel, published in 1930. The major work on the area involving plantations and history is A Narrative History of Brazoria County by James A. Creighton. Both books think that slavery times were glory days.

Much better is Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough about the history of the prison system in Texas, which he connects to prisons from the North: Auburn, NY and Elmira, NY. He writes about how those two NY prisons were the cutting edge in prison thinking and control techniques and how to treat prisoners – and that Texas copied the “Elmira model” and “Auburn model”, then ‘improved’ on it.

Also: There’s an excellent photography book Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prisoners. The photos are from the 60s and 70s, with some found photos from the 20s and 30s.

The findings:
There are 5 former plantations that now make up what is Ramsey Unit: Waverley, Drayton, Quarl’s, Palo Alto, Smith. To find out more about this – what conditions were like on those plantations for the enslaved, the names of the enslaved, etc. – we’d have to look for works on/about/by the plantation owners themselves.

There is also another NY connection: The Chenango Plantation “is over a hundred years old, and was opened up and developed as a sugar plantation by Monroe Edwards, who came from New York.” It became known as the Old Gaines Plantation, later, on the San Bernard River. Edwards later died in Sing Sing prison after forging too many checks. “Edwards gave the name ‘Chenango’ to the plantation from a little town by that name in New York, and that town was named for the Chenango Indians, whose habitat was New York State.”

The Creighton book tells us that in the 1950 census: “[Texas] Towns lost included Anchor, Chenango, and Lochridge.” Creighton implies it was replaced by Richwood, but Google Maps tells us Richwood, TX is a town 15 miles south of Chenango, TX.

I’ve emailed the Texas State Historical Association for a few other small pieces they reference, but haven’t heard back yet.

sources to consult about Texas prisons and their connection to slavery:

  • Block, W. T.: A History of Jefferson County, Texas, From Wilderness to Reconstruction, 1976.
  • Boon, Effie: The History of Angelina County, 1937.
  • Bugbee, Lester G.: “Slavery in Early Texas”Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1898), pp. 389-412.
  • Crocket, George Louis: Two Centuries in East Texas, 1932.
  • Curlee, Abigail: A Study of Texas Slave Plantations, 1822 to 1865, 1932.
  • Fiske: A Visit To Texas, 1834.
  • Gillmer, Jason A.: Slavery and Freedom in Texas: Stories From the Courtroom, 1821-1871, 2017.
  • Matrana, Marc R.: Lost Plantations of the South, 2009.
  • Robertson, Robert J.: “Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War, as seen in The Beaumont Banner”East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. 34, Iss. 1, Art. 7, pp.14-29.
  • Strobel, Abner J.: The Old Plantations and Their Owners of Brazoria County, Texas, 1930.
  • Torget, Andrew J.: Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850, 2015.
  • Wooster, Ralph A.: “East of the Trinity: Glimpses of Life in East Texas in the Early 1850s “East Texas Historical Journal, Vol. 13, Iss. 2, Art. 8, pp. 3-10.