Published on June 1, 2021

The View from my Seat

Varner-Hogg Plantation needs your help to piece together area’s history

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

African-Americans in Brazoria County have a unique opportunity to help tell their history.

As a result of a grant from the 400 Years of African American History Commission in Washington, D.C., the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site is creating a digital repository documenting the experiences of the enslaved and their descendants in our county.

“We know so little about how enslaved people and their descendants fared during Reconstruction and afterwards,” says Mark Osborne, lead educator at the Varner-Hogg plantation in West Columbia.

Osborne is overseeing the project along with William Polley, another site educator.

The year-long project is called The Brazoria County 1619 Descendants Project. It’s part of Varner-Hogg’s effort to foster better connections with the descendant communities in our area.
The year 1619 marks when the first slaves were brought to an English colony, arriving at Point Comfort in Virginia aboard an English privateer ship.

The project’s goal is to collect at least 1,619 items that will eventually, with community input, be used in educational programs and exhibits at Varner-Hogg and other Texas Historical Commission sites.

And that’s why the project is asking for help from the descendant community. The project needs your photographs, diaries, recipes, school memorabilia, letters, business correspondence and any other artifacts that may shed light on the African American experience in our county.

Because the artifacts will create a digital repository, Varner-Hogg scheduled four “Scanning Days” for people to bring documents to the plantation. The plantation is named after Martin Varner, its first owner and a member of the Old Three Hundred, and Jim Hogg, its last owner and former Texas governor.

The first two “Scanning Days” met with only limited success.

Osborne thinks some families with potentially relevant documents are afraid the items won’t be returned to them.

Osborne stressed that all items will be returned after they are scanned … unless the owner wants to donate the items.
Osborne is hoping for better results on the final two days of scanning. Those have been scheduled for Saturday, June 12, and Saturday, June 26. Volunteers will be available from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on both days to help scan the material and complete paperwork.

Project leaders want as much material as the volunteers can handle, even if it is something that a person may not think belongs in the collection.

To provide a safe event, “Scanning Day” appointments are appreciated but not required. Masks are strongly encouraged.

Appointments can be made online at the Texas Historical Commission website or by calling (979) 345-4656, extension 22.

A highlight of the project so far has been a thick binder of funeral programs offered by Dorothy Fisher, a Brazoria County native.

The programs provide a treasure trove of vital statistics along with information on careers, schooling, family relationships and friendships.

Fisher graduated from an intermediate school named after Charlie Brown, an African American who settled in Brazoria County in about 1865.

Brown’s life illustrates how little we know about the history of African Americans in our county. Although one of America’s first black millionaires and, at one time, our county’s biggest landowner, Brown’s accomplishments were only recently recognized, and much of his life remains a mystery.

“White males dominate the museum industry,” Polley says. “We’re honestly looking for any artifacts that are from the African American culture because the story still hasn’t been told.”

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)