The U.S. census of 1860 indicated that Brazoria County was home to more Texans declaring assets in excess of $100,000 than any other county in Texas. Such wealth stemmed from sugar cultivation and cotton production. The rich bottom lands of Oyster Creek, the Brazos River, and the San Bernardo River— now collectively known as the Columbia Bottoms and extending westward into neighboring Matagorda County—were prized by Stephen F. Austin's colonists. It was in Brazoria County that Austin, his sister and brother-in-law Emily and James Perry, and other Austin family members chose to reside.
The Jordan Plantation, ninety-two acres of which were acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2002, has been the site of a remarkable research and interpretive project begun in 1986 by Kenneth L. Brown, professor of anthropology at the University of Houston. Brown and his associates worked with descendants of the Jordan family, enslaved people, and subsequent African American tenants to gain a more profound perspective not only on the past but also on the phenomenon of historical continuity in a small Southern rural community. Levi Jordan came to Texas with twelve slaves in 1848 as an already successful planter. He acquired his 2,222-acre plantation from Galveston merchant S. M. Williams, Stephen F. Austin's onetime assistant. The only building surviving at the plantation headquarters is the Jordan House. Dated to 1854, it is a two-story, central-hall-plan I-house. Archival photographs show that it has had various porch configurations during the twentieth century. The low-pitched hipped roof with exposed rafter tails replaced the original roof, blown off in the Storm of 1900. Its primary note of architectural ornament is a shouldered Grecian architrave framing the double-leaf front doors.
Archaeological investigations have revealed the location of outbuildings adjacent to the house as well as the “blocks” (as Brown's team describes them) of three-to four-unit slave housing northwest of the Jordan House. These were built in four pairs, each pair divided by a narrow lane. These one-story, single-room, party-wall dwellings were built of brick, as was the plantation's largest structure, the sugar mill. The census of 1860 indicates that Jordan owned 134 slaves. Seventy percent of Brazoria County's 7,143 inhabitants were enslaved, according to the 1860 census.
Sugar cane cultivation ceased to be feasible once planters no longer had recourse to slave labor. In the later nineteenth century, Levi Jordan's great-grandsons converted the site to a cotton plantation, farmed on shares by tenants who, in some cases, were formerly enslaved or descended from former slaves.