Researchers in Fort Bend County now believe the 95 bodies found at a construction site are those of freed slaves forced to work in convict labor camps.
“It’s huge. It’s unprecedented,” said Reign Clark, the site’s archaeological project manager. “This will change our understanding of the convict labor system that was used all over the state.”
Fort Bend ISD crews came across the burial site in April while building a new technical school.Archaeologists have now found 95 bodies, each buried in its own wooden casket.
Out of the 48 that have been analyzed so far, 47 are male and one is female. They are aged 14 to 60 years old. And, even more than 100 years after they were buried, experts can still find signs of malnutrition and stress.
“When you do activity over and over and over again, and you’re doing heavy labor, it will actually stress the attachments where the muscles are attached to the bone. It will actually leave marks and actually change the shape of the bone,” explained bioarchaeologist Katrina Banks-Whitley. “We’re seeing a lot of (evidence) that shows they were doing very heavy labor from probably a very young age.”
Convict labor camps were widespread after the Civil War.Freed slaves were arrested, then taken from state prisons and forced to work manual labor in places like Sugar Land, where sugar production drove the local economy.
“It had the worst reputation of all the prison farms in Texas,” said sociologist Richard Vogel.
Fort Bend ISD officials are currently working with the Texas Historical Commission to find an appropriate location to rebury the bodies.
They believe all bodies will be exhumed in the next three months.