Sugar Land 95 laid to rest, community memorial service to be held in Spring 2020 (12/3/2019)
FORT BEND ISD (December 3, 2019) – The remains of 95 individuals discovered at an unmarked and historic cemetery, who have become known as the Sugar Land 95, have been laid to rest at the site where their remains were found, as the arduous process continues to identify any possible descendants through the analysis of DNA.
During a November 21, 2019 community symposium hosted by Fort Bend ISD at the James Reese Career and Technical Center, archaeologists, historians and geneticists shared extensive information about the abandoned Bullhead Camp Cemetery, which is the name the Texas Historical Commission (Commission) has given to the cemetery. The symposium provided an update on the continuing research that is underway, including genealogical and genetic research that could take three to four years to complete.
The Texas Attorney General issued an opinion in June of 2019 confirming the Commission had the authority to authorize the extraction of biological samples for isotope analysis and DNA sequencing. Following this opinion, the archaeologists and genetic researchers extracted tooth and bone samples necessary for future DNA and isotope testing. These samples have been entrusted to the University of Texas’ Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL) in Austin for curation.
Recently, in the fall of 2019, the Commission granted an antiquities permit to a team of researchers, based on a research proposal for the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA at the University of Connecticut. Pursuant to that permit, TARL forwarded samples to the University of Connecticut for genetic analysis.
Researchers have secured some grant funding to begin the DNA extractions. Additional funding will be needed to complete the remaining DNA extractions, analysis, comparisons to existing databases, public outreach, and genealogical studies.
The reburial of the Sugar Land 95, completed last week, followed a solemn ceremony on November 17 to honor the unnamed individuals, believed to be African-American men and boys who were leased to a local plantation to provide labor through the state-sanctioned convict leasing system. This unjust system provided inexpensive labor to the wealthy plantation owners following the abolition of slavery in 1865. Prior to reburial, each gravesite and burial vessel was carefully marked so that individuals could be reunified with family, should descendants be identified in the future.
Fort Bend ISD students will lead a public memorial in the spring to celebrate the historic discovery, and the District will keep the community updated as these plans are finalized.