The Cargill-Hope Plantation Records
Thanks to the generosity of Robert Cargill, the Briscoe Center’s Southern History collections now include the Cargill-Hope Plantation Records. The records include voluminous documentation of the Oscar Hope Plantation in Harrison County between 1845 and 1940. The collection documents the development and decline of the Hope plantation over multiple generations, and includes letters signed by presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, bills of sale related to enslaved persons, civil war diaries and Freedmen’s Bureau contracts from the Reconstruction era.
“The Hope Family Plantation Records provide an in-depth account of a Texas plantation from the advent of statehood through the Civil War and Reconstruction and all the way up to the Second World War,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “I’m grateful to Bob for his diligent work in collecting and organizing these records, and for his decision to donate them to the center. These records haven’t been widely accessible until now, and I’m certain they will deepen scholarly understanding of Texas history.”
The Hope Family Plantation Records include ledgers, receipts, bills of sale, business correspondence, maps, plats and surveys, and estate documents that cover a century of East Texas economic and social life from the 1840s onward. In addition, the records contain personal correspondence, Civil War diaries, and art works. Finally, the collection includes the Hope family library that Rebecca Hope used to educate her five children. The library includes many rare books dating from 1794. Robert Cargill is the great-great-grandson of Oscar and Rebecca Hope and inherited many of the plantation records and books from his father. Over the years he has added to the collection and helped to organize it.
“Along with my father and aunt Ann See, I’ve put a lot of work into amassing these materials, and my assistant Janine Briley cataloged the assembly. I’m glad to place them at the Briscoe Center, where they’ll be preserved and used,” said Robert Cargill. “The Hope Plantation was an important part of East Texas history and these records can help tell a wider story as well.”
According to documents in the collection, Oscar and Rebecca Hope brought eight horses, a wagon, a watch, and some hogs when they moved from Yazoo County, Mississippi, to Harrison County, Texas, in 1845. Also accompanying them were 24 enslaved persons. The Hopes purchased land around Caddo Lake, which was then cleared for cotton planting. Oscar died in 1848 shortly after Rebecca gave birth to her fifth child. Rebecca and her eldest son, Adam, managed the plantation thereafter. At the time, Harrison County was one of the richest in Texas, with an economy based on cotton and slave labor, and the Hopes prospered. After the Civil War, Adam became the first local landowner to sign a contract with those formerly enslaved on the plantation, who agreed to work for wages and goods. He died in 1868 from wounds received while fighting in the Civil War.
Wage-labor agreements would later be supplanted by the sharecropping system. Cotton remained important to both the Hope Plantation and the local economy, but yields never returned to antebellum levels. Oscar Hope II (who inherited the plantation in the 1870s) remained a landlord but became known locally as a teacher to the local Anglo and African American communities. His efforts to discover oil on Hope lands were largely unsuccessful. Sharecroppers farmed many types of crops in addition to cotton. In 1940, the Hopes sold their land around Caddo Lake to T. J. Taylor (Lady Bird Johnson’s father, who had enjoyed considerably more success with oil exploration than the Hopes.) Taylor subsequently sold the land to the U.S. Army, which built a munitions factory on it. In the 1990s, much of the land was handed over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Today, the Hope Plantation is part of the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and the land has mostly returned to its previous state as forest and wetlands.