History of Indigo

Fort Bend County has always been abundant with culture. Due to the area’s vast array of natural resources, the land Meristem Communities chose for its full bellied style of living for the Indigo community has historically been in high demand. Settled first by Indigenous peoples, the land was once owned by an Old Three Hundred original, the first Fort Bend County judge, the State of Texas, and a variety of fascinating characters in between. The land and its natural systems are incredible resources that ought to be well stewarded. With thoughtful and holistic planning, these resources can be protected and even regenerated.

A very special thank you to the Fort Bend Museum, especially Erika Isham, Education and Engagement Coordinator, and Makenzie Uwe, Exhibits Coordinator, for their thoughtful research and commitment to curiosity and learning about the past which is very present today.




Archeological evidence and oral history place the “Lower Brazos Culture” (likely the ancestors of the Coahuiltecan) in the area as early as 1200 BP. 


First documented contact between Gulf Coast Native Americans and Europeans. The Narvaez expedition encounters the Karankawa peoples as documented by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. The Karankawa were nomadic people who migrated seasonally between the islands and further mainland by canoe or by foot, until the introduction of horses by the Spaniards in the 1530s.


Late 1600s

France makes official claims along what is now coastal Texas. Unified colonization is never accomplished, but French influence continues into the 1800s.


In the 1700s, the Brazos River bottoms (including the land that is now Indigo) was inhabited by the Akokisa Atakapa and Coco Karankawa peoples.

Spain begins concerted efforts to colonize what is now coastal Texas as well as inland territories. Control continues until Mexican independence in 1821.


Early 1800s

Facing missionization/assimilation by Spanish missions, annihilation by European communicable diseases and threats from roaming bands of Lipan Apaches, the Akokisa population plummets to the point that they are hardly noticed by Anglo settlers moving into the area.

The Brazos was a major shipping route because of its access to Galveston and relative proximity to New Orleans, but the flow of the river was unpredictable rendering it tough to navigate. French explorer René Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle records the Indian name for the Brazos River as Tokohono. La Salle called it the Maligne, while the enduring Spanish name was Los Brazos de Dios, “the arms of God.” 



June- William Morton received 1.5 leagues and one labor of land as an Old Three Hundred land grantee. According to Andrew Jackson Sowell (1904), he is also known to be the area's first settler with his headright league located on the east bank of the Brazos and his labor on the west side.



May 26- Jane Wilkins received a league of land from the Mexican government, making the Wilkinses one of the few Old Three Hundred families headed by a female. She never took permanent residence on the property, residing in San Felipe before relocating to Matagorda after the town was burned down in March 1836. Lake Jane, seen in some earlier maps near current day Neill Elementary, is named after her.



March 31- Jesse H. Cartwright received his land grant from the Mexican government. Jane Wilkins' land eventually merged with parts of Jesse H. Cartwright's and William Morton’s land to create the plot of land from which Indigo’s property was purchased in 2017. 



March 8- Colonel James Knight, along with his partner and friend Walter C. White, purchased the Jane Wilkins league. 

April 1- Richmond and other Brazos River settlements are evacuated in the “Runaway Scrape” as Anglo settlers fled Mexican troops under General Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution.

The result of the revolution is an independent Republic of Texas. 



The town of Richmond was established by Robert Eden Handy and his business partner, William Lusk. Named after Richmond, Virginia, the town was incorporated into the Republic of Texas in May of 1837. Fort Bend County’s boundaries were adopted in December and in January 1838, Richmond was elected its county seat.



Texas is annexed into the United States of America.



William W. McMahan purchased several pieces of the Morton and Wilkins properties from different owners (West of the Lums property).



Native People were either pushed out of Fort Bend north to Oklahoma, South to Mexico or integrated with other groups like the Spanish or Mexicans. Many records indicate the Karankawa and Coahuiltecan became extinct, however, both tribes have descendants alive today.

Fort Bend County was one of only six Texas counties with a Black majority due to the burgeoning institution of slavery that made possible the growth of the plantation economy. The county had 109 working farms covering around 11,000 acres.



Milton Napoleon Lum bought the property from Placide Forstall (a man from New Orleans, LA who owned steamboats) for $2,768.00. 



The first operating railroad in Texas was completed. The name changed in 1870 to the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway, also known as the “Sunset Route,” which runs parallel to modern-day 90A.



Juneteenth- Celebrated on June 19, celebrates the day that enslaved persons in Texas found out they were free. Union troops delivered the news from Galveston Bay in 1865, though the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863.

The 13th Amendment, officially giving freedom to enslaved persons in the U.S., passed on December 6, 1865.



The number of inmates in the state’s first prison, Huntsville Penitentiary, was small before the Civil War, when only white men were subject to punishment by the state (Jach, Theresa R. Huntsville Penitentiary. Arcadia Publishing, 2013.). With the South’s defeat in the war and its integral economic system gone, the Texas economy plunged into a depression. 

Feeling the sting of defeat and looking for solutions to the sudden loss of their labor force, Texas and other southern states began enacting Black Codes, laws that defined the rights of freedmen. White lawmakers took advantage of the legal phrasing in the very amendment that set enslaved African Americans free to restore their labor force: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." (Drexler 2018)


Vagrancy laws that made it a crime to be unemployed or to loiter came with harsh sentences and fines to reestablish control over freedmen. Those who were not able to pay their fine were put to work by local courts on labor projects until the fine was paid. The prison population exploded, disproportionately. During the period of post-Reconstruction (1875-1900), African Americans accounted for 50% of the state’s prison population despite constituting only 25% of the state’s total population. (Pitre, Merline. Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares, Black Leadership in Texas, Texas A&M University Press, 1985).
To alleviate overcrowding and funding shortages in the prison system, the state began leasing convicts to local businessmen looking for cheap labor. Thus, began the convict leasing system in Texas. Companies and individuals paid leasing fees to state, county, and local governments in exchange for the labor of prisoners on farms, and in mines, lumber yards, brick yards, manufacturing facilities, factories, railroads, and road construction. The convict leasing fees generated substantial amounts of revenue for southern state, county, and local budgets, and lasted through World War II.” (Terrell 2021)



After Juneteenth, significant numbers of Black officials are elected into office creating tensions between the previously ruling White landowners and former slaves participating in governance for the first time. Tensions resulted in the Jaybird-Woodpecker War whose conflict culminated in the Battle of Richmond where many officials and supporters from each side were killed, the Black politicians were driven out of town and a White government was re-established. 



William W. McMahan gave his (assumed) relative, Thompson H. McMahan, his property. The Lum family sold their property to Thompson at the same time. This is when Morton and Wilkins’ land combine.

Thompson McMahan was the Fort Bend County district clerk from 1842-1849 and County Commissioner, Precinct #4 from 1851-1857.



Thompson McMahan’s daughter, Josephine Theresa McMahan, married Wiliam P. Quigg in 1861. Thompson gave a portion of the Morton/Wilkins land to his son-in-law, Quigg. 



William P. Quigg defaulted on the land loan due to being $50,000 in debt. The sheriff sold the property at an auction at the Galveston County courthouse on February 17, 1874. It contained a quarter league of land that was part of the Morton Grant (the boundary line is modern-day Harlem Road).

In the 1875 deed to Williams and Guion, it states the name “Harlem Plantation” for the first time. In the Galveston News article stating the trustee’s sale of the property, it states all the previous owners and their pieces of property and then says, “all of which said tracts of land are now comprised in and known as “Harlem Plantation”. As stated below, William Quigg was originally from New York which lends clout to him choosing “Harlem”.



Black Star Line was established by John S. Williams (1814-1876) and Stephen B. Guion (1820-1885) in 1848 for packet trade carrying passengers, cargo, and mail from Liverpool to New York by sailing vessels. By 1866, the partners had transitioned to the iron-hulled screw steamers and renamed the line The Guion Line. 

Williams and Guion bought the Harlem Plantation property at auction and leased it to the Evart family, who lived there until it was sold to the state in 1886. The deed identifies the two men as merchants and business partners, but no sources have been found to explain why they chose to lease land in Fort Bend County. John S. Williams passed away less than two years later in November of 1876.

The Harlem Plantation was purchased by the state in 1886 for $25,000 ($25,000 in 1886 is worth $813,007.98 today). The purchase of the land included teams, implements, a brick sugar house, a sugar mill, several tenant dwellings, and direct access to the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad.

Harlem Prison Farm was the second prison farm owned and run by the state and consisted of 2,500 acres of land worked by convict labor. 



Profits of the Harlem Prison Farm are documented in The Houston Daily along with an outline of the population and conditions throughout the Texas prison (credit: Texas State Library & Archives) system.

It has a section on the agriculture at the Harlem Prison in its first 10 years, stating that the crops in the past two years have been “very fine”. They noted 9 horses, 86 mules, 70 cows, 40 calves, and 330 hogs on the property. They were also reported to have a large brick sugar house where the sugar cane was refined and the cotton was ginned and loaded onto the Harlem Train station on the property called the Missouri Pacific (Harlem Farm Branch). Different jobs at the Harlem Prison Farm included textiles, sugar cane, rice, brick, cotton, livestock, corn, and alfalfa.


This article also outlines the value of the crops every year for the first 10 years listed below:

  • Crop of 1887- $10,502.67
  • Crop of 1888- $53,582.95
  • Crop of 1889- $38,378.46
  • Crop of 1890- $65,258.06
  • Crop of 1891- $23,689.58
  • Crop of 1892- $38,186.90
  • Crop of 1893- $49,008.96
  • Crop of 1894- $80,205.96
  • Crop of 1895- $75,914.72
  • Crop of 1896- $1,382.27 (The reason this year’s yield was so low is because a freeze in early spring wiped out most of the produce)


The convict leasing system was abolished but this did not free prisoners from mandatory tedious farm work.


Harlem Prison “Hot Box” incident: 8 out of 12 men died during a punishment in which they were placed in an underground “cell” created with a wooden box with four quarter-sized ventilation holes. The temperature inside the box rose to over 100 degrees causing the men to suffocate.

These men were chastised for not picking cotton fast enough, as there was a cotton strike at the prison protesting the working conditions. They were put in this cell overnight with minimal ventilation and their cries for help were disregarded. Guards testified they “had no reason to think there was anything wrong or that any of the convicts were in distress or suffering." Every man murdered in that cell was under the age of 20. The Texas attorney general concluded prison officials did not violate any laws, therefore no one was held accountable for the deaths of these men.


Harlem Prison Farm covered 5,005 acres and housed 260 inmates. Officials established a spur track of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway to load and transport sugar cane cultivated on the grounds, abandoning the system only four years later. In addition to raising sugar cane, prisoners also operated a brick plant.


2000s and on

Prison units begin to be closed as the state sells land to community developers.


A large scale regenerative vegetable farm, which initially became Loam Agronomics, started under a leasehold. Loam Agronomics grew to 350 weekly vegetable shares sold and distributed into 38 weekly drop sites across the Greater Houston region in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.



Loam Agronomics purchased the leased land, and grew to become Houston’s largest organic farm of 60+ acres of vegetable production and 10 employees.


August 2017

Less than a month after the Loam Agronomics purchase, Hurricane Harvey landed. Harvey was a turning point for the farming operation as the broader ecosystem of sales channels, distribution sites, and employee's day-to-day lives were significantly impacted. Thankfully, the property did not flood during Hurricane Harvey. But based on the growing developments nearby, the need for additional farm infrastructure, the challenges related to Hurricane Harvey, and the desire to build a community around the farm, the founding farmers made a decision to pause the farm operations and explore community development options and entitlements. 


Meristem Communities is formed and development agreements negotiated for what was initially called Richmond Agrihood Project, and would later become Indigo, a community at the intersection of people, plants, and place from day one.



Indigo is born and a group of creative planners, designers, landscape architects, architects, and marketers gather for the initial Community Planning Workshop June 23-24, 2021.



Meristem and the City of Richmond reach a signed Development Agreement creating the path forward for Indigo to proceed.



Construction on Indigo begins and the community starts to come to life. Builder partners are selected for phase one. Pre-sales for Indigo Commons retail shops commences, with a variety of buildings offered for purchase allowing small business owners to pay their mortgage vs. rising rent.



Indigo is anticipated to open for first homebuyers to build their future legacies.