County to fight for access to old cemetery in Liberty

Early Liberty County settler E. T. Branch is buried at Branch Cemetery in Liberty. Currently access to the cemetery is cut off by private property, so the county is fighting for an easement.

By Vanesa Brashier,

A Liberty cemetery that historians believe is imperative to preserving local history now belongs to Liberty County. However, access to the cemetery, located on Cypress Street off of N. Travis in Liberty, will require a legal battle.

Commissioners court on Dec. 18 accepted conveyance of the deed for the cemetery from the City of Liberty to the county, so that County Attorney Matthew Poston could take up the fight for access to the property.

A narrow 35-foot strip of land that is privately owned is currently preventing the Liberty County Historical Commission from accessing and restoring the cemetery, which reportedly is being threatened by tree roots and overgrowth.

“We have money set aside to restore the cemetery but we need the county’s help to get past these legal hurdles,” Commission Chair Linda Jamison implored commissioners.

The cemetery is the final resting place of early settler E. T. Branch, his family and perhaps as many as 14 African-American slaves, according to Jamison.

Several of the graves at Branch Cemetery are behind a wrought-iron fence. They are being threatened by tree roots and overgrowth, according to local historians.

“Edward Branch came to Liberty County in 1836. He was a very important man. His grandchildren moved away to other parts of Texas, so we don’t hear a lot about Edward Branch,” she said. “He came from Virginia in 1836 and settled in Liberty County. He was an early school teacher here. He studied the law. He joined William Logan’s company during the Texas Revolution and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.”

Before statehood, when Texas was established as a Republic, Liberty County residents elected Branch to represent them at the First and Second Congresses.

“After Texas became a state, he was appointed as a judge for the Fifth Judicial District, a position that constitutionally made him an associate judge of the Texas Supreme Court,” Jamison said. “He was a founding member of the Masonic Lodge in Liberty. He was active in the Methodist Church and served as postmaster while he was practicing law. He was also elected in 1846 to the first legislature of the newly annexed State of Texas.”

His daughter, Cornelia Branch Stone, who is also buried at the cemetery, was also important to Texas history. She was a suffragette and an early former of the United Daughters of the Confederacy of the Federated Women’s Club, Jamison added.

Fourteen unmarked graves were found outside the perimeter of the wrought-iron fence at Branch Cemetery, according to Liberty County Historical Commission Chair Linda Jamison. The graves are thought to belong to slaves who worked for the Branch family.

“Those people are buried out there. Liberty County was very important to them. Although they split their time in Galveston and Liberty, Liberty was most important because they came back here to be buried,” Jamison said.

Many of the graves inside the small cemetery are marked with headstones behind a wrought-iron fence. More than a dozen other unmarked graves were found through ground-penetrating sonar.

“E.T. Branch’s family also included African-Americans who worked for him. They stayed on after emancipation. He must have treated them well because he furnished housing and they sharecropped that property,” Jamison said.

In an interview after the commissioners court meeting, Poston explained that he plans to pursue an easement to the property and is confident the county will win the legal challenge.

“Anytime you have a larger parent tract and a child tract gets cut off, as is the case for the cemetery, there will be a prescriptive easement,” Poston said. “It’s created by operation of law.”

Poston said the easement is important so that the Branch family’s descendants, historical commission and the general public have access to this important part of history.

“There is a lot of local interest in this cemetery,” he said.

Other business at the Dec. 18 commissioners court meeting included:

  • approval of a fee structure for wide-load permits;
  • approval of an interlocal agreement between Liberty County and the City of Cleveland regarding a 2.42-acre tract on the SH 105 bypass for a future site for municipal facilities;
  • approval of an interlocal agreement for the purchase of a patrol vehicle for the Pct. 4 Constable’s Office; and
  • approval of a $1,000 donation to the Pct. 4 Road and Bridge Department for assisting the Kenefick residents with maintaining Martha Lane.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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