Prior to the founding of Texas, the Atakapa people lived in the area that would later become Sugar Land.
Sugar Land’s founding
Sugar Land has roots in the original Mexican land grant made to Anglo-American Stephen F. Austin. One of the first settlers of the land, Samuel M. Williams, called this area Oakland Plantation because many different varieties of the trees were on the land, such as willow oak, post oak, water oak, southern red oak, and live oak. Williams’ brother, Nathaniel, purchased the land from Austin in 1838. They developed the plantation by growing cotton, corn, and sugarcane.
During these early years, the plantation was the center of social life along the Brazos River. In 1853, Benjamin Terry and William J. Kyle purchased the Oakland Plantation from the Williams family. Terry is known for organizing a division of Texas Rangers during the Civil War and for naming the town.
Upon the deaths of Terry and Kyle, Colonel E. H. Cunningham bought the 12,500-acre (5,100 ha) plantation soon after the Civil War. He had a sugar-refining plant built here, and developed the town around it in 1879, platting the land and attracting settlers during the post-Reconstruction era.
In 1906, the Kempner family of Galveston, under the leadership of Isaac H. Kempner, and in partnership with William T. Eldridge, purchased the 5,300-acre (2,100 ha) Ellis Plantation, one of the few plantations in Fort Bend County to survive the Civil War. The Ellis Plantation had originally been part of the Jesse Cartwright league; Will Ellis had operated it after the Civil War by a system of tenant farming, made up mostly of African-American families who had earlier worked the land.
In 1908, the partnership acquired the adjoining 12,500-acre (5,100 ha) Cunningham Plantation, with its raw-sugar mill and cane-sugar refinery. The partnership changed the name to Imperial Sugar Company; Kempner associated the name “Imperial”, which was also the name of a small raw-sugar mill on the Ellis Plantation, with the Imperial Hotel in New York City.