Sheffield Chapel was organized in 1854 with 20 members, including namesake Jack Sheffield, Sr. Three churches of varying construction housed the congregation from just after the Civil War until they merged with Haven United Methodist Church to form Haven Sheffield United Methodist Church in 1998. The last, built in 1969 and abandoned since the merger, was lost to arson in 2009. The cemetery is cited in some sources as Sheffield U. M. C. Cemetery and in others as Clayhole Cemetery, for its location in Clayhole Swamp.
Tile Grave Markers of Sheffield Cemetery
Sheltered by old-growth oaks, Sheffield Cemetery contains some of the most important surviving African-American vernacular grave markers in the region. Otherwise simple headstones were decorated with commercial tiles of various colors. (There are nine by my count). Some of the sides and bases feature the tile, as well, while the backs are exposed and feature the names of the decedents. They generally date to the 1930s and 1940s and were most likely created by a member of the congregation.
This is the most colorful of all the tile markers. The name for Mrs. Wite may be a misspelling of White. Such errors are common with homemade markers, in both black and white cemeteries. The first photo shows the marker in perspective.
This is the smallest of the markers.
Eroding text on the exposed concrete complicates identification.
This is the only stone not featuring the predominant mid-century commercial tile.
Most of the tiles have fallen off this marker.
There is also a marker for Prince Richardson (1877-27 January 1949), but I somehow overlooked it.
Other Headstones of Sheffield Cemetery
Besides the whimsical tile markers, a number of other significant markers and plots are located within Sheffield Cemetery. I’m sharing a small selection here.
The Sheffield family, who established the congregation in slavery days, are well represented.
Susan married John Sheffield in 1852.
Arnold was the son of John and Susan Sheffield. Chains carved on the grave may, or may not, indicate he was born into slavery, as were all (or nearly all) those buried here who were born before the end of the Civil War. Sometimes, actual chains were placed within the concrete of the graves and some scholars suggest that broken chains indicate that the decedents were freed. This is not employed in all cemeteries but the chains speak for themselves, even for those who lived long after Emancipation.
Birthdates of African-Americans, even long after the end of slavery, were often unknown.
This is a foot stone, placed before a more formal marker was added.
The Atkinsons were successful small farmers, like many members of Sheffield Chapel.