The sacred ground on St. Simons known as Village Cemetery is one of the most important African-American burial grounds in Georgia. Closely watched over and maintained by the First African Baptist Church of St. Simons, it is the final resting place of countless souls who worked nearby plantations from the early 19th century to Emancipation, and their descendants. It should be noted that until World War II, and perhaps a bit later, African-Americans were much more numerous on St. Simons, living in various historical communities scattered around the island.
I found the cemetery by accident and was so moved by its beauty that I felt an urgency to document its most important monuments. Though there are countless unmarked and unknown burials, the oldest surviving section of the cemetery contains numerous vernacular headstones. These nationally significant treasures represent the resourcefulness and perhaps shed light on some of the traditions of the first and second generations of freedmen who remained on the island after emancipation. In early 19th century Georgia, slave burials were decorated with the last object used by the deceased. It is likely that the decorated graves in Village Cemetery are a continuation of that tradition. The cemetery is active so modern headstones and markers are also present.
I hope that the church or others with more knowledge of the cemetery’s history will work to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A survey was published by the Golden Isles Archaeology Society in 2000 and the cemetery has been documented on Findagrave. I am unable to share the location of the cemetery but those interested may wish to contact the First African Baptist Church.
Vernacular Monuments of Village Cemetery
The Hattie Lee monument features a mosaic of glass and shells in the form of a vase or tree of life. It is the most colorful of all the surviving monuments.
The Aaron Lomon monument features a hand-sculpted bell, ringing.
The Peter Ramsey monument features a mosaic star and beautiful raised lettering.
The John Davis monument features an encircled star mosaic centered with milk glass.
The Albert Hampton monument features a garland of pebbles in a design I don’t recognize. In African burial customs, shells and stones represented the boundary to the afterlife. In African cultures, white often represented death, so the light color of the stones is an affirmation of that tradition.
The Jim Hightower monument features an interesting placement of letters and a star. The name is spelled phonetically, which was common in an era when African-Americans were often denied a basic education. There is slight damage to the lower right side of the stone.
There is no discernible information about the deceased on this simple headstone. Also, there are two decedents listed.
Though it appears to be the resting place of Floyd Edward, the presence of other Floyds in the cemetery suggest it is likely Edward Floyd. Unfortunately, this is often encountered and illustrates the difficulties of African-American genealogy.
I’m sharing this monument to represent the others of this manufacture bearing the symbol of the Mosaic Templars of America. This was an African-American fraternal organization founded by former slaves in 1882 to provide life and burial insurance to the communities they served. The local chapter was known as the Wesley Oak Chamber 2128.
Thanks for the photos and history
That design you don’t recognize looks like a sword.
I enjoy your photos!
More treasures revealed, Brian. The detail shots enhance the fine pictures of full stones.