Tag Archives: Georgia Cemeteries

Strangers Cemetery, St. Simons Island

Officially known as Union Memorial Cemetery, Strangers Cemetery gets its unusual name from those interred here. Former slaves (and their descendants) who toiled on the island’s plantations prior to Emancipation were buried on those properties. The original “strangers” were freedmen who came to the island after the Civil War and worked primarily in sawmills along the Frederica River. Many remained for generations in three thriving black communities: Harrington, Jewtown, and South End, and some were interred here, as they weren’t allowed to bury on the former plantation lands. While most marked graves are in very good condition, a large number of unmarked graves exist, as well.

Among later “strangers” is Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Sampson Jones (8 February 1902-4 September 1984). She was born in Smithville (Lee County) and never knew her biological father. Her mother moved to an uncle’s farm in nearby Dawson when Bessie was a baby and while there married James Sampson, who was a father figure to Bessie. Of her childhood, she wrote: “I never has went to school a whole term and I didn’t get past the fifth grade; every school day I had to keep other people’s babies and sometimes I had to work in the fields.” Music was always present in Bessie Jones’s childhood. Her mother Julia played the autoharp and James Sampson played numerous instruments by ear. Her grandfather, Jet Sampson, was an accordionist. He was enslaved, along with five brothers, around 1843 and died in 1941 at the age of 105. Listening to his stories and songs, Bessie gained many insights that would inform her later work.

Bessie Jones. on the set of “Music of Williamsburg” film, Williamsburg, Virginia, April 28, 1960. Photo by Alan Lomax. AFC Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004).

In 1914 a very young Jones gave birth to her first child, Rosalie. The child’s father, Cassius Davis, was a native of the Georgia Sea Islands and had come to the Dawson area seeking farm work. After World War I Bessie lived briefly in Milan and Fitzgerald. Cassius died in Brunswick in 1926. For the next seven years she lived in Florida. In Okeechobee she married George Jones and in 1933 they moved to St. Simons Island. They had two sons: George L. Jones (1935) and Joseph (1937). George died in 1945. After his death Bessie got involved with the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, perhaps the first group to formally attempt to preserve and perform the slave songs and spirituals of the Sea Island Gullah and Geechee people. It was a great honor for Bessie to have been invited to join the group, as she was not a native of the islands.

Bessie met musicologist and folkorist Alan Lomax in 1959 and a couple of years later he recorded a series of songs, stories, and interviews with her at his apartment in New York City. In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were established. Lomax arranged a tour that took the group to colleges around the country and a decade of travel followed. They participated in the Poor People’s March in 1968 and appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Folk Festival, Montreal World’s Fair, Central Park, and numerous Smithsonian Folk Life Festivals. In 1976, the Sea Island Singers performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Mrs. Jones received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but died of leukemia later that year.

Peter Stone and Ellen Harold’s profile of Bessie Jones at the Association for Cultural Equity, from which this was condensed, is an excellent source for further reading.

Candler United Methodist Church, Circa 1887, Hall County

Church history notes that all members of Candler Methodist transferred from other churches and the congregation was established on 17 July 1887. S. H. Braswell was the fist pastor. Charter members were the Bats, Cobb, Simmons, Heely, Little, and Coh families.

On a ridge behind the church is a small cemetery of reburials from the Dunacan Cemetery [not to be confused with the Dunagan Chapel Cemetery], which was to be submerged by the Buford Dam and Reservoir project on Lake Lanier in 1957.

The graves are marked by small stones with no identification. I hope someone has a list of names somewhere.

Allen Grave House, Eudora

One of the best surviving grave houses I’ve found in Georgia is the final resting place of two pioneers of the nearly forgotten Eudora community, John Ashbury Allen (11 January 1815 – 5 October 1891), and Nancy Goodman Crawford Allen (6 September 1816 – 30 May 1882). The Allen family were involved in farming and also owned a store and ran the post office in Eudora at one time, I believe.

NOTE: The Allen Family Cemetery is private and can only be seen from the roadside.

Nebo Cemetery, Meansville

I haven’t been able to locate a history of Nebo Cemetery, located on a steep hillside near Meansville, but it features several notable vernacular headstones and many unmarked graves. The earliest known burials date to the 1930s.

(King, first name unknown, but beginning with the letter “C” – birth date unknown, died July 1960?)

This is an interesting memorial, which incorporates a plastic cross into a simple concrete stone.

(decedent and birth and death dates unknown)

This unknown burial is marked with a repurposed section of architectural concrete. It’s an interesting usage and the first I’ve seen of this type.

(Jay Smith – 24 December 1894 – 9 April 1975)

This is a style of headstone I’ve encountered in several rural cemeteries. Some have flowers in the tympanum [like this one] and others have had doves.

(Joe Louis Flemister – 21 March 1937 – 3 August 1983)

Free Gift Missionary Baptist Church, Dodge County

This historic Black congregation may have been established in the 1910s, as the earliest identifiable burials in the adjacent cemetery are circa 1919. There are several vernacular headstones present, including the three crosses that follow.

Katie Mumford (birth and death dates unknown)

George Lockett (birth and death dates unknown)

Harrett (sic; Harriet) Lockett (birth and death dates unknown)

Oakview Cemetery, Albany

Oakview and the adjacent Riverside Cemetery make up the largest historic burial ground in Albany. I’m presenting just a few of the monuments which I found aesthetically appealing, in no particular order. One could spend a whole day here exploring the wide array of Victorian monuments.

Martha Dillon Wright Jones (17 October 1833-2 July 1860)

“Pattie’s Grave” is perhaps the best-loved monument in Oak Hill. My taphophile friend, Cynthia Jennings, told me that it was a must-see and it didn’t disappoint. Pattie was the nickname of Martha Dillon Wright Jones. The monument features an angel of white Italian marble housed in a Gothic steeple enclosure. Little is known of Pattie, but the monument notes that she married Columbia County native Edwin Thomas Jones (22 May 1831-1 September 1867) at Appling, Georgia, on 4 April 1850. Jones would later serve as Lieutenant of Company E, 4th Georgia Infantry. It further notes that Pattie “died at the plantation of her husband…in Dougherty County”. The monument is an indication that he was deeply saddened by her early death.

Jones Plot, ornamental willow fence, unsigned

Edward Vason Jones, scion of a prominent Albany family, was one of the most noted Georgia architects of his time and a member of the Georgia School of Classicism led by J. Neel Reid. Originally schooled in dentistry, he abandoned it in favor of architecture in 1936, and soon joined the Atlanta firm of Hentz, Reid, and Adler. He briefly designed ships for the Navy in World War II at Savannah. After the war he opened his own firm in Albany. His renovations of the Diplomatc Reception Rooms of the U. S. State Department between 1965-1980 were well-received and one of those rooms is now known as the Edward Vason Jones Memorial Hall. He also oversaw renovations in the White House during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. Other significant work include Gillionville Plantation, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, and numerous residential commissions throughout the South.

Edward Vason Jones (3 August 1909-1 October 1980)

This Classical monument adorns the grave of Edward Vason Jones’s beloved daughter Nella. It is said to have been modeled after one of similar design in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, which was destroyed by a storm in recent years.

Nella Vason Jones (23 August 1949-30 November 1968)

This is one of six nearly identical markers, made of local stone, in an eight-grave lot surrounded by coping of the same construction.

E. Louise Gilbert (4 August 1886-20 August 1887)

The figurative monuments of the Bell sisters, daughters of William S. and Texas Sheffield Bell, are typical of the Victorian era, when child mortality rates were nearly 33% higher than they are today.

Willie Sheffield Bell (24 January 1876-18 September 1880)
Fannie Sheffield Bell (24 September 1880-3 November 1891)

The monuments honoring two of the children of Dr. Palaemon L Hilsman and Ella G. Rust Hilsman are more examples of Victorian child mortality. Even in a family of doctors, the Hilsman children weren’t immune from early deaths.

Roy Hilsman (21 June 1878-4 October 1880)
Madeline Bower Hilsman (19 February 1882-15 April 1884)

The Greek Revival mausoleum of the Samuel Bernard Brown family [founder of the Exchange National Bank], in the Jewish section, is one of the finest in Oakview.

Samuel Bernard Brown (1 February 1855-21 January 1922) and family

Tomlinson Fort was Regents Professor and Chair of the Mathematics Department at the University of Georgia for many years. His son followed his footsteps to academia and chaired the Chemical Engineering departments of Carnegie Mellon and Vanderbilt universities. The Forts were descendants of Warrenton-born Tomlinson Fort (1787-1859; buried at Memory Hill in Milledgeville), an early Georgia medical doctor who helped establish the Medical College of Georgia and the State Lunatic Asylum. He was also a member of the Georgia legislature and the United States Houses of Representatives.

Tomlinson Fort (1886-1970) & Madeline Scott Fort (1908-1983)

John Porter Fort was the son of Congressman Tomlinson Fort. He dug the first artesian well in South Georgia and was an early booster of the apple industry in North Georgia. An early agricultural scientist, he was awarded a “Doctor of Science” by the University of Georgia.

John Porter Fort (16 August 1941-12 February 1917), detail of cornucopia relief

Nelson Tift, a native of Groton, Connecticut, was the founder of Albany.

Nelson Tift (23 July 1810-21 November 1891)
Tift Family Plot identification stone

Ahmaud Arbery Memorial, Burke County

I recently spent a weekend with a friend documenting historic black churches in Burke County, with the goal of visiting the final resting place of Ahmaud Arbery (8 May 1994-23 February 2020). It was a timely visit, as the three men responsible for his murder had all recently been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for their act of racist vigilantism/lynching.

It gave me pause to think how much work still needs to be done to erase the attitudes that led to this heinous crime, though I’m encouraged that people of all races are just as repulsed by it as I am. While politicians continue to thread the needle with pie-in-the-sky philosophies intended to discourage any discussion of race, a majority white jury finding three white men guilty of lynching a young unarmed black man is proof that we have indeed made progress.

Keysville Evangelistic Church, Burke County

This church was founded by Reverend Quillar Vertery Russell (6 October 1889-26 June 1959), whose mausoleum is located on the property.

Russell was a successful entrepreneur who owned the mill in Keysville and other commercial interests. I’m unclear as to what the original name of the church was, but it has primarily been known as the Keysville Evangelistic Church. It has served both white and black congregants, and was last known as the New House of Worship.

McCullough Covenant Baptist Church, Burke County

In 1876, Adam McCullough and his wife Henrietta were walking on their property and decided that this site would be a wonderful place to build a house of worship. They made a covenant to each other that they would donate the land for this purpose, and from this covenant came McCullough Covenant Baptist Church. It was originally a branch of Pine Hill Baptist Church. Henry C. Lane was the first pastor. I am unsure when the present structure was built.

Adam McCullough (?-1906) Memorial, McCullough Covenant Baptist Cemetery

Mr. McCullough was among the most successful black entrepreneurs in late-19th-century Burke County, owning over 900 acres of land and a good herd of livestock. He owned a large home across the road from the present church and a cotton gin, as well. When Adam McCullough died in 1906, he left his entire estate to his fourth wife, Olive. She and his other three wives are all buried in the cemetery at McCullough Covenant.

Sunset Hill Cemetery, 1861, Valdosta

Strickland Family plot

Sunset Hill is the oldest public cemetery in Valdosta. It was established in 1861 with a gift of 30 acres by Charles Ogden Force, a former Valdosta postmaster. Like the vast majority of Victorian cemeteries, Sunset Hill has a park-like layout. It is well-maintained by the city. I only had time to document a few monuments, so the examples here are shared for their general aesthetic appeal.

Charles S. Strickland (22 February 1822-1 November 1883)
Emma Tillman Lane (9 January 1865-6 November 1906)
Emma Tillman Lane monument, detail
Dr. Oscar Samuel Cummings (27 April 1848-17 February 1883), Dove Finial
Dr. Oscar Samuel Cummings monument, The Last Voyage Bas Relief

This fascinating relief is one of four which adorn the sides of the monument of Dr. Oscar Samuel Cummings, a native of New Hampshire who practiced medicine and was an active Mason in Valdosta before his death. It is the work of the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Monumental Bronze marketed their memorials as “white bronze”, though they were neither white nor bronze. Instead, they were cast of zinc and were quite popular, and expensive, during the 1880s and 1890s.

The Last Voyage was designed by sculptor Archibald McKellar for the Monumental Bronze Company in 1881. It was based on A Gentle Wafting to Immortal Life, a marble sculpture by Felix M. Miller, and an engraving by William Roffe. Miller chose his title from a line in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “A death, like Sleep, A gentle wafting to immortal life.”

National Register of Historic Places