Tag Archives: Georgia Cemeteries

Sibbiah Earl Blair – Revolutionary Soldier?, Brantley County

Sibbiah Earl Blair (c.1745-1815)

Cemeteries often hold mysteries, and there’s a good one in the Whitaker Hill-Harrison Cemetery, the final resting place of a woman who is said to have been a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Sibbiah Earl Blair. Sibbiah [also referenced as Sabbiah in some sources] Earl was the daughter of John Earl, who came to Screven County, Georgia, from North Carolina in 1760. She married William Blair (c.1740-c.1780) of Queensborough [now Louisville] at Jerusalem Church at Ebenezer, Effingham County, on 26 October 1771. Blair migrated to the Georgia colony with his father, James Blair, from Northern Ireland, circa 1770, and served with the Liberty Boys of St. George’s Parish [now Burke, Jefferson, and part of Screven County] as a Revolutionary soldier. William and Sibbiah had five children, Jane, William, Henry, Mary, and Martha. William died before the end of the war, whether in service or of other causes is not evident. He is believed to be buried at Whitaker Hill-Harrison Cemetery, but there is no marker, and considering that he died at Queensborough, he may have been moved from that location at some point.

The Whitaker Hill-Harrison Cemetery is located on the historic Post Road at the Brantley-Glynn county line, in an area identified on maps today as Popwellville. This was located in Wayne County until 1920, when Brantley County was created. There are no Whitakers to be found in this cemetery, so I’m presuming Whitaker Hill was an early plantation or place name.

The Blairs’ daughter Jane is the connection to this cemetery and to this section of Georgia, as she married Robert Stafford (1765-1829), also a Revolutionary soldier. Stafford most likely came to this area through land granted him for Revolutionary service. Birth and death dates for Jane Blair Stafford have not been confirmed, but she died after 1838. Other than the marker related to Sibbiah Blair and the Stafford markers, all other known burials date to the 20th and 21st centuries. [Note: The marker for Robert Stafford seems to be missing from the cemetery; there’s a photograph of it on Findagrave, but I couldn’t locate it].

Another mystery remains for me. The grave markers for Sibbiah Earl Blair and Jane Blair Stafford were placed by the Brunswick Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in the early 20th century. For such a memorial, the DAR would have vetted the service records and genealogy. My presumption is that they concluded that Sibbiah Earl Blair assisted in the war effort in Screven County, after William’s death in 1780. Sibbiah must have moved to Wayne County to live with or near her daughter Jane.

Thanks to Cynthia Jennings for sharing some of the background information.

Old Field Cemetery, Ben Hill County

Benton Memorial

The Old Field Cemetery is a rural cemetery located a few miles from Fitzgerald which has fascinated me since I first photographed it in 2009. It contains a mixture of commercial and vernacular memorials, with several significant vernacular memorials, including the unusual Benton Family cross [pictured above]. Old Field Cemetery predates the establishment of Fitzgerald; the earliest identified burial [1861] is that of Archabald McInnis (4 July 1816-7 July 1861) with several other burials dating to the 1880s. At least one pioneer family of the Old Soldiers Colony of Fitzgerald, the Hallett Rathburn family, is also associated with the cemetery. An historically white cemetery, it is also used today by a nearby African-American congregation, Fairview Missionary Baptist Church.

An interesting comment on the entry for Flora Ann Dixon McCall on Find a Grave fills in an important fact about potentially missing gravestones: Rumor has it (as recounted by Josie Mims McCall) that many McCall’s [sic] were buried in the Old Field Cemetery, however, a local man vandalized the cemetery and many of the grave stones were destroyed as he “cleaned” up the cemetery. He was upset that no one in the town of Fitzgerald helped him clean up the cemetery, after he placed an ad in the local paper to encourage all families to lend a hand, so he demolished most of it with a tractor during his “clean up.”

Vernacular Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

Cylindrical Memorial No. 1, Decedent Unknown

There are three cylindrical headstones in Old Field Cemetery. It’s an unusual form of grave marking that I’ve not encountered elsewhere .

Cylindrical Memorial No. 2, Decedent Unknown

All are made of poured concrete and two examples are ornamented by round stones placed on the ground beside them.

Cylindrical Memorial No. 3, Decedent Unknown

I don’t think these stones have any particular religious meaning but rather a practical one. I don’t believe they ever contained the names of the decedents and their identities may be lost to history.

Wooden Grave Marker, Decedent Unknown

Wooden markers were commonly used to mark graves in the past, especially in rural cemeteries. Wood is among the most vulnerable of all the materials used to mark graves and countless examples have been lost to the elements over time.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top left horizontal section of the Benton Memorial cross is actually signed by the maker, Jessie Morris. Morris may be responsible for several of the vernacular memorials in Old Field Cemetery. Signed vernacular stones are very rare.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top right horizontal section of the cross [see first photo in this article for an overall view] contains the words God Bless You All.

I cannot read the names of the Bentons buried here and have no idea if there’s a connection, but my father remembers two or three Benton brothers who lived in the general area in the 1950s. He recalls that they were bachelors and lived in a large old house on the Jacksonville Highway [U.S. 319] and were among the first people he knew of in Ben Hill County to grow and sell strawberries.

The original memorial marking the final resting place of Brinkley Bishop was surrounded by four cedar trees that have since been removed.

Brinkley Bishop (1811-1899), detail

It was replaced by a modern vernacular stone by his grandchildren.

There are quite a few simple vernacular memorials throughout the cemetery, like the two Hasty stones pictured above.

Baby Morris (birth and death dates unknown)

The headstone for Baby Morris features a butterfly and vine design. It possibly dates to the late 1930s, when considering the design of the Baby Beck memorial which is located nearby.

Baby Morris (June 1938)

I believe the two baby memorials may be the work of Jessie Morris, who made the cross for the Benton family.

Frank Cook (29 September 1870-4 April 1928)

The memorial for Frank Cook is a hybrid form commonly found in rural cemeteries. The headstone was poured into a mold and the lettering and shaking hands designs are created with stencils.

Commercial Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

John Sullivan (1842-?)

The headstone for Frank Sullivan notes that he was a Marine. It is in the government-issued style known as “Civil War” or “Recessed, or Sunken, Shield” and was in widespread use from the 1880s until at least the 1910s.

Alex M. McInnis (10 May 1881-31 July 1883)

The headstones for two of the six children of Daniel A. (15 December 1855-26 May 1906) and Elizabeth Tucker McInnis (14 February 1859-12 July 1934) are very common examples of one of the most popular commercial motifs of the Victorian era.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893), detail

The lamb represents the Lord and also symbolizes innocence, hence its presence on numerous infant and toddler graves throughout the United States.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893)

Infant and childhood deaths were common before the advent of modern medicine.

Mary Cook (1874-20 January 1949)

The five-pointed star represents Christ.

Cedar Grove Cemetery, Lumber City

Annie Comings [Cummings?] – (?-1928)

Cedar Grove is an historic African-American cemetery in Lumber City, across the highway from the white cemetery. It contains a mixture of vernacular and commercial markers. The headstone of Annie Comings is of a style I’ve rarely encountered, which is cruciform but also evokes a human figure or perhaps an angel.

Carrie W. White (18 August 1876-2 March 1941)

This memorial was originally in a “T” shape, which is a rare form, but not the first I’ve seen. Like most I’ve seen, it has broken over time.

Maggie [Surname unknown] – (?-1928)

This cruciform memorial is similar to that of Annie Comings but has broken over time. Sadly, the last name of Maggie has been lost.

Ned Martin (17 August 1849-8 April 1898)

This commercially made marble obelisk is unique in the cemetery. Mr. Martin’s date of birth would indicate that he was likely born into slavery.

Rachel Dailey (10 March 1853-19 December 1903)

The heart-shaped stone is a typical Victorian commercial theme. Ms. Dailey was also likely born enslaved.

Reverend Cornelia Boyd Williams (1904-1951)

Reverend Williams was a female evangelist, somewhat rare in her time.

The cemetery gate identifies those who administered and saw to the upkeep of the property. President, Albert Clements; Secretary, Gracie Quinn; Treasurer, Bessie Lee.

Lowery Cemetery, Laurens County

I’m always looking for places associated with my Browning ancestors, and while I’m not the best genealogist, much of my family history has already been traced by others. I came across this historic cemetery by accident, but was amazed to find many of the Browning family represented here. While the majority of headstones are formal, these sandstone/limestone versions are rare and wonderful examples of vernacular funerary art. Their biggest enemy is time and weather, as the names are beginning to vanish.

Silas Browning (19 January 1819-19 December 1888)

Silas was the son of George Browning and was married to Sara Wolfe. They had six daughters and one son.

Teresa Jane Lowery Gay (25 October 1820-15 April 1885)

The headstone is unique in shape in comparison with the other examples in the cemetery.

Sallie Reddin (July 1880-?)

There are spelling errors on some of the headstones, as is common with vernacular examples, and Sallie Reddin could have been Sallie Redding. That’s just a guess. Her death date is not present, but since these stones all date to the 1880s, it’s safe to presume Sallie died as a young child.

Unknown Browning

I can read the word “Browning” on this stone, but all the other details have nearly vanished.

Caroline Vaughn Browning (13 April 1823-9 April 1887)

This stone features a primitive illustration, unique in the cemetery.

Unknown Browning, possibly Sissy (2? September 18??-?? September 188?)

This stone may be readable to some. I believe I can see the word “Sissy”, but the birth and death dates are very difficult to ascertain.

Mathew Cadwell (14 December 1858-3 August 1886)

I’ve included this stone for its curiosity. It isn’t related to the vernacular stones but tells a sad story. It states that young Mr. Cadwell was “Killed By Lighting with His Horse Under Him”.

Garland Grave Houses, Hancock County

These grave houses, which I photographed at Mt. Hope Methodist cemetery in Hancock County in 2010, are still among my favorites. Sadly, they were in poor condition and were gone by 2016. They protected the final resting place of James M. Garland (31 March 1827-19 May 1912) & Mary E. Garland (10 September 1836-9 November 1888) and though they are difficult to date, were likely placed around the time of Mr. Garland’s death in 1912.

Grave houses may be as old as architecture itself, as a protection for the deceased. There are myriad forms scattered throughout North America and they were widely used by Native peoples; in the South they are more common in mountain communities than elsewhere. The Garland grave houses are of the framed picket variety, similar to fencing.

It’s amazing to think that these lasted for a century. As with most examples made of wood, they are most vulnerable to the elements. The first ones I ever saw, at the Dickson Cemetery in my home county of Ben Hill, were very elaborate and sadly, by the time I wanted to photograph them, they were already lost. If you see any or know of any, please share them with me.

Reid’s Chapel Baptist Church, Putnam County

Located near the Willard community, Reid’s Chapel Baptist Church is an historic Black congregation. No history is readily available, but the earliest burials I located in the small adjacent cemetery date to circa 1920.

Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm, Jackson County

This property was originally settled by Joseph Shields and sons James and Patrick in 1802.

Date Plate from Restoration of Main House [1914]

With two slaves, they cleared and cultivated the land.

Log Cabin

When Joseph died in 1818, he willed the land to his son, James and by 1860, 20 enslaved people worked the land.

Commissary [1900]

James died in 1863 and in 1865 his widow, Charity, signed a contract with three of her former slaves, providing them housing and food in exchange for their work on the farm.

Blacksmith’s Shop & Carpenter’s Shop [1900]

When James and Charity’s son, Joseph Robert Shields, returned home from the Civil War in 1866, he built the main house and soon applied the sharecropping system to the entire farm, managing many of his former slaves alongside poor white farmers.

Tractor Barn

By 1890, the farm had grown to 1000 acres.

Warehouse

In 1897, Joseph Robert’s daughter Susan Ella returned to the farm with her husband Ira Washington Ethridge.

Cotton Gin [1910]

Joseph Robert Shields died in 1910 and Susan Ella and Ira inherited the house and surrounding property.

Gin Office [1930]

To hedge his bets against increasingly unstable cotton prices, Ira Ethridge built a self-sustaining sharecropper’s “village” near the main house.

Gin Office Interior

In 1914, “Mr. Ira” transformed the main house from its historical Plantation Plain appearance to it present Neoclassical appearance by adding columns and raising the porch.

Gristmill

The structures seen today were built between 1900-1930. Most of the sharecropper housing is gone today, but a few scattered examples survive.

Seed House

When Ira died in 1945, his son Lanis understood that the farm would soon be changed by mechanization.

Teacher’s House

He diversified and in the early 1950s began breeding cattle and slowly expanding pastureland on his acreage.

Well House [Reconstruction]

At his death in 1970, the sharecropper’s village was long abandoned.

Water Tower [1913]

His widow, Joyce Ethridge, began documenting the history of the farm.

Corn Crib

In 1994 she and daughters Susan E. Chaisson and Ann E. Lacey gave 150 acres of the farm to the Shields-Ethridge Farm Foundation to preserve the site as an agricultural museum.

Shields-Ethridge Family Cemetery

Joyce’s research also led to the listing of the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

Milking Barn

The Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm is the most intact collection of historic farm structures in their original location in Georgia.

Mule Barn [1913]

It is truly awe-inspiring and worth a visit.

Garage

As someone who has spent years seeking out structures like these, I can’t tell you how important this place is.

Wheat Barn [1910]

You must see it for yourself.

Tenant House

National Register of Historic Places + Georgia Centennial Farm

Note- This replaces a post originally published on 11 July 2021, necessitated by formatting issues.

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.