Tag Archives: Georgia Vernacular Headstones

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)

Sunbury Baptist Cemetery, Liberty County

Detail of Rachel Bowens-Pap monument.

The vernacular headstones of Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in the old Trade Hill-Seabrook area were memorialized by photographer Orrin Sage Wightman in Margaret Davis Cate’s beloved book, Early Days of Coastal Georgia (Fort Frederica Association, St. Simons Island, 1956). The images, made mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, depict monuments in much newer condition than we see today, and many which have vanished altogether.

Rachel Bowens-Pap (1886?-March 1937)

The most significant of these monuments were predominately wooden markers and whimsies thought to have been made by Cyrus Bowens. None of these survive at the site today but a small collection of concrete markers remain, also attributed to Cyrus Bowens. [Findagrave lists a Cyrus Bowens, who died in 1866, among those buried at Sunbury Missionary Baptist, but these graves were made much later than that This Cyrus Bowens appears to have been active in the 1930s].

Chaney Bowens (1855?-18 February 1931)
Detail of Chaney Bowens monument, featuring a hand-incised dove.
George Bowens (?-7 August 1931) A right-pointing hand and a cross adorn this stone.
Frank Jackson (Dates unknown). The empty concave rectangle likely featured a photograph of the decedent at one time.
Lucy Bowens (Dates unknown). The empty concave oval likely held a photograph of the decedent at one time.
Boston (Last name unknown, dates unknown)
Brick Footstone (Name and dates unknown)
Symbolic headstone; broken vessels. In her essay “Negro Graves”, in Early Days of Coastal Georgia, Margaret Davis Cate writes: In old Negro burying grounds the grave is outlined with various and sundry items…The articles on the graves include every kind of container or utensil–sea shells…piggy banks…clocks…cups, saucers…Everything on a Negro grave is broken. To them, this is symbolic. Life is broken; the vessel is broken...Years ago Negroes put these broken articles on all their graves; but today, one finds them only in isolated communities far removed of the white man’s culture. To seek them out, one must leave the paved roads and search in remote areas…
Horace Fuller (26 July 1872-18 September 1933)

The Fuller monument and the seven images that follow feature delicate hand-incised natural forms and symbols.

Detail of Horace Fuller monument, featuring whimsical hand-incised flowers.
Ceasar Hamilton (7 September 1867-January 1938)
Detail of Ceasar Hamilton monument, featuring whimsical hand-incised flower.
Joe & Martha Baker (Birth dates unknown, Joe, d. January 1931; Martha, d. Feb ?) This monument features a flower and an applied hand pointing right.
Unknown decedent, with hand-incised symbol.
L. G. Delegal (1872?-December 1935)
Mary Mattox (1861?-29 June 1938)
Painted brick lot boundary marker
Edward Fuller (21 Jun 1896-29 March 1925) & Samuel Fuller (?-8 March 1924)
Julia Fuller (188?-1907) & Lila Fuller (Died 1900, Age 3 weeks)
William Fuller (?-20 June 192?)
Mamie L. Hague (?-1940)
Ira L. Williams, Sr. (12 October 1889-4 November 1969)
Ira Edwin Williams
Deacon Eddie Bowen – Son of Isaac and Mary – Born Colonels Island off the coast of Georgia in the 1890s. One of the oldest commercial fishermen who worked the coastal waters of Liberty County.
Though the present building was constructed in 1974, Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church was founded by Revs. Frank Harris and Andrew Neal, with 40 freedmen who had been members of Sunbury Baptist Church, which was burned by Union troops in November 1864. Sometime after the Civil War, the black congregation built a chapel near the Medway River. It was moved to this location, given by the Delegal family of the Trade Hill-Seabrook community, and reconstructed in 1918 and remained in use until the present structure was completed.

Clinch Chapel United Methodist Church, Tarboro

African-Americans have been well-established in the Tarboro community since the days of slavery, and in subsequent years owned land and farms throughout the area. Clinch Chapel traces its origins to an informal congregation organized by Brother Zachery Butler to serve the spiritual needs of enslaved people from the nearby Owens, King, and Clinch plantations. After years of meeting in a brush arbor, the congregation erected a wood frame church in 1896, using trees milled at Ceylon plantation and floated on the Satilla to Owens Ferry, from where they were hauled on oxcarts to this site. The first trustees of the congregation were Josh Washington, Rinea Washington, Henry Robinson, Hanna Robinson, Isaac Johnson, Lucy Nicklow, Pompey Gordon, and Lizzie Gordon.

The new church was destroyed by a storm and reorganized in 1897, and again in 1901, at which time a new structure was constructed. Reverend A. B. Fish was pastor at the time.

During the pastorate of Reverend C. O. Gordon, the church was again reorganized in 1953 and the foundation of the present chapel was laid in 1963. Association with the United Methodist Church began in 1968. According to the cornerstone, the present structure was completed circa 1992. Sarah Small, Jack Small, William D. Small, Sr., Henry Butler, Sr., Calvin Small, Sr., and Joseph Hamilton, Sr., were on the Building Committee.

Clinch Chapel Cemetery

The cemetery at Clinch Chapel contains more than a dozen vernacular memorials, including one of the Madonna monuments detailed here. The following photographs appear in no particular order but serve as examples of the variety of work present. As is the case with all such markers, environmental factors and the passage of time pose the greatest threat to their long-term survival. This is my main reason for documenting them, but I also find them beautiful and moving works of art and have the utmost respect for the love and devotion they represent.

Reverend John Mungin (Birth and death dates unknown)

Reverend Mungin’s headstone features three crosses and is wedge-shaped.

Luevenia Randolph (29 November 1886-1 May 1944). Ms. Randolph’s headstone is of a type found in numerous African-American and white cemeteries, especially rural locations, which simply use a stencil on a poured slab to identify the decedent. Not quite as common, though, are the applied symbols, including shaking hands, hands pointing to Heaven, bibles, and winged heads (cherubim).

Peter Jackson (1888?-29 July 1938)
Addie Mitchell (17 August 1905-6 June 1942)
Unknown. The symbols have obviously been reapplied on this headstone, which is unfortunately unreadable.
Unknown
Solina Glassco (7 November 1874-5 November 1926). This is obviously a commercially produced monument, and a very nice one at that, but I have included it here because it documents an association with a Mosaic Templars lodge. In African-American communities of the time, these lodges often provided low cost burial insurance and in some cases the placement of a headstone. This one indicates that Glassco was a member of the Carrie Bell Chamber 2855, Mosaic Templars of America, which was located at nearby White Oak.

African-American Madonna Monuments of Camden County

Detail of Green Monument, Clinch Chapel Cemetery

I recently documented an eclectic collection of Black cemetery monuments at three locations in Camden County with Cynthia Jennings. Remarkable testaments to African-American ingenuity, they date from the 1920s to the 1940s and are all in the form of a European version of the Madonna (Mary). [I have identified them as “African-American” because of their appropriation by these historic communities].

They appear to have been made using a cast, though all have slight variations. Whether made by a local funeral home or an individual, the monuments have at least one vernacular element: the handwritten identifications of the decedents. While some appear to be distinct, it’s more likely the effect of nearly a century of exposure to the elements.

A review of active black funeral homes in Camden County in the 1930s might be a clue as to their history. Chrissy Chapman has documented these amazing memorials, as well, and has located at least one more, in a plantation cemetery, which we hope to explore in the future. Chrissy’s photographs, made a few years ago, reveal a possible maker’s name, which I hope to share later.

It is my hope that by preserving these places photographically, they will be of some use to historians and genealogists in the future. It seems certain that they will all be unreadable within the next decade or so but they should be added to the growing list of important African-American vernacular landmarks in Georgia and celebrated as such.

The Monuments

Grace Scarlett/Scarlott (1855-17 December 1936), Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff. Like the next monument pictured, this one is paired with a secondary marker, perhaps indicating that Grace Scarlott died in childbirth and the secondary marker represents her lost child. It is believed that the two visible “bumps” atop Grace’s monument are evidence that the figure was once topped with a crown, as is typical in depictions of Mary.
Flossie/Flossy Scott Fisher (1899-7 November 1939), Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff. Cynthia Jennings discovered that Mrs. Fisher died in childbirth and puports that the second stone memorializes her infant, also lost at birth.
Maggie Green (Birth and death dates unknown), Clinch Chapel Cemetery, Tarboro.
Sina Green (Birth and death dates unknown), Oak Hill Cemetery, Camden County. Cynthia Jennings has discovered that Mrs. Green’s husband, Anthony Green, served in the United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War and received a pension. The churchyard is located near the Rains Landing Community.
Detail of Green Monument, Oak Hill Cemetery

Ebenezer Cemetery, McIntosh County

Izear Day [5 February 1915-18 January 1931]

Though the headstone pictured above is the most unique in the cemetery, I have chosen to document the site due to its considerable collection of vernacular headstones. Ebenezer (spelled Ebernezer on the sign) is actually two cemeteries, located off Churchill Road near I-95. A fenced section is the white cemetery while the surrounding larger cemetery is the domain of African-Americans, a few of whom were born into slavery and others who represent the first generation after emancipation. The African-American section is what is represented here.

Charlie Ifield Thorpe [Circa 1877-1914]

The predominant vernacular form in this cemetery is the homemade star-adorned headstone, a locally made type that is well-represented in the nearby Gould Cemetery at Harris Neck. It’s possible that all of these were the work of the same maker. They follow in no particular order but many of the examples are memorials for the Thorpe family.

Thelma B. Thorpe [Unknown-18 November 1941]
Alice Thorpe [5 December 185116 September 1923]
Eddie Thorpe [Circa 1880-1922]
James C. Thorpe [20 August 1847-16 March 1939]
Affie White [1842-16 August 1931]
Ida Leake [Circa 1885-1921]
Irvin Weldon [16 August 1909-19 February 1936]
Rachel (York) Shellman [1881-6 October 1923] Born at Broxton GA
Susie G. Ross [25 September 1855-6 April 1943]
Reverend Pompie Anderson [12 September 1870-7 May 1949]
James B. Churchill [17 January 1897-19 February 1951]
J. C. Churchill [22 May 1867-16 May 1951] This stone features an O. E. S. Masonic emblem but is eroding quickly.
Mary E. Churchill [5 July 1879-17 July 1968] Wife of J. C. Churchill
Mary J. Jackson [Unknown-9 September 1925]
Proverb R. Roberson [6 June 1910-18 December 1955] Private 548 Quartermaster Service BN World War II
Pernellar Roberson [Unknown-3 January 1925] Born in Buckville SC, Died in Christ
The headstone for Brother Willie N. Alston is professionally made, but his footstone (below) and those of two other family members are more modern interpretations of vernacular types common in African-American cemeteries of the early 20th century.
Brother Willie N. Alston [15 January 1895-December 1974] Footstone
Brian Keith Alston [1 September 1975-6 December 1983]
Jessie Alston [29 July 1941-14 July 1968]
Hattie Hillery [15 September 1881-10 January 1928] This stone is the same style as two found in Behavior Cemetery on Sapelo Island and may have connections to those.

Village Cemetery, St. Simons Island

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

Hattie Lee (29 November 1871-6 June 1929)

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.

Thomas A. Lee (9 August 1881-10 January 1933)
Aaron Lomon (8 July 1891-19 August 1931)

The Aaron Lomon monument features a hand-sculpted bell, ringing.

Peter Ramsey (17 February 1873-2 April 193?)

The Peter Ramsey monument features a mosaic star and beautiful raised lettering.

John Davis (April 1871-21 September 1927)

The John Davis monument features an encircled star mosaic centered with milk glass.

Albert Hampton (1 April 1897-5 November 1937)

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.

Jim Hightower (30 October 1884-7 June 1934)

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.

Louise Hunter Hightower (27 January 1887-24 March 1964)
Mary Floyd, Hunter Baffo.

There is no discernible information about the deceased on this simple headstone. Also, there are two decedents listed.

Edward Floyd (March?-May?)

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.

Phillist White (23 January 1893-4 December 1927)

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.

Bowen Family Cemetery, 1830s, Carroll County

This fascinating cemetery is located in the McIntosh Reserve Park, a property associated with Chief William McIntosh and maintained as a public park by Carroll County.

The Bowen family were pioneers in this area and likely had some connection to Chief McIntosh, perhaps as traders or through some other association.

The earliest discernible burial in the cemetery dates to 1830.

Though many names have been lost over time, this cemetery is important not only for its historical connection to early settlers but for its limestone slab (or other local stone?) tombs, which are quite rare today.

It’s a well-preserved example of a family burying ground utilizing materials on hand and offers a fascinating glimpse into the funerary practices of early-19th century rural Georgia

Sheffield Cemetery, Glynn County

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.

Frenchie Taylor Wite (White?) (15 April 1902-7 October 1944)

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.

Name Indiscernible (1940s)

This is the smallest of the markers.

Name Indiscernible (May 10 1885?-December 19?)

Eroding text on the exposed concrete complicates identification.

Sam May (7 September 1867-22 September 1936)

This is the only stone not featuring the predominant mid-century commercial tile.

Lawson Family Markers

Lawson Markers

Carther Lawson (22 May 1932-? 1946)

Unknown Lawson

Robert Sheffield (1884-9 June 1947)

Most of the tiles have fallen off this marker.

Name Indiscernible (1940s)

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.

John Sheffield (11 November 1825-13 October 1910)

The Sheffield family, who established the congregation in slavery days, are well represented.

Susan (Akin) Sheffield (16 December 1834-9 December 1914)

Susan married John Sheffield in 1852.

Arnold Sheffield (25 February 1859-14 July 1910)

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.

March Wesley (August 1848-28 January 1931)

H. E. Westley (Wesley) (?-5 November 1957)

Birthdates of African-Americans, even long after the end of slavery, were often unknown.

Ida Roase (Rose) (1882-18 March 1904)

This is a foot stone, placed before a more formal marker was added.

Brick fence surrounding Atkinson family plot

Atkinson Enclosure

Alex Atkinson (13 March 1863-6 December 1945) & Ida Atkinson (10 August 1869-10 September 1938)

The Atkinsons were successful small farmers, like many members of Sheffield Chapel.

Upper Mill-Presbyterian Cemetery, Circa 1806, Darien

Located in the historic Mentionville community near Cathead Creek, the Upper Mill Cemetery was originally known as the Presbyterian Cemetery. As well as prominent early white settlers of Darien, including William Carnochan and Henry Todd, many of the community’s most important African-Americans are buried here. It has come to be known as the Upper Mill Cemetery for the neighborhood’s association with the Upper Mill Sawmill, owned by the Mention family in the 19th century.

The memorial to George is quite interesting. [As was often the case with early African-Americans, no surname is known; being a free person he did not assume the name of his employer as did slaves]. The man who placed it, Dr. John Champneys Tunno, once owned Champneys Island [then known as Tunno or Tunno’s Island]. It reads: This stone is here placed by J. C. Tunno as a grateful appreciation of his attachment to George, a free person of color who died in his service in Darien, June 26, 1822 aged 25 years. Having possessed the advantages of decent competence and a good education. His humble, unassuming and correct deportment gained him the approbation and secured him the good will of every liberal person under whose notice he chanced to fall. And in no heart perhaps was gratitude ever so strong. It’s a bit confusing as to why a “free person of color” died in “service” to someone.

This brick enclosure contains the remains of Armand LeFils, Sr. (1790-?) and family. A native of Paris, LeFils married Sarah Fox (1796-1856) and served on the county board, presumably as Secretary and Tax Collector.

The LeFils plot is one of the most historic in the cemetery, but is beginning to need preservation.

Several large Chestunut Oaks (Quercus prinus) can be found throughout the cemetery and are very colorful in autumn.

The mausoleum of Henry Todd (10 August 1813-1 May 1886) and Mary Ann Cardone Todd (20 January 1826-27 May 1887) is the most significant monument in Upper Mill Cemetery, befitting the wealth of Mr. Todd. Henry Todd was a leading citizen of Darien during the port’s prosperous timber era.

Born in Fernandina, he came to Darien as a “free man of color” and established the San Savilla Union Steam Saw Mill. Some confusion as to Todd’s race has arisen over the years. He’s thought to have been of Minorcan ancestry, which was a common thread among early fishing families in Fernandina. Today, he wouldn’t be considered “black” but in the racial structure of that era, he was. He was a member of the white Presbyterian Church and was apparently embraced by both the white and black communities. He left money to white and black churches upon his death, as well as for the establishment of a black school. His obituary in the Atlanta Constitution noted: At the funeral of Henry Todd, a negro and ex-slave of Darien, Ga., some of the wealthiest white men of the place acted as pall-bearers. He died worth $125,000. He left much of it to local schools and churches.

Reverend William H. Rogers, about whom I can locate very little information, was obviously another Darienite respected by both the white and black communities. He was African-American but elected to the Georgia legislature. To say that this was highly unusual in post-Reconstruction Jim Crow Georgia is an understatement.

Robert G. Cuthbert (3 September 1936-7 Feruary 1969). This is one of several headstones decorated with commercial bathroom tile, a folk embellishment somewhat common in African-American headstones in the mid-20th century.

Pfeffer Headstone (1860s). I presume the Pfeffers were German or Austro-Hungarian immigrants, as the headstone is in German.

Unknown Confederate Veteran

Sadie McGuinley (1872-10 April 1885)

Ann Jones (?-19 October 1822). This is one of just a handful of typical early-19th-century headstones in the cemetery. Considering the age of the cemetery, and the fact that the Presbyterians were among the most prominent early Darienites, one could assume that many have been lost over time.

William Bradley (20 July 1811-30 November 1832)

Huntington Family Plot, Victorian fence detail, 1870s.