Tag Archives: Georgia Vernacular Headstones

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”.

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.

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.