Monday, June 29

A Colonial Graveyard

While we were out picking blueberries and exploring the weekend before last, we wound through the back hills and stumbled across an old community graveyard.

I know it sounds morbid, but it isn't intended to be-- we are both historians, we visit with the utmost respect, and just like everyone else, these people wanted to be remembered.  We almost didn't stop-- we had been looking for an old Dutch Meeting House that was memorialized in a roadside plaque. But as we drove passed, we noticed the shape of some of the markers, and, for lack of a better word, the nubs.  

Every era has their own burial traditions, and the markers are subject to trends, just like everything else in human culture.  What we all think of as "haunted house" tombstones, the simple rounded edges or the house shaped tops, go back to the late 1700's/early 1800's.  Nubs, markers that have either worn to nothing or originally consisted of simple stones, sometimes with hand carvings, can go back even further to the earliest American colonists stumbling into Appalachia.  Those folks are my peeps.  I wrote my thesis on a letter written in colonial America, and I call the soldiers of the revolution my boys-- I have a great affinity for the people of that period.  Smashing grand souls who ventured forth to a foreign country and a created brave new world.  But I digress.

Finding an old community cemetery that allows for visitors is hard up here.  Community graveyards, unlike more common church yards, don't share a denominational affiliation, which is another indication of its age.  In colonial days most people did not indulge in faith-exclusive burial plots, all were welcome to enjoy their eternal rest in whatever after life they conceived.  Now-a-days, most graveyards are communal, but we went through periods where each religion jealously guarded their own recipe for heavenly rest and the hallowed ground under which it could be reached.  A lot of colonial era graveyards are simple family or neighborhood plots that would require permissions to explore.  There was a Baptist Church nearby and a out-of-home business across the way, but that was it as far as the eye could see.

Not all the graves were old, though the poverty that plagued Appalachia and the epidemics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that stole the lives of many local children, were remembered like a time capsule of local history. And the names.  The most awesome names.  Dewey Lee.  Cyrus Augustus.  Judson W.  Winnie Roberta May. Tabitha Peoples.  I was surprised to see a Tabitha (although my name is spelled Tabetha) from back then.  Cool.

The Sons of the American Revolution and some local descendants had very kindly put up plaques commemorating which stones were historically linked to the war's veterans-- which was a good thing as most of the carvings had long since worn away.

If I had to guess, and I do, I would say that at some point the Baptist church (which boasted a one hundred year history in that spot, according to a freshly printed sign in the parking lot) took over the cemetery.  It was still in use, with graves as recent as 2014.  What an amazing place to be buried-- in a piece of land that holds the remains of the very first settlers in the region, all the way through time.

We are going to go back, maybe around the 4th of July, to pay our respects; and we are still determined to find the Dutch Meeting House.  It has also inspired us to start wandering more and planning less, and discovering more of the hidden places around here.

Amazing what you can find when you aren't really looking, isn't it?

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