Nature of African
and Their Preservation
Chicora Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 8663
Columbia, SC 29202
How they began
Rarely mentioned in
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Accounts of slave funerals
Got Uncle Ben’s [slave] Paul to make coffin for
poor old Anthony. . . . . had it put in the coffin as
soon as it came. Buried the body alongside of his
son about 11 o’clock at night . . . . There were a
large number of Negroes from all directions
present, I suppose over two hundred.
Chaplin, St. Helena, 1850
Yesterday evening the burial of the poor man
Shadrack took place . . . . Just as the twilight was
thickening into darkness I went with Mr. [Butler]
to the cottage of one of the slaves . . . who was
to perform the burial service. . . . a large
assemblage of people had gathered round, many
of the men carrying pine wood torches . . . . the
coffin being taken up, proceeded to the people’s
Butler, Butler Island, 1839
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Accounts by ex-slaves
Make a coffin, put ‘em in a wagon, walk in procession to de buryin’ ground, singing.
Dey didn’t have no funerals for de slaves, but jes’ bury dem like a cow or a hoss,
jes’ dig a hole and roll ‘em in it and cover ‘em up.
…when dey started to the burial ground with the body every body in the whole
procession would sign hymns.
When de [slaves] got from de fields some of ‘em went and dug a grave. Den dey
put de coffin on de oxcart and carried it to de graveyard whar dey ju’ had a burial
Slave fun’rals was mournful sights, for sho’. Dem home-made coffins was made
out of pine planks, and de warn’t painted or lined or nothin’.
Sometime several owners got together an’ had one place to bury all de slaves
When a slave died on the place he was wrapped in a sheet, put into a pine box,
and taken to a ‘burying ground’ where he was put in the ground without any
services, and with only the immediate family attending. All other slaves on the
place had to keep on working, just as though nothing had happened.
De funerals was simple and held at night. De grave was dug dat day.
Dar was a burying ground jes' fer de slaves
When one of de slaves died, dey was put in unpainted home-made coffins and tuk
to de graveyard whar de grave had done been dug. Dey put 'em in dar and
kivvered 'em up and dat was all dey done 'bout it.
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Some worse than others
Some owners prohibited use of African drums to
Other owners discouraged singing, because it was
One owner hurried funerals and prevented singing under
threat of whipping
Another states, “there wasn’t no time for mourning”
Some dead were never buried – Charles Manigault left
drowned slave floating in water until tide took body away
as a warning to other slaves.
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What did graveyards look like?
Walking in a wood a mile or so from the village .
. . I came upon a Negro cemetery at the times
of slavery. A headstone of coarse white marble,
five or six of brick, and forty or fifty wooden
slabs, all grimed and mouldering with the
dampness of the forest, constituted to sordid
sepulchral pomps of the “nameless people.”
DeForest, Greenville, 1866
One of those ragged patches of live-oak and
palmetto and brier tangle which throughout the
Islands are a sign of graves within, -- graves
scattered without symmetry, and often without
head-stones or head-boards, or sticks, but
invariably dug east and west, the head to the
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Charleston Co., 1968
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Florence Co., 1997
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Charleston County, 2006
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Charleston County, 2004
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If you go through a dilapidated weed-grown graveyard which straggles in and out of
the hollows on a side hill covering the high bluffs along the river . . . Nearly every
grave has bordering or thrown upon it a few bleached sea-shells of a dozen different
kinds. . . . Mingled with these a most curious collection of broken crockery and
glassware. On the large graves are laid broken pitchers, soap-dishes, lamp
chimneys, tureens, coffee-cups, sirup jugs, all sorts of ornamental vases, cigar
boxes, gun-locks, tomato cans, teapots, flower-pots, bits of stucco, plaster images,
pieces of carved stone-work from one of the public buildings destroyed during the
war, glass lamps and tumblers in great numbers, and forty other kitchen articles.
On most graves a cup or piece of cut glass, bottles, and quite often a lamp, may be
Under the pine needles, in common with all Negro graveyards of the region, the
mounds were covered with a strange litter of half-emptied medicine bottles, tin
spoons, and other futile weapons that had failed in the final engagement with the last
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“A few trees, tailing with long moss, rise above hundreds of nameless
graves” of blacks.
-- William Cullen Bryant, 1850
Flowers may be planted, “ju’ to keep remembrance of de puson.”
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African American graveyards are fundamentally different from
Euro American cemeteries.
To the black what is important is the place; the relationship
created with ancestors; a desire to return home; a “good” burial.
These differences create conflict in the white world, where land
has a value, graves can be moved, one place is as good as
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“Dig and Plop” vs. archaeology
If removal becomes necessary, insist on proper removal and reburial
Do not allow “dig and plop” commercial firm
Insist on archaeological study
Require reburial in precisely same arrangement and with precisely
Do not allow “mass grave”
Do not allow burial of stones and grave goods
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Researching African American
Visual clues and inspections
Geophysical and archaeological techniques
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Ground Penetrating Radar
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Oral history does not
of past events
Personal or social
BUT, locals often
Evidence of markers
Evidence of remains
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Record with state (state archaeologist)
Doesn’t have to be complete – but must have
good directions and USGS map
Record at Register of Deeds
Most counties require a plat = $ & owner’s
But, most effective
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How will site be preserved for next 50 years?
What about development?
Doesn’t have to be a gated community, can be a
What about natural events – for example,
What about vandalism and looting?
Removal of grave goods?
Theft of markers?
Removal of plants?
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Must have a constituency
People must care about the cemetery
Constituency must care about the cemetery
Visit the cemetery – keep tract of visits
Keep photographs of the cemetery
Mark the graves
Place flowers/plants on the graves
Make certain owner is aware of cemetery
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