A Slave Graveyard

In Military History
When I heard about the new Shire book, The Slave Trade, it got me thinking about a family connection to slavery.

I grew up in upstate South Carolina on the 300 acre family farm, the remnant of my great-great grandfather\'s plantation. It had been worked by slaves until the end of the Civil War in 1865. My great-grandfather had left it to live in the city and practice law. He even sold the place, but the buyers defaulted in the Great Depression.

In the early 1950\'s my father moved us back there to begin dairy farming. The land had not been actively worked for many years. Fields had completely grown over, and new roadways had to be cut to get machinery through. I had immense fun as a young boy exploring what was practically a wilderness.

One day I stumbled over what looked (to an 8 year old boy) like an evil, green brain lying on the ground in the dim woods. It was some form of irregularly shaped, hard and somewhat bumpy fruit, and to make it more eerie, I realized there were tombstones scattered around the area. The “fruit” turned out to be the bitter Osage Orange; the tombstones were the old family cemetery, decrepit and neglected for at least half a century. The last direct family member to be buried there was the wife of Col. James McCullough, owner of the plantation at its height, leader of the 16th South Carolina Volunteers in the Civil War.

My father decided to clear the cemetery and make it usable again. As trees and brush came out we realized it was paired with a second cemetery only a few yards off one corner—a cemetery for slaves. A handful of their graves had carved headstones but most plots were marked simply by foot and headstones of plain rock. It was a sobering juxtaposition that illustrated the unjust inequality involved, but also the closeness of black and white that characterized the South. Over the next 20 years we gradually discovered other simple burial places, several not too far from the first two recovered, but some smaller ones on different areas of the farm. Considering the share-cropping system that followed the War, we are not sure all these were for slaves. We are attempting to preserve and protect them all.

Over the past 20 years many black Americans have developed an interest in genealogy and re-discovering their roots. Several times individuals and groups have come by the farm to visit the cemetery and take photographs. The lack of carved headstones and dates does not destroy all the usefulness of this—some of these descendents of slaves are able to tie the place into their family\'s oral history, passed down father-to-son and mother-to-daughter. 

I now live in North Carolina, in Greensboro, from its earliest days a settling place for Quakers, who later made it a stop on “the underground railroad” that helped escaped slaves make their way to free states to the north. Undoubtedly some arrived here and stayed. There are a several families of black Americans named “McCullough” in Greensboro. One of them was algebra teacher to my oldest daughter in our local high school.

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