I think like most kids, I was always a bit uneasy in cemeteries, except at night, then the imagination ran wild and “scared silly” might be the best description of having to walk through or pass a graveyard in the dark. In adulthood, these feelings have been replaced by a recognition that these essential parts of everyday life can tell all kinds of tales about what life was like in a certain place, at various times, and for different groups of people. So, I have become someone who is interested in what cemeteries can tell me about the past.
Today, we visited the Oak Grove cemetery in St Marys, Ga. Since this is the second oldest continuously lived in town in the US, it has a lot to say about the past. As we wandered the grounds studying some of the markers, we were fortunate to meet a gentleman who has spent a lot of time visiting and studying the history of the burial ground. He pointed out some of the more interesting markers both old and new along with some histories of those buried here. There are French planters who fled from Santo Domingo during the slave rebellion and Arcadians who fled from persecution. There are the graves of the early settlers of Cumberland Island and those who built a town in the coastal wilderness. There are mass graves of children who died of smallpox and unmarked graves of blacks. You can see the “fashion of burial” thru the decades and centuries in this over 200 year old graveyard. There are many graves here from folks born around the mid 1700’s, including those who fought in the revolutionary war on both sides.
There are a large number of bricked in plots and I had assumed that these likely were the graves of families grouped together. It turns out that the primary reason for these bricked in areas is that: during the early period that burials were taking place here, it was also still used as a cattle feeding field. Since the ground on the coastal plain was soft and sandy, they learned quickly that wandering cattle would collapse the newly buried grounds with the cattle literally falling into the graves. The brick walls were to keep the cattle out.
The stories are many, but even without knowing the individual stories beyond what is written on the markers, you can get a sense of their status in this life by the markers themselves and the location of the markers. Call me crazy, but I think these are very interesting places to explore.
Note: The marking on the graves stones can be read by magnifying the pictures