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Abandoned 19th Century Cemetery near Gray

July 16, 1998
Outline for a story to appear in the Jones County News regarding the discovery, investigation, and planned relocation of an abandoned 19th century cemetery near Gray.

By: Rusty Weisman, Staff Archaeologist,
Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants Inc.
(706) 569-7233

Stone Brooke Development Company is in the process of developing a 99 acre tract of land located southwest of Gray on the southeast of Highway 129. (Stone Brooke is a local partnership between Judge Mike Green, Al Bridges, and Jim Goolsby). In planning this commercial and residential development, the partners were alerted by a local historian in Clinton (Annie Hamilton) to the existence of an abandoned 19th Century cemetery on their property. This old cemetery is located on the shoulder of a little knoll behind the Tastee Freeze (a photo of this location can be taken from in front of the bank on the opposite side of Hwy 129). Although the cemetery contains no headstones, it is marked by a massive hand-quarried granite enclosure wall. When the developers became aware that this enclosure might be an old cemetery rather than a building foundation, they contracted with Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants, Inc. of Ellerslie Georgia to investigate.

Rusty Weisman, an archeologist from Southern Research, examined the enclosure in May. Through comparison with other similar features in the Old Clinton cemetery, he concluded that the enclosure behind the Tastee Freeze was most probably an historic cemetery. The developers then had Southern Research archaeologists conduct a non-invasive archaeological excavation in and around the enclosure to confirm that this was in fact a cemetery. These archaeological investigations resulted in the identification of six unmarked graves associated with the enclosure. By examining similar constructions in Jones county, the archeologists have learned that these heavy stone cemetery enclosures were built around family plots during the first half of the 19th Century (ca. 1810-1855). At that time livestock were allowed to range freely, and these sturdy enclosures were probably designed to keep animals from disturbing the cemeteries. In later years when livestock were fenced in, iron fences and brick walls replaced massive stone enclosures in the local cemeteries. Similar examples of early family cemeteries with granite enclosure walls are present in the Old Clinton Cemetery behind the Methodist Church, along Hungerford and Comer Roads, and at the White family cemetery near the north edge of the National Wildlife Refuge above Round Oak.

The granite cemetery enclosures in Jones County are believed to be the work of Jacob P. Hutchings, an enslaved African-American stone mason who lived in Clinton. Hutchings is credited with building the Old jail in Clinton in 1843. Granite blocks from that massive two story building (See Carolyn White Williams 1957 "History of Jones County Georgia 1807-1907" pg. 20 for a photograph of the old jail) were later salvaged and used in the foundation and retaining wall surrounding the courthouse in Gray. In addition to his skill as a mason, Jacob P. Hutchings was also a prominent civic leader. He was one of the first African-American's elected to public office in Jones County, serving two terms as the area's state representative during Reconstruction. Mr. Hutchings died in 1909. The researchers studying the cemetery are interested in hearing from any of Hutchings descendants who might have information concerning his stone work.

Rusty Weisman and his colleague Rita Elliott, an archaeologist and a historian with Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants Inc., have been working with the developers to document the cemetery. They are particularly interested in determining who is buried in the unmarked graves. Archaeological investigations in the cemetery indicate that at least 6 graves are present but because the graves are unmarked, it is uncertain who is buried there. With the help of interested local citizens like William Bragg, a descendant of one of the later owners of the property, the researchers have begun to piece together the history of the property. Research in the State Archives and County Courthouse shows that the cemetery is located on land owned between 1818 and 1828 by Samuel Cook, a wealthy planter. From an obituary in the Macon newspaper the researchers learned that Samuel Cook died at his home in 1828. Because that was the time when these enclosures were in common use, the researchers think it is likely that Cook and other members of his family are buried in the unmarked graves in the cemetery.

Historical accounts indicate that the Cook's lived in a two story home located on the hilltop between the cemetery and Highway 129. Cook's first wife was reportedly struck and killed by a lightening bolt while standing on the front porch of that house. She may be among those buried in the nearby cemetery. Samuel Cook later remarried, and fathered several children by his second wife, Sarah B. Cook. After his death in 1828, Samuel Cook's second wife Sarah and her two sons Samuel T. Cook and George William Cook continued to live in the house. As specified in the fathers will, the property was sold in 1845 when the boys came of age. At that time the elder brother Samuel T. Cook purchased his younger brothers share. Samuel T. Cook then sold the house and the surrounding 200 acre property on September 7, 1848 to Willie Patterson for the sum of $1,200 (Book R - page 231). In 1860 the house was occupied by Eliza Cox who conveyed the property to R. J. Turner. Turner demolished the old Cook house following the Civil War, although he salvaged some parts for use in a new home he was building on a different site. For many years after the house was gone, stately Lombardy Poplar trees continued to mark the former location of the old Cook house. Today those trees are also gone, and little remains to identify the site.

Plans for the development of the Stone Brooke property require removal of soil from the knoll where the cemetery is located in order to fill a nearby building site along Hwy 129. Under Georgia Law (OCGA 36-72), a permit from the local governing authority is required before an abandoned cemetery can be disturbed or moved. With the annexation of the Stone Brooke Development Co. property by the City of Gray, an application for a permit to relocate this cemetery is now before the Gray City Council. The developers are petitioning to relocate the cemetery. Plans call for the graves to be located and individually excavated using archaeological techniques. The remains will then be re-interred in a new cemetery, to be located at a nearby site on the edge of the Stone Brooke development.George H. Watkins

A public hearing concerning the proposed relocation of this abandoned cemetery is scheduled to precede the next meeting of the Gray City Council, on the evening of Monday August 3. Interested persons are invited to attend the hearing. Anyone who wishes to express an opinion concerning the plan to relocate the abandoned cemetery will be afforded an opportunity to speak and have their views considered by the Council. The developers are particularly interested in contacting the descendants of Samuel Cook. If you have information pertaining to the Cook family or knowledge of anyone who might be buried in the abandoned cemetery located behind the Tastee Freeze near Clinton and Gary, please contact Rusty Weisman, or Rita Elliott at Southern Research, (706) 569-7233.


Rusty Weisman is a staff archeologist with Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants Inc. He studied anthropology and geology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio and received graduate training at the State University of New York - Binghamton where he earned an MA in anthropology. Mr. Weisman is a member of the Society for Georgia Archaeology, and the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists. He has conducted archaeological research in Georgia since 1977.

Southern Research is a family business owned and operated by Kay and Dean Wood of Ellerslie Georgia. They provide technical services to both public and private sector clients whose activities are regulated by state and federal laws protecting historic sites and properties. Southern Research is currently working with private clients like the Stone Brooke Development Co. as well as public agencies, including the U.S. Army Infantry Training Center at Ft. Benning, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the City of Columbus to help preserve Georgia's shared cultural heritage.

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