Saturday, November 22, 2008

Volunteers Restore Historic Cemetery

This morning, Team DRBA and a crew of volunteers braved bitter 24 degree weather to help protect and preserve a piece of Henry County history. Fourteen helpers total gathered at the historic cemetery of Uncle John and Jane Burgess, located on Old Mill Road near the Gravely Nature Preserve.

The volunteers worked to cut saplings and remove debris while DRBA staff located, marked, and inventoried grave sites. Vernon Hairston and Jennifer Doss are shown above cutting trees that had taken over the cemetery.

A total of 18 graves were located. The burial sites of four individuals were positively identified by family members and a list of eight others known to be buried somewhere in the cemetery was compiled. Myla Barnhardt of the News & Record came to cover the project and interview descendants of Uncle John and Jane Burgess. Excitement filled the air each time someone yelled "I found another stone!"

After cleaning up the cemetery, the group traveled to God's Love Ministries in Ridgeway to enjoy a pot-luck lunch and share information about their ancestors. Approximately 25 family members gathered at the church, including the last three living grandchildren of Uncle John and Jane.

Grandson Timothy Carter Jr. shared stories about uncle John's dirt floor cabin and playing in Burgess creek. Grandaughter Mary Burgess Hall (pictured above with son, Michael Richardson) remembered the red horse that Uncle John loved to ride. Generations both young and old all were able to learn new and interesting facts about their family.

Since the cemetery has never been documented before, family members were eager to fill out ancestry charts that will help DRBA and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources formally document the property and protect it. Samuel Hairston of Eden and Dorothy Jean Hairston of Ridgeway are shown below sharing stories of their common ancestors.

Norris Funeral Services Inc. of Martinsville has donated an engraved stone cemetery marker for the project and the family worked together to write an appropriate inscription. The marker, to be installed within the next few weeks, will be engraved with the following message:

Burgess Family Cemetery

In loving memory of
Uncle John and Jane Burgess,
former slaves and residents of
the Burgess Plantation
circa late 1800s
and their decendants
laid to rest here.

Gone but not forgotten...

The family enjoyed looking at photos of Uncle John and Jane provided by the descendants of plantation owner John Henry Burgess and reading a 1930s obituary for Uncle John Burgess provided by the Bassett Historical Center. They plan to raise funds in order to purchase fencing and return for a second workday in early spring to install it around the family plot.

Many thanks to land owner James Morrison for allowing us access to his land, to Pastor Ronald Hairston for allowing us to use his church, and to Norris Funeral Services Inc. for their generous donation of an engraved stone cemetery marker.

Click here to see more photos taken by Brian Williams.

Article by Jennifer Doss
Photos by Brian Williams and Jennifer Doss

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