Thursday, July 6, 2006
Audubon needs help identifying graves
By SUE WATSON
Audubon Mississippi, with headquarters at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, is undertaking a project to try and identify the names of any individuals who may be buried in three of the known burial sites on the property at Strawberry Plains.
Information on the identities of persons buried in African American burial grounds are particularly needed since Audubon believes many people were buried there either without permanent headstones, or the stones have been lost over the years, according to Madge Lindsay, director of Audubon Mississippi.
“We want to learn more about the large number of unidentified graves in one or two particular spots,” Lindsay said. “It is speculated that 40 to 50 graves exist in the ‘Slave/Sharecropper’ cemetery, but we only have two headstones, one that dates back to the late 19th century.”
Audubon wishes to engage the interest of the African American community to learn of relatives or known burials at these sites, she said.
“Historians Bobby Mitchell and Willie Mallory are helping us with the project. Also, a history of Strawberry Plains provided by historian Hubert McAlexander Jr. may help jog some memories,” Lindsay said. “Audubon wishes anyone who does remember or who has friends or relatives who lived on the several plantations in the area located along Highway 311 North, Holly Springs, to contact us and help out with this part of the Center’s history.”
Persons who can help with information should contact Strawberry Plains or Lindsay by phone at 662-252-1155, by e-mail at MLINDSAY@audubon.org, or in writing at Audubon Mississippi, 285 Plains Road, Holly Springs, MS 38635.
McAlexander said the 2,500-acre tract making up the Audubon Center encompasses three antebellum plantations. The Davis Plantation is located on the westernmost part of the land. The McKissack place is located in the middle tract; and to the east, running to Highway 7 and to the Experiment Station is the land known as the Gibbons plantation (also known as the Gibbons-Puryear-Finley place).
“Two cemeteries are on what was the Gibbons-Puryear-Finley place,” McAlexander said. “The first is very old - the burying ground of the Gibbons family (whites). It is located near Highway 7 on part of the land that the Finleys sold to the Experiment Station. “
Another cemetery is also on the Gibbons place. It is an African American cemetery, and Finley sharecroppers were buried there. Two graves are marked, one being a Brannon. I know Prince Brannon was one of Mr. Thomas Finley”s sharecroppers in 1933.”
The oldest cemetery is the one across from the big brick house at Strawberry Plains, McAlexander said. It was started as a slave cemetery. Later African American sharecroppers were buried there. The last burial was a man named Hilton Marr in 1933.
A fourth cemetery, the Davis family cemetery, is well marked with stones. It contains the graves of the original Davis family who settled the part of the property known as Strawberry Plains.
Lindsay said a group of cemetery restorers are being invited out to help locate any buried headstones that were covered or sunk over time. Mitchell, who has published a book on the cemeteries in Marshall County and helped with unmarked grave identifications, said it would be helpful to have the names of the families who lived on the three places - Strawberry Plains, the Gibbons place and the McKissack place.
“From my work with mortality schedules, I find a very large percentage of children died before they were age 10 or so - very young children say from one to three years old on the 1870 Census, who do not appear on the 1880 Census,” he said. “The size of the grave, as determined by earth disturbance, can sometimes indicate whether the buried were children or adults. I think it will be impossible to identify those who died while still in bondage, without access to the old plantation records.
“If we identify any of them, it will probably be those who died in the years following the Civil War, but before they migrated to other areas.”
Mitchell said after the War, freedmen who worked on plantations signed contracts with the farm operator, verifying wages to be paid and hours to be worked, etc. “I have seen some original copies of these types of documents,” he said. “If there is a repository of those freedman papers, maybe in some national archive, it would help with the names of those who continued to live and work at Strawberry after the emancipation.”
The cemetery burial identification project is part of a larger history project on-going at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.
(662) 252-4261 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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