Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
Billy Warren Shelton takes care of the historic Jackson-Shelton cemetery, which dates back before Alabama gained statehood.
GATEKEEPER OF HISTORY
Moulton man working to restore historic family cemetery
By Deangelo McDaniel
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2469
MOULTON — Billy Warren Shelton walks slow, looking to the ground between steps to make sure he's not missing a piece of history.
He stands there in the middle of a cotton field on Lawrence County 87 and looks over the horizon.
"Just so much I don't know," he said.
Shelton, 69, has become the gatekeeper of one of Lawrence County's oldest cemeteries.
The historic Jackson-Shelton cemetery is the final resting place of some of his forefathers and some of the county's earliest settlers.
But years of neglect have almost taken a toll on the nearly one-acre cemetery. Fallen limbs have damaged tombstones. Weather has almost worn names off some of the markers, and from the road, there is no indication that the cemetery exists.
"Aunt Nadine (Shelton) used to hire people to come out here and take care of the place," Shelton said. "I guess that's my job now."
No roads lead to the cemetery, which is elevated above the cotton field around it. Less than one-fourth of the graves have identifiable markers, suggesting that slaves may be buried below some of the stones.
"I don't know who's buried over there," Shelton said about the back part of the cemetery. "I just don't know."
The cemetery was overgrown until he, son Roger Shelton and cousin John Corbin Sivley of Hartselle cleaned it almost a year ago.
"I just took it on because no one else was doing anything," Shelton said. "I was surprised to find so many people are buried out here. The more I cleaned, the more graves I found."
The cemetery has seven crypts, one of them belonging to Shelton's great-great-grandfather, Rueben Shelton. Rueben is believed to be the first Shelton in Lawrence County.
His family Bible is in the Shelton House, a historic home between two and three miles west of the cemetery.
The late Nadine Shelton wrote an extensive history of the Shelton family in 1983. According to her paper, Rueben was born June 11, 1798, in Virginia. He moved to Tennessee before settling in Lawrence County. He married Jane Henry Jackson on Oct. 27, 1827, and died near his Lawrence County home Sept. 27, 1842.
Rueben is buried in a crypt, but his wife is not. She married a second time and is buried between her husbands.
According to the identifiable markers, Shelton's great-grandparents, Andrew Jackson and Lucinda Shelton, were some of the final burials.
Andrew, a Confederate Army soldier and prisoner of war, died Oct. 31, 1895. His wife was born in 1838 and died April 23, 1922. In her history of the Sheltons, Nadine Shelton wrote that "Andrew Jackson was considered superior intelligence and a most handsome young man."
His grave is one of 10 with markers. Besides immediate members of the Shelton and Jackson families, James West and his wife, Mary W. West, have markers.
"I'm still learning all the family connections here, but right now, my priority is to keep the cemetery clean," Shelton said.
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