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Archaeologists and volunteers unearthed the remains of 227 burials from the Foster Cemetery at Doublehead Resort. The remains will be reburied about one mile away near Alabama 101 and Lawrence County 184.
Courtesy photo
Archaeologists and volunteers unearthed the remains of 227 burials from the Foster Cemetery at Doublehead Resort. The remains will be reburied about one mile away near Alabama 101 and Lawrence County 184.

Moving history in Lawrence County
Historic cemetery gets relocated

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

TOWN CREEK — Bone by bone, they removed Henderson Smiley from the earth where he rested for more than 100 years.

Smiley finally left the plantation where he was apparently born into slavery, emancipated and died.

The remains of 226 other men, women and children will join him at another burial site about a mile away.

The Southeastern Anthropological Institute at Northwest Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals is relocating the Foster Cemetery on the Doublehead Resort property near the Tennessee River.

When Robbins Property Development sold the resort in 2006, part of the deal required the company to relocate the cemetery, anthropologist Hunter Johnson said.

Johnson is supervising the relocation. It started in March and included manually digging up the 3-acre cemetery inch by inch.

"We initially estimated there were 75 graves," he said.

By using remote sensing equipment, a team from the University of Mississippi identified 200 burials in February.

Once the excavation was completed in June, archaeologists and volunteers had cataloged more than 100,000 items, including the remains of 227 people.

None of the burials, which started before the Civil War and continued until the early 1980s, was in vaults. Caskets were majority wood and had deteriorated.

The skeletal remains of some of the last burials were fully clothed, said Tom Mc-Knight, a volunteer who helped with the excavation and is trying to identify burials without markers.

Two of the burials with no markers were Lacy Minor and Annette Johnson.

They were stepsiblings and were buried next to each other. McKnight was able to identify them by talking with family members about what they found in the graves.

'Pristine wig' clue

In the case of Johnson who died in the early 1970s, workers found what McKnight called a "pristine wig" in her grave. She was the only burial found with a wig.

"Family members in the area distinctly remember the wig and were able to identify her because of that," McKnight explained.

Minor's story is more complicated. His skeleton had an identification bracelet on his wrist indicating he had been a patient at a hospital in Town Creek and the late Dr. Willard Irwin was the attending physician. There was a number on the bracelet.

McKnight called Dr. Buster Coffey in Moulton, who is Dr. Irwin's son-in-law. The bracelet number matched medical records for Minor at the hospital in Moulton.

Including Smiley, there were seven graves with identifiable markers. Smiley's marker said he was "aged 60" when he died in 1895.

The other identifiable markers were Marie Dillon, John Hill, Louis Allen, Ernest Foster, Alford Campbell and Jackson Fitzgerald.

The cemetery is called the Foster Cemetery because it is on property that was part of Thomas Jefferson Foster's plantation.

Foster, who was born in Nashville on July 11, 1809, married Virginia Watkins, the daughter of a wealthy Lawrence County plantation owner.

Although he opposed secession, Foster served in the Confederate Congress. As was customary for the time, Foster had a slave cemetery on his plantation.

Slave names

Some of the names in the cemetery were slave names on Foster's 1849 Lawrence County tax assessment record.

To help identify who may be buried in the cemetery, workers held a series of meetings in black churches in the area.

"We gained some valuable information and continue to learn," McKnight said.

Take Alford Campbell, for example. A relative told McKnight that Campbell's father, George "Big Papa" Campbell, was buried there. Three of Alford's siblings — Gernese, George D. and Leonard — are also buried there.

"If this relocation hadn't taken place, these people would probably be lost to history," McKnight said. "Out of ashes of adversity, something positive has taken place."

Alford Campbell, they learned from Tennessee Valley Authority records, died May 23, 1953, in an industrial accident on TVA property.

Several of the burials had caskets with viewing glasses. In one of the graves, the glass preserved a piece of cloth. The clothing and buttons led McKnight to determine it was the burial of a World War I veteran.

"We don't know who he is," he said.

Pvt. Earnest Foster had the only grave with a military marker. After talking with the Veteran's Affairs office in Moulton, McKnight learned Foster was born in 1894 and registered with the draft board Sept. 11, 1918. He died Sept. 23, 1923.

"We found his discharge papers, and the VA is going to provide him a military marker," McKnight said.

The new marker will be placed at the new cemetery. Johnson said they have other family stories they believe will help them identify people in unmarked graves.

One family member, for example, told them about Lewis Fitzgerald who had a broken thumb and died in surgery in Tennessee in 1937.

"If the forensics identify a male with a broken thumb, it's probably Lewis," Johnson said.

In another case, family members talked about Woody Sherrod Jr., who suffered from polio and had deformed legs, McKnight said.

"If we can identify Woody, we can probably find his father, Woody Sr.," McKnight said. "Family members said he was buried near his father."

Woody Sr. had one child who drowned between 1910 and 1912. His name was Brooke "Brookie" Sherrod. Two other children, Fred and Frank Sherrod, died as infants.

Family clusters

McKnight said the cemetery includes family clusters.

"If we find some adults with several children around them, this may be the Sherrod family," he said. "But, we have to follow the forensics."

Johnson said they have reburied about 75 of the graves in a cemetery near Alabama 101 and Lawrence County 184. He said they hope to obtain markers for every person they can identify, and, at least a stone for every body.

The cemetery will be accessible to family. McKnight hopes to obtain funding for a fence, memorial plaque listing the family surnames and a flagpole to honor the veterans who will be in the cemetery.

He said the lasting legacy of the project is family members talking about their history.

"That's a good thing," McKnight said. "That's a very good thing."

Foster Cemetery surnames

The known surnames in the Foster Cemetery are Allen, Bynum, Campbell, Dillon, Fitzgerald, Foster, Harris, Hampton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, Jones, Lyles, Minor, Penchion, Sherrod, Speake, Smith, Smiley, Steward, White and Willard. If you have additional information about the cemetery, please contact Tom McKnight at (256) 332-3016 or (914) 409-5529.

Deangelo McDaniel

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