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Slave Graveyard visit with Developer

posted Oct 28, 2011, 7:51 PM by Jack Lynes   [ updated Sep 13, 2013, 2:01 PM ]

We met with the developer of Foxbank yesterday (Thursday 10,27,2011).  "We" being me, my son Justin, Jay Fincher (a cousin) and his wife and son, Paula Shank (another cousin), Mike Heitzler and an interested friend whose name escapes me.  I told him up front that we were not a "hostile" crowd, but wanted to be sure he knew there was a cemetery there and be sure it was protected.  The developer told us of his experience in developing projects, nearly 30 years or so, and that their philosophy is to have a certain percentage of a project to be green space, and he discussed density and those sort of things. He says he has developed other projects that have cemeteries and is sympathetic to the sacred nature of them and always sets them aside.  We looked at the project map, and then discussed the cemetery. When he bought an adjoining parcel to add to the project from Mr. Dangerfield (in his 80's or 90's, now deceased, we believe) Mr. Dangerfield mentioned to him the old graveyard that was on Foxbank.  The developer met him at the old Whaley cabin one afternoon to be shown the location. He and Old Mr. Dangerfield, a younger relative of Mr. Dangerfield, and an older woman who is also related, walked out a certain distance, where Dangerfield stopped, looked around, stretched forth his arms and said "right here."  They flagged it with the intention of working around it in their plan, to make it a green space, and put a marker at it eventually, to commemorate and recognize the site. 
We all walked out to where he says it is.  It looks like everything else around it. Just more woods.  But because they have just dug a 5' deep trench down the side of it and covered it back up again (storm drain) and put a road through very close, there is some surface scattering in the raw earth of old crockery, green bottle glass, and china, it leads us to believe they have actually contacted some of the obscured graves already.  It was common in slave traditions to put "offerings" of this sort on top of the graves, and what we found is consistent with that practice, although it does not prove its existence, as the developer maintains.  (see )

Pieces of ceramics, porcelain, china, salt glaze ceramic, and green bottle glass found on the surface

The location is consistent with the 1881 plat seen below.  Descendants of Mr. Ben Scott Whaley, who bought Foxbank Plantation in 1938, knew of the existence of the cemetery and say there were two tombstones that they remember. They relate that their father loved Foxbank and did all he could to protect it.  It may have been planted in pines prior to Hugo, but we do not know; old aerial photographs would tell the story.  Hurricane Hugo struck on September 22, 1989 and destroyed 9 out of 10 trees, and no doubt the headstones could have been knocked down then. It is likely that foresters did not know of the significance of the burial ground, if at all, and only came close to the only markers they could see, if they were even visible.  The forests of Berkeley County were a horribly tangled mess after Hugo.  The situation now is there are presently no headstones visible and the cemetery is planted in pines that are 15 to 20 years old, consistent with the new growth since Hugo in 1989.
We did a modest surface collection of broken artifacts mentioned above, and I am going to consult with Michael Trickley of Chicora Foundation for his opinion of what the artifacts may mean.  I asked the developer if he would consider hiring Chicora to come in and evaluate, locate, and delineate the actual site. I told him we were on the verge of hiring them to do the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease project, for which they quoted us a reasonable price, and that they could do about 1/2 an acre a day. I gave him printed info on Chicora, and asked him to consider it.  He was non-committal, but said he would talk to his partners about that.  He said that one of his concerns is to discover that it is much larger than they have set aside, musing, "where do you stop?" and I said "when you stop finding graves.  You would not want someone out planting a tree in their yard with their children and dig up a human being. We've all seen Poltergeist."  He said that nothing found as yet actually proves there is a cemetery there, but if they were to unearth something they would stop.

Here's where we go next:
Justin, and perhaps Jay, are going to meet one of the Whaley sisters out there, as well as someone who chimed in on our project website blog who said he also could identify the location, to confirm the already identified location.  I am going to send the artifacts to Chicora and ask their opinion.  And we shall wait a respectful time for the developer to consult with his partners before contacting them further. 
Our goal is to actually have Chicora out there in this critical time, have them identify the actual graves if possible, delineate the limits of the cemetery, and conserve the site.  There may need to be some fundraising if the developer will agree on a small limited project.  I did offer to share the cost of the evaluation from Chicora, but he simply said he would talk to his Maryland partners first.
So that's where it stands.
9/12/2013 update: 
Apparently the graves have been found.  Looks like when the workers were clearing trees for new lots, they found some tombstones and graves belonging to slaves from the old slave cemetery. Development has been halted and the Moncks Corner/Berkeley County planning department is meeting with them tomorrow morning. More to come.
9/13/2013 update:  Apparently the "find" is not a find. It's a little different than the way we first heard it, but that's the way breaking news goes.