Author: Island Writers’ Network
Genre: Anthology, Prose and Poetry
“There is nothing so joyous as the sense of discovery – of a poem that recalls a memory, a new voice in tune with your own, a lyrical sentence that hums in your imagination all day.” – Amy Paige Condon
An anthology of prose and poetry by members of the Island Writers' Network in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton area of South Carolina. Also, photos and artwork from local photographers and artists. This is our 7th anthology.
Note: [Small “d” in title is deliberate. This is the complete story at 1060 words.]
James A. Mallory
I stare in awe at three tombstones marking the resting place of people born enslaved. Their remains repose in a typical Sea Pines neighborhood at an intersection of Hilton Head’s past and present.
They are not alone. Someone born free is under a fourth marker. Thin, leaning wood crosses and nameplates identify other known burial spots. In total, fourteen people are interred here, according to Heritage Library researchers.
The gravestones and crosses are the only indications that this is a Gullah resting place. I’m in reverence. These people tasted freedom after enduring and surviving America’s original sin. I feel a kinship because my enslaved forebearers lie somewhere unknown to me in middle Georgia.
I’m standing on a less-than-one-acre plot of land, a tactile remnant of Lawton Plantation, which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean on the southeast side of the island to Broad Creek on the west, near where it empties into Calibogue Sound. Lawton’s size embodied idealized Southern wealth, as did the 156 humans who once worked there in bondage—a fate sealed by their skin color and ancestry.
One can only wonder if more souls lie nearby in unmarked or paved-over graves, their names passed down in an oral history, if at all.
Lawton Cemetery is one of Hilton Head’s oldest graveyards — a hidden island in an ocean of million-dollar homes and condos. There is no black iron fence nor grand mausoleum nor National Historic Marker hinting at a legacy, just a smattering of trees and frail fan palms. I smirk at a tiny Community Services Association sign near the street telling residents where to pile their yard waste for pickup. I can imagine someone arguing that it is not close enough to the graves to be disrespectful.
A tiny American flag and a Grand Army of the Republic grave marker provide a measure of dignity next to Thomas Frazier’s tombstone. It reads Thos. Frazier, Co. A. 21 U.S.C.T. I later learn from Heritage Library records that he was born enslaved on September 11, 1847. At age fifteen or sixteen, he joined the United States Colored Troops, serving as a waiter for three years.
At some point, Thomas married Rosetta, who is in the grave next to his. Her tombstone says she was born into bondage on Christmas Day, 1847. She was owned by a “Dr. George Stonie,” records say. A man by that name (spelled “Stoney”) was the patriarch of the neighboring Braddock’s Point Plantation.
Little else is known about the couple, except that they lived into the new century. Thomas died on April 18, 1909. Rosetta Frazier lived almost thirty years longer, dying on March 21, 1936. Her footstone still stands, scratched with the initials R.F.
Wilson Green’s marker tells me that he was born enslaved on April 14, 1828. He was well into adulthood when the blue-clad men brought freedom in 1861. He lived two days past his sixty-seventh birthday.
Josephine Washington lies under the fourth tombstone. Born on an unknown date in 1891, she did not know life in bondage. After she died on July 19, 1916, her loved ones wanted it known that she was At Rest.
I yearn to know so much more about the people who I’m meeting via these tombstones. My mind wanders. Questions arise.
What did they think about as they toiled beneath the island's unforgiving summer heat and in the stifling hot plantation homes? Were they tasked to harvest indigo, rice, or sugar cane in or near mosquitoes and alligator-infested water? Maybe they picked cotton on drier land.
Did they imagine an unbonded life beyond the indignity of catering to the needs of the Massas and Missys of the antebellum families named Lawton, Barksdale, Stoney, and others?
Were there thrills, or was there trepidation, when word traveled down the coast that shells had been fired at Fort Sumpter? Did they rush to greet the white men in blue wool uniforms who reluctantly gave the formerly enslaved men guns to fight for their freedom?
When the war ended, they strived to build a free life in the only home they knew. Yet, the dignity of owning land, worshipping, marrying, and raising children didn’t give them long-lasting freedom. The South, refusing to stay reconstructed, rose from the ashes of defeat, robbing them of their short-lived dignity. Laws forced them to live their remaining days as second-class citizens in Jim Crow, South Carolina. Perhaps, isolated on a remote island, they preserved a measure of dignity, avoiding the harsher retributions that fell on their brothers and sisters on the mainland.
Their offspring farmed, fished, and hunted. Wealthy white northerners, presaging the island’s future, gobbled up acreage for private hunting grounds. Occasional harsh coastal storms and a fragile economy forced many descendants to relocate to the island’s north side. Others chose the mainland. Nature reclaimed the former plantations and hid Lawton Cemetery in the underbrush.
A man-made storm arrived in the middle of the last century dismantling the Gullah lifestyle. Developers exploited a romanticized version of Lowcountry plantation life, a harsh slap to the face of the descendants of those forced to build and maintain the original ones.
Gullah gravesites reappeared in the wake of development, their rustic tombstones sudden reminders of the past.
Wendell Grayson Sr., a white man from Kentucky and part-time Hilton Head resident, invited me to Lawton. He’d righted and cleaned the tombstones, cleared debris, and removed toppled trees after a hurricane. Restoring gravesites is his hobby. He’d helped descendants restore the Gullah Cemetery at Braddock’s Pointe in Harbour Town.
As we tour Lawton, I look at the large house on the left, another one across the street, and the entrance to nearby condos. Do the homeowners know or care about the history buried just outside their windows? Do they prefer it to stay incognito so that tourists and the curious will stay away?
This is private property. Any attempt to dignify the old burial ground would surely raise a myriad of voices. What a shame in a town that takes pride in its history and culture.
You see it driving down William Hilton Parkway at the antebellum Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery and Baynard Mausoleum, where Revolutionary War patriots are buried, along with other white residents from the pre-Civil War era. Their dignity is restored in that National Historic Landmark.
Thomas Frazier, Rosetta Frazier, and Wilson Green deserve the same.
It’s a brand-new year, full of possibilities. Did you make any resolutions/goals for 2022? If so, please share one.
As a group of writers, we hope to improve our skills and increase our visibility in the community.
Why is your featured book a must-read in 2022?
It’s an exceptional anthology by local writers inspired by the beauty and culture of the island where they live.
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.
Runs January 1 – 31, 2022.
Drawing will be held on February 1, 2022.
When writer Jo Williams moved to Hilton Head Island in 1999, she missed her Charlotte, NC, writers’ group, so she ran an ad in The Island Packet. Eighteen people responded, and twelve attended the initial meeting. Today, Island Writers’ Network encourages and mentors writers of all levels both in the craft and business of writing. Membership exceeds seventy members and includes published writers, journalists, bloggers, and more. Our writers work in all genres including fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature, humor, memoir, and poetry.
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