FAISON — A group of citizens from the town of Faison has uncovered a crucial link to the town’s past, a forgotten landmark that reaches back in time to one of the most painful chapters in the nation’s history.
According to L.S. Guy, a member of the Faison Improvement Group (FIG), the team is making preparations for the dedication of the site of a pre-Civil War graveyard that was used to inter the slaves of Henry Faison, the town’s founder and namesake.
The graveyard was located in 2003 with the help of the N.C. Office of Archives and History, who identified the site and ascertained who owned the adjoining property. Once contacted about the sites history, Guy said the property’s owner, Ned Kottle, decided to donate the land to FIG. “That was an important step because it allowed us to have access to the grave site so we could get in there and do what we needed to do.”
After gaining the necessary access, the group cleared the one-acre site of brush and dead trees, and set about determining the exact location of the graves.
Guy said the group continues to try to identify specific interment sites, but believes there are approximately 15-25 individuals buried on the property. “We know of at least three families, Bowden, Smith, and Faison, who have members buried there, “ said Guy.
Guy said he believes Faison (1744-1788) dedicated the property, which sets opposite the town graveyard on East Main Street, specifically for the burial of his servants. “We know it was before the Civil War and this was a very common practice during that time,” said Guy.
Though the graveyard was all-but-forgotten for over half a century, one town resident can still recall a time when a small wooden cross marked the land and local children played and hunted in the adjoining woods.
Willie Hill, 87, has lived in the Faison area since he was eight. “Me and some friends used to play back there when were young. We knew it was a black cemetery, cause back then that’s how it was.; it was kept separate. I remember there was a wood cross, but I can’t recall what it might have said.”
Leaning on a silver handled cane as he walked the perimeter of the cleared lot last week, Hill remembered that neighbors who once lived in the area were distant relatives of the deceased slaves. “There were a family of Bowden’s who lived across the street, and one of them had a great grandson who was a Faison. Sometimes I’d see him going over there and he used to tell me he was going to go clean off his relatives grave.”
According to Hill, there are at least two former slaves who are buried across the street in the town cemetery, as well.
Hill said he recently asked a few of the older residents of the town if they have any memories of the graveyard when it was a recognized part of the neighborhood. “I came across only one other person, and they said they knew that there were some Smith’s buried there, but that’s all they knew.”
Sadly, said Hill, many of the town’s people who may once have offered vital historical information have passed away. “There’s not many of use left who would even know it was there,” commented Hill.
Though its origins may never be completely illuminated, Hill said he believes the restoration of the site is an important step for the town. “I think it’s nice that they’ve cleaned it up. A lot of young people don’t know how things were back in those days.”
Guy said FIG has ordered a granite monument constructed to commemorate the site, but has yet to determine exactly what wording will be inscribed there.
A small driveway as well as boundary markers will also be added.
Barring unforeseen delays, said Guy, a dedication ceremony for the site is planned for next spring.
Faison Mayor Elmer Flake, a FIG member, said he believes the discovery will prove critical to preserving a nearly forgotten part of the town’s past.
“This was something we didn’t even know was there until a couple of years ago. FIG and the town have worked together on this. It’s a part of our history that’s been lost and we’re looking forward to getting this up and running.”