The graves of Reverend Andrew Bryan (1716-1812), Reverend Henry Cunningham (1759-1842), and Reverend Andrew Cox Marshall (1755-1856), all early Baptist ministers in Savannah. Bryan and Cunningham's remains were moved here from the older cemetery which was where the Massie School stands today. Note that the tablet for Rev. Bryan is missing.
This map of 1818 shows the location of the original “Negro Ground” beyond the southern edge of the city (just to the left of the City Common). By 1850, the demand for housing space forced the removal of this cemetery and the setting aside of land in Laurel Grove for black burials. Click here for a larger version of the map.
In 1853 four acres were set aside at Laurel Grove Cemetery for African American burials, and many graves were moved from the earlier cemetery. In 1857, an additional 11 acres were reserved, and in 1859 the city council increased the size of Laurel Grove South to 30 acres and built a caretaker’s house.
The earlier cemetery, which is labeled “Negro Ground” in the map of 1818, lay well beyond the southern edge of the city, and was reflective of the closeness of earlier generations to their African roots with the tradition of placing on the graves objects the deceased had used during their lifetime. Laurel Grove South Cemetery with its vaults and tombstones in the European manner reflects the waning of traditional African custom and the acceptance of the dominant Euro-American conventions of vaults and tombstones. However, earlier African traditions are still retained to some degree in small towns and in rural areas in parts of the Deep South. Some of the bodies in the earlier cemetery were removed to Laurel Grove South. The custom of using wood markers means that they soon deteriorated and eventually disintegrated. Therefore many graves would no longer be marked.
The first major movement to preserve the history of Laurel Grove South was in 1931, when the cemetery was cleaned up. In 1958, after prominent black Savannahians again mobilized to preserve Laurel Grove, the Savannah Sugar Refinery presented wrought iron gates to the city for the cemetery, and the city itself spent $3000 to clean and renovate the site.
According to Charles Elmore, in the early 1970’s, W.W. Law “almost singlehandedly led the movement to improve Laurel Grove Cemetery South, and identified historically significant grave sites which led to the City of Savannah maintaining this venerable cemetery in a dignified manner by providing street names and markers to make it easy for citizens and historians to identify various burial places.”
Despite these efforts, time and weather are taking their toll on the headstones, ironwork, and brick.
Source: Charles Elmore, Laurel Grove Cemetery
A view of Laurel Grove South
A Savannahian remembers the original "Negro Ground"
In his memoir Recollections of a Long and Satisfactory Life (1934), William Harden, a white Savannahian, recalls two early cemeteries, one a Potter’s Field and the other for black burials:
The Potter’s Field was the one farther north and extended from Taylor
street as far south as the lot on which the Massie School was built. The
negro cemetery began a little farther south of that, extending as far as
Huntingdon street. There were no streets laid out in that section of the
city then, and houses were not built there until later. Even as late as
1851 I used to go through these burial grounds with my bow and arrow shooting
sparrows and other small birds. I do not recall if I ever saw a tombstone
in either of these cemeteries, but the grave mounds were numerous, those
of the negroes being plainly indicated by the ornaments laid upon them,
such as are always found on graves of that race.
Grave marker of Willemina Claghorn, daughter of Cornelia and William J. Claghorn who had obtained freedom for himself, his wife and daughter Mary Elizabeth in 1846. His daughter Willemina was born as a free person the next year but lived only 8 years, 5 months, and 18 days.
Grave marker of Captain Joseph Mirault (1859-1898),
born in Savannah
August was a fireman who died while fighting a fire at Washington Hall in downtown Savannah. Fire wagons in antebellum Savannah were run by blacks, both slave and free. His tombstone is slowly being swallowed by roots and earth.
More images from Laurel Grove South
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