Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More History on the Slave Cemetery

History of the Farmer Street Cemetery
By Helen Bowles 2001

Local resident Bobby Olmstead grew up on Murray Street. As a child, the plot of land nearby was revered and an unwritten rule placed it off limits for play. It had for years been known as a "slave cemetery." The land held no markers, no one kept up the property but still the story of it being a burial ground for African Americans lingered. Early in 1999, Mr. Olmstead happened by a City of Newnan crew preparing to make walking paths through the property. He told them they couldn't do that because the site was a grave yard. He realized at that time, this bit of history had been forgotten. Mr. Olmstead went to Newnan Mayor Brady, told his tale and convinced the Mayor to cease development of the land.

The City, in the spring of that year, hired an archaeologist, Steve Webb, to do a historical land survey. Mr. Webb's work was completed in July and he outlined a cemetery of 4.4 acres on which there were 249 identified grave depressions and several other possible grave depressions. This little heretofore unknown plot of land was now possibly the largest slave cemetery known in the US. The story hit all the wire services as well as the national TV network news and magazines. Although, without further investigation, it is impossible to tell who is buried on this land, the evidence in Mr. Webb's survey as well as local legend and deeds lends credence to the possibility of it indeed being a slave cemetery. At the very least, it is almost certainly an African American cemetery.

An 1923 map shows a Negro Grave Yard on the site and in later maps was referred to as the "Cole Cemetery" or "Colored Cemetery." William B. Berry originally owned most of the land around the present site. He was one of Coweta County's earliest settlers and largest land owners. Deeds show transfer of the land near the cemetery by Mr. Berry to Newnan Cotton Mills in 1888. One of the provisions of this deed was to preserve the right of access of "colored people to and from their cemetery." In a deed dated 1900, other surrounding properties were sold to Newnan Cotton Mills and reference again was made to a "colored cemetery." In 1962 the property was acquired by the City of Newnan.

One lone marker remains: that of little Charlie Burch who died at the tender age of three months in 1869.

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