Sunday, December 26, 2010

Charleston Historic Cemeteries

A trip to Charleston for Christmas gave me the chance to visit a collection of historic cemeteries in Charleston.  I had read about the huge Magnolia Cemetery, which is known for its Confederate burials, including the crews who died in the successive sinkings of the Confederate submarine Hunley, but I didn’t realize that it was part of a large complex of cemeteries strung together along the river and the railroad tracks. They include the Catholic cemetery of St Lawrence, two Jewish cemeteries, several small Protestant cemeteries, a Quaker cemetery, various cemeteries belonging to burial associations and miscellaneous fraternal groups, and a number of cemeteries belonging to traditionally black churches.


Most of them seem to have been founded in the mid-to-late 19th century.  The property was originally a rice plantation and was bought for use as a cemetery in 1850.  Prior burials were in churchyards or on private property, all of them downtown and hence at some distance from Magnolia.

I am not sure when the smaller cemeteries were acquired by their owners, but a quick examination showed burials starting in the early 1860s, so most of them were probably bought at the same time as or shortly after the purchase of the Magnolia Cemetery property.   All of the cemeteries seem to be still in use and some of the gravestones were quite recent.

The Catholic cemetery is named St Lawrence and is dominated by the wrought iron cross on the monument near its gate.  It is quite large and has burials starting about the same time as those of its next door neighbor, Magnolia. There are many Irish burials and some burials from Charleston’s French community, and it is still in use by Catholic churches in the area.  Irish burials include those of the Irish Volunteers, who fought for the US in the War of 1812 and the 1835 War of Florida (Second Seminole War).


Below is the gate to one of the many “friendly society” cemeteries.  I don’t know if the organizations still exist, but these cemeteries were generally fairly well maintained and had recent burials.


There are two Jewish cemeteries.  Beth Elohim seemed to be the largest and had a beautiful gate which was, unfortunately, locked, so I was unable to examine the dates on the burials. It has a number of new markers and recent burials. The oldest one I could see from the road was dated 1897, but there may be older ones that I missed.  It is beautifully maintained and many of the graves bear the small stones or pebbles traditionally left by visitors to Jewish graves.


The black church cemeteries reflect the sad heritage of segregation and are set off by themselves and not very well maintained.  Again, there were some fairly recent burials, but on the whole, I suspected that the churches that had supported these cemeteries had either closed or lost their congregations as the members moved away.  The cemetery below belongs to Emanuel AME Church.


A little later this week we’ll look at the older cemeteries, which are located some distance away in downtown Charleston.  They are mostly found in the churchyards of the older churches and include 18th century burials.  None of these are exactly the same as Tolomato, but it does give you an idea what St Augustine's "arch-enemy," Charleston, was doing at the same time.

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