Friday, October 8, 2010


My son and I made a visit this summer to find a slave graveyard that was reported to be located on a recently developed Civil War Battlefield Park which involves several sites in Madison County, KentuckyThe site we were headed for was a homestead called the Pleasant View House and Farm. Nothing in its published flyer indicated that there was a slave graveyard on site.

What the flyer did say was that Joseph Barnett built the present house on the property in 1825 and at that time he owed 20 slaves. And, he also owned 578 acres. This information was a good base to help us understand the spatial pattern of the graveyard. So off we went toward a rise on the land, a distance back of the old house, to find the slave graveyard.

The first thing we noticed when we spotted the graveyard was that it was divided into two sections – African American slave on one side and European white pioneer family on the other. 

 It was a small graveyard and according to a sign posted by it, it had been in a deteriorated state for a long time previous to a recent restoration. There were approximately fourteen or so grave-markers on the white side and about six or so on the slave side.

The white side consisted of two types of grave-markers; the ledger type and the head and foot marker type. The African American slave side of the graveyard had two types of grave markers. One being head stone and foot stone type made by a stone cutter and the second type -- some head stones and foot stones --  being simply a field stone to mark the head and one also to mark the foot.

The ledger types were large flat one-piece stones covering the grave, similar to the cover of a tablet, and placed on a raised limestone foundation. The inscription was on the ledger’s topside. Most of the ledger grave-markers were difficult to read – exposure to weather and the type of local stone used had blurred or erased much of the writing. 

My son came up with the idea of doing rubbings to determine what information we could obtain about the deceased. This method did help some in deciphering some of the names and dates. 

The ledger style was expensive in its time and is believed to have been used by the wealthy.  Historically, they are believed to be a British tradition.  

The head stones in both the slave and white sections of the plot, if made by a stone cutter, carried the name and date of the deceased. The foot stone simply had the initial of the deceased.

Southern folk grave-markers are simple and unadorned. None of the grave –markers had adornment such as flowers, birds etc. The graveyard was on a rise, which is a southern thing -- this tradition is older than  Christianity. The front side of the head stone is smooth while the sides and back have chisel marks – a sign of back country grave stone-cutters

The earliest deceased date that we found was 1806 and the latest was  1851 -- pre-Civil War times. These dates definitely indicate back country living for this region of Kentucky. Also, I would consider this graveyard a folk one due to its dates, arrangement and back country location.

Grave stone-cutters in the backcountry during the above dates were involved in other artisan trades along with stone cutting. Many grave stone-cutters were itinerate and travelled over large regions.

In Memory
Joshua  Servant of
Jos Barnett Jr born
1798 & died by a
stroke of Lightning
July 1827
In the early 1800s, markers were not always placed on the grave site at the time of death. This was due to time spent sending away for a grave-marker and then having it delivered by wagon. This could take up to a year or so.
The spatial arrangement of the plot is similar to early Scots-Irish traditions – linear rows. The slave side was also dictated by this pattern.
This graveyard in all probability has many more secrets to unveil through its material culture.  My son and I made two trips to the plot and feel we still missed some of the clues to its history.

For sources to check out about folk graveyards – see below. I never thought that graveyards could be so culturally fascinating but now I know I will be on the lookout for more of the same.



Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy by Terry G. Jordan

Sticks and Stones: Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers by M. Ruth Little

Ghosts along the Cumberland by William Lynwood Montell

Historic Property

Civil War Battlefield Park 
Richmond, Kentucky


  1. Love those old markers! Such an interesting post. Do the markers face east, I wonder.

  2. Ohhh, errr, I loves me a good cemetery for hidden gems like that :)
    It's amazing how stone masonry styles can identify dates and areas, like the bricks found in British archaeology :)

  3. Waht a fascinating graveyard. Thanks for sharing your insights and photos.

  4. Always love to learn something new. I had no idea the big flat stones were called "ledgers". It's interesting that the more expensive stones [the ledgers] weathered perhaps the worst. Thanks for an interesting bit of history.

  5. Vicki, Good question. Although a person of good deeds would have their markers facing east --all the markers of this graveyard, from what I could tell, faced north. I don't have a GPS system (not yet) so I could be a bit off on the direction. This is a very early graveyard -- I am not sure when that east direction tradition entered into grave sites. Do you have an idea when they became part of the southern graveyard culture? Thanks for the comment -- barbara

  6. barefootheart -- thanks for stoppings by. Gravesyards are about the only place that don't change in our culture. -- barbara

  7. June -- the local stone used in this area was limestone and susceptible to washing out. As the ledgers were flat I would think that they would be prone to wash out more than the upright headstones. Marble hold its inscription as does granite. Those two types of stones were used more frequently after the rail lines began to reach out in the countryside in about the 1880s. Thanks for your comment --- barbara

  8. Jayne -- Yes, you are so right -- graveyards have a language of their own that can tell us so much about our culture. I always enjoy your comments -- barbara

  9. Excellent post and I really enjoyed it. I love visiting old graveyards. I think they hold so much history and knowledge. This one was an interesting find. I have not seen a slave graveyard that had actual inscribed stones before.

  10. Farmchick -- Perhaps this site had inscriptions on the slave head stones as it was part of the white family graveyard. Distinctly separate Black graveyards are more artistic and chaotic and at Pleasant view I saw only slave headstones placed in the linear rows like the whites. Always something to talk about when one meets up with material culture that has no written documentation.

  11. What a fascinating find, Barbara. I really enjoyed your reading of the site. The slave gravestone inscriptions are beautifully rendered, but obviouly a very sad reminder of the practice of slavery. It would be very interesting to find diaries relating to this site. I expect that is probably what you are checking into anyway :).

  12. LiD -- I thought if someone was in grad school this type of graveyard would make a great masters thesis. Slavery is a sad part of our history as is so many horrible acts that we have made against ethnic groups and Native Americans.Thanks for stopping by a leaving a nice comment.

  13. Have you read Grey Gundaker's work about African American expressive culture, including signs and symbols used in gardens and on houses and graves--signs and symbols derived from West African societies? It might be pertinent to some of your investigations.

  14. Karen -- thanks for stopping by and leaving an informative comment. I found Gundaker's books on Amazon -- they seemed to be my kind of books. I ordered KEEP YOUR HEAD TO THE SKY as it was only $6.00 secondhand paperback. From the write up I thought it was well worth seeking out. I thank you for the recommendation. -- barbara

  15. I love old graveyards. You are lucky that this one had names and dates on the old foot and headstones. We have an old family cemetery. Most of the older graves are only sunken areas with small rocks in the ground at their head and foot. None of these rocks have anything etched on them. I know most of them are probably kin, but don't know who are buried in them. My gr grandparents are there, I placed markers where we 'think' they are buried. There were rocks and small funeral home markers on my grandparent's graves and some of my aunts and uncles. Last year my husband and I put small marble stones on them with their names and dates. I did not want them to become, in the future, sunken areas with no names. The graveyard is hidden up on a hillside and, I'm not too good at directions, but I think they face east.

  16. Janet, How fortunate that you have a family graveyard on your property. You certainly are good caretakers of it. In KY there is a state office that works toward recording and protecting cemeteries in the state. I wonder if W. Virginia has the same? The woman that operates the KY office gives talks to groups. Perhaps you might have the same service in W. Virginia? -- barbara