Briars and weeds were clipped and cut. Saplings felled. Grass was mowed, while dirt and leaves were raked, revealing grave stones lost to sight for years.
Volunteers and descendants pushed wheelbarrow loads of dirt as they reset stones and filled sunken graves. Gravestones were dug out from underneath layers of dirt.
There’s old ivy surrounding the more than 90 graves at the historic Davis Cemetery near the South Carolina line in the Green River community.
“We asked them to leave the ivy,” said Lisa Beddingfield Hill, one of the property owners. “It’s really pretty and adds character to the cemetery. There’s even an old iron gate that goes to it.”
Hill, her father, Max Beddingfield, and Robert Levi participated in the cleanup. They all have ancestors buried in the cemetery. Levi asked the Sons of Confederate Veterans to add the cemetery to their clean-up list in 2005.
“It needs a ton of work,” Hill said. “We rejoiced when they contacted us. There’s little trees growing inside it and a lot of headstones have fallen over. They have found some buried in the ground.”
The cemetery dates back to the early 1800s, when John Davis and his wife, Serepta Merrett, ran a historic inn and stagecoach stop at their home Oakland, at the bottom of the hill below the cemetery.
“Outside the actual graveyard are more field stones,” Hill said.
The oldest grave stone in the cemetery is that of B.B. Merritt (Merrett) who died in 1847.
Davis, whose monument is the tallest in the cemetery, was born in Virginia in 1780 and served in the War of 1812 under Gen. Andrew Jackson, according to genealogical records, dates on his gravestone and other documentation. Davis attained the rank of master sergeant while serving in the War of 1812.
After the Battle of New Orleans, Davis moved to the frontier of Greenville County, S.C., where he established a trading post and met and married his bride.
Within a few years, the couple traveled up the “Winding Stairs” through the Saluda Gap on the old road and Indian trail (Buncombe Turnpike), which connected Greenville, S.C., with Asheville, to the area of Flat Rock, where they also ran an inn until the early 1820s.
They sold this land and moved down to the area of the Green River community, where they bought about 900 acres of land, built a large, brick home and raised 10 children.
“After he came to Flat Rock and later at his home at Oakland, Davis became an influential man in Western North Carolina and soon people were addressing him as colonel,” storyteller Frank Fitzsimons wrote. “He bore this title the rest of his life.”
In 1839, Davis was appointed to a committee of five to survey and sell building lots in the new county seat, Hendersonville.
Davis died in 1859. His wife died in 1889.
It was near Oakland that the famous Vance-Carson Duel took place. On Nov. 5, 1827, Robert B. Vance, former N.C. congressman, was fatally wounded in a duel by Samuel P. Carson, his successor in Congress. One of the witnesses to the duel was Davy Crockett, the famous frontiersman, member of Congress and casualties at the Alamo.
“A rude type of litter was hurriedly made and Vance was carried down the mountain to Oakland, a short distance away,” Fitzsimons wrote.
It was at Oakland that Vance died.
The famous Baxter-Erwin Duel was also held at the same site.
It was also on the Davis property that former slaves from Mississippi came after the Civil War to begin a new life of freedom. They arrived after Davis’ death and his widow decided she could use their help. In exchange for being allowed to stay on the land, the group helped Serepta Davis.
Before long the former slaves, led by Robert Montgomery, had earned enough money to purchase 180 acres of the Davis land for $1 per acre. This land became known as the Kingdom of the Happy Land.
Children of the Davis couple and siblings of Serepta Merrett married into the Beddingfield, Levi, Morgan and Posey families, among others.
It took quite a bit of effort to scrape the dirt aside that had accumulated on the marker of Capt. John Levi. The dusty shoes and muddy hands were worth the effort. One hundred and thirty-five years after the burial in the historic Davis Family Cemetery in the Green River community, the wording on the marker was clear and legible: “Capt. John Levi, 1798-1873, Mexican-American War.”
Several legends are told by the late storyteller Frank L. Fitzsimons about Levi. Whether or not he actually served in the Mexican-American War is questionable. Author Robert Morgan, a descendant, states his ancestor may not have served in this war. No documentation proves this service, he said.
It is known that John Levi and his wife, Sarah Bailey, bought land near Panther Mountain in the Bob’s Creek section of the Green River community.
Several of their descendants are buried in the cemetery, including at least three Civil War veterans.
Baylus Lafayette (Bales Fate) Levi has a tombstone at the cemetery. An inscription on the stone states that he served in the Civil War, but no regiment is on the tombstone. Family histories indicate that he served in the Civil War. He was born in 1847 and died in 1903. If he was in the service, he was probably in the Junior Reserves given his birth date of 1847. N.C. Troops has no record of him serving in the Junior Reserves. A number of the Junior Reserves were captured and taken to Union prisons before they were assigned a unit. It is possible that he was among them.
(Calvin) Jackson D. Levi enlisted in the 35th N.C. Infantry Regiment, Co. G, Henderson Rifles, in October 1863. He was wounded 5-20-1864 at the Battle of Ware Bottom Church during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, captured 4-1-1865 at the Battle of Five Forks during the Appomattox Campaign, a prisoner at Point Lookout, Md., and released 6-28-1865. He died in 1930.
John Frank Morgan enlisted in the 35th N.C. Infantry Regiment, Co. G, Henderson Rifles, in October 1861. He was reported AWOL in January 1865. There are no further military records. He died in 1919.