Former Slave Cemetery

This newspaper article was published in the Hendersonville Times-News in 2006.

By Jennie Jones Giles
For two years people were searching for a cemetery off McDowell Road in Mills River.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Henderson County Cemetery Advisory Committee walked the woods and fields. Residents called, gave tips and searched as they walked their property.
The cemetery, identified as the John Allen Slave Cemetery in the Henderson County North Carolina Cemeteries book, could not be found until a chance encounter with Richard Hayes of Mills River.
“I was the one who told them (Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society) about it,” Hayes said. “I can take you right to it.”
Alan Moss, the property owner, was contacted and he led a small group to a wooded area in the back corner of his property.
“A neighbor told me about it when I bought the property,” Moss said.
There, nestled in the trees not far from the foundation of a building, were two graves marked with head- and footstones. Neither headstone had markings indicating who was buried there.
The graves were a stone’s throw away from the field where the Sons of Confederate Veterans once held the annual Blue-Grey Heritage weekend.

 Mystery deepens

There were more than two marked graves when Hayes was a child, the 71-year-old said.
“I remember two rows of graves,” he said. “There were probably about 20 of them.”
“When we got the property, that’s all that was left,” Moss said, referring to the two visible gravesites.
Hayes’ uncle, Lawrence, owned the property in the early 1900s.
“My uncle moved most of the stones in the 1940s,” he said. “He heard kids were going to dig into the graves, so he moved the stones.”
A search of the surrounding woods produced no stones that might have been the missing headstones.
It is not clear who was buried at the wooded site.
The people were not the slaves of John Allen, a former property owner, Hayes said.
“He only owned the property for a few years,” he said.
A neighbor told Moss the building foundation near the graves is that of an “old slave church.”
In the late 1800s, McDowell Road was close to the site where the building foundation and graves are located.
“I’ve always heard these graves were the Johnson slaves,” Hayes said. “All this land used to be the Johnson’s.”
In the early 1900s, there was a mill and store not far from the site.
“My uncle had the store,” Hayes said, as he showed photographs of the old mill and store. “There is the mill, the store was on the bank and the dam was behind it. The field across the road was a big pond. It washed out in the 1916 flood. Then they built a mill race. It was just a ditch that brought water from the creek.”
There was a school not far from the site, built in the early 1900s. The school was named Gypsy. The two churches near the site, Mount Gilead Baptist and Fanning Chapel United Methodist, had their own cemeteries.
The graves were there when the Hayes family bought the property and they were there when Allen bought it, Hayes said.
A search of deeds proves that Hayes is correct. If slaves are buried at the site, they did not belong to John Allen.
The Hayes family bought 175 acres of property in 1913 and 1915 from John Allen. Allen bought the property May 17, 1892, from John B. Johnson and wife, Laura A., and N.C. Johnson. In these deeds, there was a church lot excepted from the sale.
Long-time residents and members of the Fanning Chapel United Methodist Church confirm this church lot was the present site of the church. There is no mention in the deeds of graves or another church on the property.
In 1883, Josiah Johnson and wife, N.C. Johnson, sold the 175 acres to John B. Johnson, their son.
On Feb. 7, 1855, the land was conveyed by Francis C. Byers to his second-eldest daughter, Nancy Caroline Johnson of Henderson County. Bordering land was owned by a Ballard, Johnson, Anderson, Bryson and Moore.
Byers only owned the land for a year before selling to his daughter and her husband, Josiah Johnson. Byers bought the property in 1854 from William Praytor. Praytor purchased the property in 1840 from James H. Ballard.

 Slaves or free blacks?

The Civil War ended in 1865. If slaves are buried at the site, they were most likely owned by Johnson, Praytor or Ballard.
But this does not explain the mystery of the building located near the graves. All local historians and church minutes and histories confirm that slaves in Henderson County attended church with their owners. If the owners were Baptist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, the slaves went to the same church and were buried in sections of those cemeteries or on the family property, usually in a section of the family cemetery.
The early Methodists in the county held outdoor camp meetings for many years, with slaves holding their camp meetings nearby. After the Civil War, black Methodists were granted land at or near the meeting site to build a church, as in the case of Shaw’s Creek Campground and Shaw’s Creek AME Zion Church.
If the building was a black church, it was a church built by freed blacks, not slaves.
Long-time black residents contacted cannot remember ever hearing about a black church at this site.
“That does not mean there wasn’t one,” said Johnnie Washington, who has spent the last few years searching for graves of early blacks in the county.
Many of the 19th-century black churches did not have the land recorded and searches for these early churches and graves continue.
Anyone with information on the persons who may be buried at this site or with information on the building on the property can call Jay Jackson, chairman of the Cemetery Advisory Committee at 693-4261, or Toby Linville, code enforcement services director, at 694-6627.