mike reeves

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Ancestral interest in the Reeves and Joneses of Butts and Troup Counties, Georgia respectively. My children are also descendants of the Blackwoods and Fords, lately of Talladega County, Alabama.

Talladega County was formed after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Treaty of Cusseta in 1832. Antebellum planters and Victorian era (1837-1901) farmers often had burial plots on their own land. Pioneer church consecrated ground lay fallow after congregations moved. Compilers of published county cemetery records, Carolyn Lane Luttrell and Joseph W. & Francis S. Upchurch, observed decades ago that gravestones had "...disappeared through erosion of time, vandalism, and bulldozers". Such has been the fate of the Salem Baptist Church, Fort Williams, Oden Family, Nix Family, Townsend-McClellan, Williamson-Hall, and Brown-Freeman burial sites. As said of the Marble Springs Church cemetery by Grace Jemison in "Historic Tales of Talladega": "There are now only a few people who have so much as a memory of the once sacred spot".

The Alabama Maintenance of Abandoned Cemeteries Act (2007-408) allows access to grave sites by family and researchers who provide reasonable notice to property owners. The Alabama Monument Act (2017-60) prohibits removal of monuments emplaced for forty or more years, but only if on public land. State criminal law stipulates it is a misdemeanor to deface or remove a gravestone.

Early headstones of marble may bear a quarry name such as Herd Brothers and/or Richard Miller, the first quarriers in the county. In 1845 Dr. Edward Gantt purchased the Sylacauga quarry subsequently named after him from John Herd. A 4' by 2' block of marble, marked "J. M. N. B. Nix & Co., Wetumpka, Ala.", was placed in the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. in 1851. Nix's Quarry, "Mariesville Marble Quarry" , was a mile east of Sycamore on Old Sycamore Road. An "A. Herd & Bros." invoice from 1855 reflects the cost of a 6 1/2' by 3' marble slab to have been $35, with clasped hands sculpted for $5 and letters cut at 5 cents apiece, for a total cost of $56.10 due within a year. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp recounted the annual wage of textile workers in the South during 1860 to have only been $145. After the death of the eldest Herd brother, George, in 1855 their business in Winterboro went to "H. P. Oden & Co.". Captain H. P. Oden died at Vicksburg in 1863. Quarry marks during Reconstruction were few, some "J. A. Bergin, Talladega, Ala." and "J. T. Nix & Co., Hopkinsville, Ky."

African-American headstones from the Victorian era are rarely encountered, less than a dozen at the oldest public cemeteries, Oakhill and Westview, in the city of Talladega. Vermont marble headstones were provided from 1914 thru 1931 to members of the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA), a black fraternal organization with members in half the states of the nation. Many of these MTA members, formed in local "Chambers", had endured slavery and witnessed emancipation. Chamber stones had rounded, forward sloping handsbreadth tops with "M", "T", "A", and "3V's" encircled within crossed shepherd staffs in relief upon their upper face. Shepherd staffs symbolized the Exodus out of bondage led by Moses and Aaron, and the "3V's" stood for "Veni, Vedi, Veci"; I Came, I Saw, I Conquered.

Those insured from 1890 thru 1930 by the Woodmen of the World (WOW) Life Insurance Society received marble tree stump markers approximately 4'-5' in height. Initially free to WOW policy holders, by 1900 a $100 rider was required to cover their expense. These sculpted stones were discontinued during the Great Depression due to their cost. The monuments are also seen with sawn and stacked logs. The WOW logo, ivy, and axes were carved onto the stone trees. Scrolls with names are often depicted, hung on ropes or attached to the trees, and "Dum Tacet Clamet"; Though Silent, He Speaks.

Sandstone from local quarries, such as at S. M. Jemison's farm on Kelly Creek, was commercially used for headstones and obelisks from 1840 until about 1915. Sunnyside Cemetery and the old sections of Oak Hill and Bethlehem Methodist Church cemeteries have family plots composed primarily of period sandstone markers. The Wilson Family Cemetery and Sunnyside (Jemison) Cemetery are walled 'gardens of stone', enclosed within large sandstone block walls, with "1862" chiseled onto an entrance pillar of the latter. Fieldstone and flagstone markers, some with etched names, are in rural and urban plots. Cast zinc and iron markers were used in the late Victorian era. Cement slabs and stones have been in use since the 1890's, which when whitewashed provided an ersatz marble.

Cenotaphs are memorials in honor of deceased who lie elsewhere, such as the seventy-five Veterans Affairs (VA) stones at Ft. Williams Military Memorial Park. The April-May 1926 edition of "Arrow Points" noted the chartering of the Fort Williams Memorial Association "... to do honor to the Tennesseans long buried at old Ft. Williams on the Coosa". That was a dozen years after the construction of Lay Dam downriver of the fort and its "burial pits arranged in rows." Also buried at the fort were Creek Indian allies who fought alongside the Tennesseans. An inscribed marble boulder and VA headstones for eighty soldiers were placed at the site during 1932-1937. In 1976 it was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks. Nevertheless, in 2006 land developers said the cemetery was in fact devoid of any graves and "an eyesore". Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) scans and trenching failed to disclose bones beneath the stones, which were then moved to allow for construction of lakehouses with docks on Lay Lake.

Skeletal remains of soldiers do actually lie beneath the "Battle of Talladega" ('Jackson Pyramid') monument at Oak Hill Cemetery. Half the remains of almost a score of Tennessee volunteers slain were recovered from their burial pit at the Fort Lashley site by the Andrew Jackson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and reinterred there in 1900. Sixty-four "Unknown Confederate Soldier" VA stones placed at Oak Hill in 1932 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) also mark the burial places of soldiers, although they weren't unknown at the time of their deaths. Soldiers who died in the local hospital or conscript camp were buried with wooden markers identifying them, but the grave markers deteriorated in time until those beneath were "Known but to God".

An in-the-ground interment, marked or otherwise, is no longer the cultural norm in our society. Data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reflects the cremation rate rose from 3.5% to 50% during the past half-century, with one-fourth of Alabamians in 2016 having elected 'ashes to ashes'.


Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.

Sonnet 55
Wm. Shakespeare (1564-1616)


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