The Clinton City Cemetery
Bradley Lee West
--- FORWARD ---
William and I started writing on the Clinton Cemetery in January 1, 1995 through April 17, 1995. It took awhile doing it on Sundays. When it was finished we began working
on Southern Sampson Cemeteries, Sections I and 2 in our first volume and published it. We put the Clinton Cemetery on the back burner until now. As I looked over our
work it needed fine tuning. I went back in February of 1997 and mapped out the cemetery. This was done so one could locate the deceased easier as one is listed in an
area and section of the cemetery. While I was typing I was also relocating graves so I could keep them up to date. I had completed typing and relocating the
graves by June 30,1997.
As I began relocating the graves, I noticed that some older grave stones are broken, and laid flat on the ground where over time dirt and grass has covered it.
For instance, if a researcher is looking for a particular grave, and is listed as being next to another grave or even between two graves, and cannot be located.
Then search for it because I had to several times. You may even have to probe the ground a little. In years to come these along with others will be grown over too.
I suspect that there are many other grave stones are covered and are lost. Another thing about this cemetery is that its not as old as it looks when observing tombstones.
Several family plots in and near the City of Clinton were moved here. You can find these in Section 3 of this cemetery. This can be explained in the article by
Mr. J.C. Hubbard which is edited by Mr. Oscar Bizzell and is printed on the next six page of this introduction to the Clinton City Cemetery. This has just been
printed out in the Huckleberry Historian, in the June 1997 edition Volume XIX, Number 2.
Several areas in Section 3 have unknown graves, imprints of graves gone by, and fresh graves where grass has not grown over it, and with no names to them.
A few have wooden markers and there are a few with just a civil war marker. There is another area where a large open space with only a female buried there. Surely there
must be others in that section. Who are in all these graves may never be known except by past family members or someone else who has kept up with who is
buried in this cemetery. But it would be nice if everyone was accounted for.
--- BACKGROUND INFORMATION ---
Written by J.C. Hubbard (1874-1956) Edited by Oscar M. Bizzell (1921- 2003)
I remember the Clinton Cemetery back to where I knew the location of almost every grave, and who was buried therein. I knew most of these people personally.
The cemetery was not bought and paid for by the town of Clinton and not incorporated in the town. The land was bought by the old citizens of that day who subscribed the money, and had a cemetery laid off and fenced. They had no cemetery before that, but buried their dead in private burial plots or graveyards.
The Town of Clinton was surveyed, laid off and mapped for reincorporating on 8 January 1852. A copy appears on page VII of this introduction to the Clinton Cemetery book. The surveyor was David Bizzell, great grandfather of Oscar Bizzell.
In 1852, Main Street was laid off to run east and west. The Clinton Cemetery lay beyond the town lot owned by C.T. Stevens, and across Dollar Branch. Clinton Courthouse, post office and village earlier was authorized by the N.C. General Assembly to be laid off as a town in 1818. Apparently, the Act transferred very limited authority to the new Town. See details in "Sampson County Heritage", page 22. This led to a stronger reincorporating in 1852.
After the Clinton Cemetery was laid off and fenced, they had no organization to sell lots or look after them. The ones who subscribed the money, by mutual agreement, turned it over to the town of Clinton authorities to look after and to sell lots, keep up the fences, hearse houses, and other necessary work.
When they had a little money to spare, they used it to clean the cemetery streets of grass, weeds and bushes. The selling of lots, collecting of money and care of it was in the hands of the mayor, whoever he might be, during his term of office.
Before the cemetery was laid off, most families had a private burial lot somewhere some right in Clinton, on Sampson street and all around the old Methodist Church was quite a large burying ground. The grave stones were all standing when I was a boy. I attended the old Union Sunday school in the Methodist Church, which at, that time was the only Sunday school in Clinton, except Episcopal. I don't remember the names on the stones in the Methodist Church yard except the "Robinsons", and there were a number of them buried there. In later years they were moved to the Clinton Cemetery. Directly across Sampson Street from the church was a thicket of trees, bushes, briars and grape vines that covered a full half block in size-so thick a rabbit or snake couldn't go through it without carefully picking his way. This land covered by the thicket was the private burying plot of the McKoy family. There was quite a lot of grass on it and stones, and all the monuments were standing, on bright days when we thought the McKoy ghosts were quiet, we boys wandered into it. The McKoy were all later moved to the Clinton Cemetery.
In a grove of large oak trees in the McKoy field where the T.F. Sanders house stands on Johnson Street was a graveyard of at least one-quarter acre, with quite a number of stones standing. This was the McKoy graveyard for their colored help and slaves.
Around Clinton, on the plantations were lots of private burial plots, on the Williams place, now the property of Henry Vann, across the branch in front of the house is the Williams burial plot. None of these have ever been moved. When Mrs. Williams (nee Patterson) died in recent years, Edgar Williams had his mother buried there.
The Bunting family were all buried on the Bunting plantation, now the Well farm in the Bunting plot. The Buntings were moved to the Clinton Cemetery.
On the back end of the Roscoe Bizzell farm adjoining the Henry Lewis farm was a private burial ground. There Gov. Gabriel Holmes was buried in a bricked up mausoleum in this burial plot, which is a little north of the old Bizzell mill stream and the site of the old Bizzell mill, back of the original home built by James Bizzell.
In the side-yard of the Jim Pugh place was the burial plot of the Pughs. The house is still occupied, and in 1995 efforts were made to recover the large grave stone now under water in the farm pond.
On Mrs. James K. Morisey’s farm, near Clinton, is an old burial plot. I don't know the original owner, but in my day the property became that of Capt. Abner Robinson. At least two of his sons were buried there about 1895, as I went to their funerals. The Morisey family of old settlers were all buried in Turkey Township on their own and the Kenan family plots. They later were all moved to the Clinton Cemeteiy.
The Faison's also were buried in their own family plot, and quite a showpiace of a cemetery on the Livingston farm at Elliott. A few of these were moved to the W.L. Faison lot in the Clinton Cemetery by Mrs. Florence Faison Butler.
One other private burial plot that has a little history connected with it is located near Clinton on the Tew farm, formerly the Pridgen farm. William Pridgen owned and lived on the farm. He died and his wife married Lewis Tew. A little daughter of the Pridgens died at about age 12 and was buried in this Pridqen plot. some years afterward the location of the burial plot was changed and the bodies moved to a new site. on exhuming the body of the little girl, the casket and box was so heavy they had to rig up a hoist to move it out of the grave. On churning, they found the body was petrified and now solid stone, and as perfect as in life in features and form. Many said if they were Mrs. Pridgen, they would not put the child in the ground again.
If you were to judge by the dates on some of the stones in the Clinton Cemetery, you would get the impression it was older than it is. This is due to so many old stones being taken from private burial plots and moved there, one of the first persons buried in the Clinton Cemetery was Cornelia M, wife of Dr. W.G. Micks. She died 25 June 1857.
The next person buried in the Clinton cemetery was a little daughter of Robert and Mary Moeeley "Arnta-Georgie", who died 21 Aug 1857.
When the cemetery was first laid off and fenced, the road going up the hill did not go straight to the front entrance as now, and then turn to the left around the comer. Instead, the county road curved to the left just after crossing Dollar Branch, and went up the hill through a group of pines and straight out between the cemetery and the fairground at the corner of the cemetery.
The cemetery once had a board fence around the front, the side of the road next to the fairground, and the south end at the back. on the aide next to Dollar Branch was a high rail fence. Cattle and hogs ran loose at that time and had to be fenced out. Hogs will root into a fresh grave and consume the contents.
The entrance of the cemetery was where it is now between the brick entrance columns erected in later years by Mrs. Florence Faison Butler, I believe, as a memorial to her husband Marion Butler and his father Wiley Butler.
At the entrance to the cemetery was a large double-drive gate at the left as you go in, for hearse, carriages, etc., and at the right joining the double entrance was a single walk-gate, swung on hinges with a chain and weight to close it, the weight was a large, heavy old cannon ball. The double-drive gate was kept locked. In the corner of the cemetery, at Spivey Street and the road between the cemetery and the fairground, was the hearse house where the hearse was kept, with double doors opening into the road.
Outside the cemetery, at the right as you entered, was a driveway to the back, and a strip left between the driveway and the fence. This was the Potters Field where those were buried who couldn't buy a lot, or a stranger who died with no friends or folks. I remember one stranger, named Lewis, a big heavy-set man, a friendly sort of old fellow who tuned pianos. He wandered into Clinton some years before the railroad was built, and hung around town for one summer. He went into old Smith's barber shop (a colored barber), complained of feeling bad, and died in a few minutes. He was given a decent funeral and burial by voluntary subscriptions and buried in Potters Row in the cemetery.
Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 98 also had a lot in the cemetery in which deceased members could be buried when the family was not able to buy a lot.
When the Clinton Mayor sold a lot, there was no deed given as there was no one to give it because it didn't belong to the town, but was just a community or big family necessity, owned by friends and neighbors. Finally the town had the cemetery surveyed and laid off in lots and the lots all numbered. They had a cemetery book, a cloth bound ledger with all lots numbered, and when a party bought a lot he selected a lot number and his name was written in the book. He paid for it and from then, henceforth and forever, it was to be his and his bars', "a sacred spot" not to be molested or encroached upon by anyone.
In later years, however, the town or the mayors of the town, have ignored the rightful, legal and sacred ownership of cemetery lot owners, and where a family owned a lot and all have died or moved away and had no relative here to look after their interests, the town or mayors have unlawfully and willfully sold offparts of lots of families that were the first and original owners. They violated every vestige of decency and honesty. There are dozens of cases of this kind in the Clinton cemetery and it would appear that the town is courting a lawsuit over this.
The cloth bound ledger is a most valuable book to every lot owner in the Clinton Cemetery, soon after Mr. Fred Purvis died around 1926, I called for this book to locate the owner of a particular lot. The city clerk advised me that the book had disappeared and couldn't be found, when Mr. Purvis was living, he knew more about the cemetery and the lots than anyone else. When a person died, and they didn’t know where their lot was, Mr. Purvis attended to the matter and located their lot for them. I tried in every way to locate the book. Finally I decided to inquire at Mr. Purvis house, so asked his wife about it. She made a search, found it, and gave it to me, so I was able to find the David G. Morisey lot.
With Mrs. Purvis' approval, I carried the ledger to N.H. Larkins, city clerk, told him I had found it and told him it was a most valuable book and should be carefully preserved. He took it and put it in the vault in the Register of Deeds office in the courthouse for safe keeping. I saw him on 20 June 1955 in the Clinton Post Office and we talked about the book. He was going to check to see if it was still in the vault, but never called to say that it was.
I don't know who owned the land to the right of, the old original road up to the cemetery fence, and to A. F. Johnson's field fence. It may have been a part of the original land purchased for the cemetery, when they laid out and fenced the cemetery, due to the shape of it and its proximity to the public road, and as Negroes had no cemetery, they allowed them to bury their dead on it.
At that time hogs and cattle ran at large and they had to build a fence around the cemetery to keep them out. The Negroes buried their dead out in front where there was no fence. So they built a rail pen 4 to 5 feet high around the grave and covered it on top with rails. I believe these pens were never taken down until they rotted and fell down. I remember the place when there were many such raves that had no pens, and others where the rail pens were still standing, and some with new rails as if just built. I know of one Negro that was buried there, due to the circumstances of his death. Two Negro men, John Boon and John Young, had a fight on the Wilmington Road beyond where the railroad crosses Lisbon Street in front of a house that was in later years occupied by Marsden Peterson. There was a bridge across a ditch in front of the house and the fight was on this bridge. John Boon shot John Young and killed him. Clinton was just a village at that time and the killing was on everyone's tongue. A few weeks later, going to walk with my father, we went over to the cemetery, out in front of the cemetery was a new rail pen around a fresh grave. My father said that John Young, who John Boon shot, was buried there.
The back cemetery fence running parallel with Dollar Branch was made of rails. These were about 50 to 60 feet from the run of the branch. Between the fence and run of the branch were a lot of unmarked graves, that had no rail pens around them. They were evidently very shallow graves and those buried in them were buried with boots and clothes on them just as they fell in a trench in the ground, with no coffin or box. These were the graves of bums, scalawags and rogues who had followed after Sherman's army. They robbed, stole and destroyed at will, and this was happening all over the county. This is what Yankee General Sherman refereed to as "War is Hell". It was hell, but certainly not war.
After Gen. Lee's surrender, the southerners came dragging in home to find their families and friends in poverty, houses burned, stock gone and women and children destitute, so the surviving soldiers formed an organization called the Clinton Scouts. Most had been soldiers. They scouted around the countryside looking for the bands of marauders. Moreover the people in the county would ride to Clinton and report to the scout where the marauders could be found.
After capture, the marauders were marched into Clinton to face justice. Richard Clinton Holmes, a County magistrate with questionable authority, immediately rang the courthouse bell and convened court. The scouts were asked to report where they caught the thieves. Then Magistrate Holmes pronounced them "All Guilty. It is the order of this court that they be executed at once." Holmes would turn to the head scout and say "Mr. Officer, take charge of the prisoners and do your duty". To the cemetery they marched and in a few minutes there would be a volley of shots heard from cemetery hill. Presently the squad of scout marched back into town with the members singing "Let us hang Abe Lincoln from a sour apple tree" The scout disbanded at the courthouse and went back to their regular jobs.
When a boy, I helped old Henry Bennett haul straw in an ox cart from behind the cemetery to my father's stables. My brother and I helped rake the straw and often found human bones. The hogs evidently had rooted into the shallow graves.
Another place for trial and execution was Draughon's Mill in the northwest part of Sampson County. After trial and conviction, the thieves were stood on the dam with their backs to the pond. After shooting, they fell backward into the water and helped feed the fish. Mr. Hubbard said that every time he goes to the Clinton cemetery, he visits the grave of Magistrate R.C. Holmes, takes off his hat and salutes "Old Man Dick".
This article came from "The Huckleberry Historian" Volume XIX, Number 2 printed June 15, 1997. "The Huckleberry Historian" is a publication of the Sampson County Historical Society, the editor of this news letter is Oscar Bizzell who edited this article that was written by J.C. Hubbard (1874-1956).
Last revised 18 February 2010