Georgetown Co. reinters ancestral remains of slaves from Hagley Plantation

.(Live 5)
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 11:20 AM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Georgetown County officials and partners throughout the community will host a ceremony to reinter the remains of enslaved African-Americans who were once burried at Hagley Plantation.

The ceremony will start at 3 p.m. Sunday and county officials say it will take place at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Church cemetery in Litchfield. The ceremony will be open to anyone who would like to pay their respects.

Organizers of the ceremony say the remains of these African-American individuals have been linked as ancestors of the county’s Gullah-Geechee community.

“The names of these individuals and the full stories of their lives are unknown. But they are not forgotten,” Georgetown County Administrator Angela Christian said. “It’s time to lay them to rest again, with all the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The remains are believed to have originally been laid to rest at the cemetery at St. Mary’s Chapel, which once stood on the grounds of Hagley Plantation. County officials say the chapel was constructed for the African-Americans enslaved there.

The original graves were unearthed during residential construction in 2006 and, as a result, officials say they were unfortunately commingled. At that point, they were turned over to the Georgetown County Coroner’s Office.

Officials say that the coroner at the time was Kenny Johnson and he requested assistance from Forensic Anthropologist and Richland County Deputy Coroner Dr. William Stevens in analyzing the remains.

The county says Stevens then transported the remains to the University of South Carolina’s Biological Anthropology Laboratory in early 2007 and the university proceeded to conduct extensive research to determine their origin.

Georgetown County officials say that it was previously believed that all individuals buried at St. Mary’s had been previously relocated. They say the funeral home contracted for that duty had been long closed and the funeral director had passed away, so further information on the relocation was unavailable.

However, by studying the location of the remains, as well as the age and genetic information obtained from them, the county says Stevens concluded that they had originated at St. Mary’s and belonged to African-Americans who were enslaved at Hagley prior to the Civil War. As part of his research, the county says Stevens also contacted descendants of the individuals after genetic analysis was complete.

Stevens will be present at the ceremony and county officials say he will speak briefly on the findings of his extensive research.

According to the research he presented to the Georgetown County Coroner’s Office, the cemetery where the remains were originally located was bulldozed by unknown parties in the 1970s. County officials say it was located about 400 feet southeast of Hagley Landing on the Waccamaw River.

St. Mary’s Chapel was one of 13 chapels constructed in the area for use by enslaved people and county officials say that research noted the chapel had an “unusually pleasing design and furnishings.”

The county says Stevens’ report included that “the ceiling and pews were of cypress, with stained glass windows and Gothic arches adding to the dignity of this chapel high above the Waccamaw River.” St. Mary’s fell into disuse in the early years of the 20th century and the county says it burned in July of 1931.

The church was believed to have been constructed in 1859 by an enslaved man named Renty Tucker, but it is likely the cemetery dates back farther, according to Stevens. Study of the remains indicated they likely belonged to enslaved people forced to work the rice fields. They would have “endured great hardship [including] heavy disease burden, poor nutrition and inhumane conditions of forced labor.”

After the hardships of slavery and struggles these individuals endured throughout their lives on Hagley Plantation, Georgetown County officials say it is time to lay them to rest a final time and honor them as ancestors of our area’s Gullah-Geechee descendants.

CDC guidelines suggest masks are optional for fully vaccinated people at this event.

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