A Cemetery Divided: The Story of the Abram Maury and More Slave Cemeteries

Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.Sir William Gladstone

In 2022, development of a neighborhood off Del Rio Pike in Franklin, Tennessee threatened the unmarked graves of several enslaved persons who were buried there. Workers discovered these graves while expanding a pipeline in November of 2002. Seven burials were exhumed and included in a report created by archaeologists, but at least thirteen more burials remain. 

The Discovery

Beside a quiet country farm road, the burial of an eight-year-old child was discovered by workers using a backhoe to expand a waterline. Interred within a taper-toed wooden casket, the skeleton of the child was remarkably well-preserved. Authorities were called, as the discovery was initially treated as a crime scene. 

Del Rio Pike, the sleepy farm road where the grave was unearthed, was blocked off to maintain discretion while authorities worked to determine why a child was buried beside the road in an unmarked grave. 

Unbeknownst to occupants of nearby homes and farms, and with a tent sheltering the site, the local medical examiner and state archaeologist conducted their investigations, using lamps to guide their research. One can only imagine the eerie scene as temperatures fell on that cold November night. 

The small child initially discovered was exhumed that night. Eventually six more burials would be exhumed, four more children and two women. Archaeologists determined the group of burials to be a cemetery, giving it the name More Cemetery. 

At least twenty burials in total were eventually recorded by archaeologists, leaving thirteen graves escaping exhumation. At least thirteen burials still lie under and on either side of Del Rio Pike. No further investigation has been completed to determine the size of the cemetery or how many are buried within. 

Waterline work never stopped. The holes left after exhumation of each of the seven burials were filled in with dirt. The crew working on the pipeline just moved the pipeline over a few feet to one side. 

Archaeologists completed a report on More Cemetery, which to date remains the only evidence of its existence. The seven burials that were exhumed were taken to a laboratory for examination. They were determined to be pre-1840 African-American enslaved individuals. The skeletons of these enslaved individuals revealed malnourishment and of a life of daily hard labor; even the children. After examination, the seven skeletons were stored, but eventually were lost. 

More Cemetery was the name given by archaeologists to identify the twenty burials found. However, they were actually a part of another cemetery, only a few feet away. The Maury Slave Cemetery is located just a few feet south of More Cemetery, but it is within a neighborhood, and is thus protected by a fence and a heavily forested berm. The Maury Slave Cemetery was documented in 1986, set aside by developers planning the neighborhood. Somehow, whether during the construction of the neighborhood or Del Rio Pike, the other More burials were cut off from the cemetery within the neighborhood. In effect, Maury Slave Cemetery was divided. Years would go by without anyone realizing that a portion of the Maury Slave Cemetery was located within the easement on either side and underneath Del Rio Pike. 

At least thirteen burials still remain where the original unearthing of the child occurred in 2002. 

Back to the Beginning 

The Maury Slave Cemetery is located within the Founders Pointe neighborhood. It’s easy to see why no correlation between the newly found burials and the cemetery within the neighborhood was made, as a heavy thicketed berm and barbed wire fence separate the back of the Maury Slave Cemetery from the area where the burials were found. The elevation of the Maury Slave Cemetery is quite a bit higher than Del Rio Pike, and seeing or walking through the thicketed divider would be impossible without equipment and time to remove the heavy brush and fence.

Until recent years, Del Rio Pike has been a quiet road, and the entrances to Founders Pointe are on the opposite side of the neighborhood, far away from Del Rio Pike.

Another factor that most likely added to the confusion over the division of the cemetery would be that residents of the Founders Pointe neighborhood were never informed of the Maury Slave Cemetery being set aside within the neighborhood at all. Remaining an empty lot for ten years after residents bought the first homes in the community, the Maury Slave Cemetery finally received a marker and a memorial service given by neighbors in 2006. The cemetery would have remained an unexplained empty lot if residents of the neighborhood had not asked local historians to find out about the empty lot at 504 Antebellum Lane in Franklin.

The Abram Maury Plantation

Abram Maury | Franklin TN Founder | Lovely Franklin TN

The Maury Slave Cemetery within the Founders Pointe neighborhood was previously part of the Abram Maury Plantation. 

Abram Maury brought his wife Martha and their extended family to Tennessee before it was a state, sometime around 1796. Abram and Martha Maury raised their family of nine children, seven of which grew to become adults, on the property that is now the Founders Pointe neighborhood. Generations of their family continued to live at “Treelawn”, as their property was known, for over 150 years.

Abram Maury’s grandfather James Maury ran a school in Virginia and taught three future presidents of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe were all students of his and shared lifelong admiration for Maury. Abram Maury was a personal friend of future President Andrew Jackson, and letters between the two men showed Maury to be one of Jackson’s most ardent supporters, even suggesting to Jackson the idea that he should consider the presidency. Jackson’s closest confidante, Major John Reid, married Abram Maury’s oldest daughter Betsy.

Matthew Maury, Abrams’ cousin who was mostly brought up at Treelawn, is considered by many to be the father of modern oceanography. Unfortunately his support for the confederacy overshadowed his accomplishments. 

Abram Maury | History Franklin Founder 1799

Our city of Franklin was, at one time, part of Abram Maury’s land. He mapped and laid out the town of Franklin and is widely known as its founder. My husband Rob and I were thrilled to be able to purchase a home in this gorgeous subdivision. Our home is directly across the street from the impeccably maintained Abram Maury Family Cemetery. Multiple generations of the Franklin Maury family are buried there.

As an avid student of history, I began studying all about the Maury, Reid, and Harris family members buried there. Each of them experienced lives only read about in books. The Maurys were pioneers, innovators, city planners and legislators. Their connections to our Founding Fathers and their bravery in military service, exploration, and academia was exemplary. One family member was Edgar Allen Poe’s West Point roommate, and another served as the youngest Secretary of War in US history.

Abram Maury | Franklin TN Founder | Lovely Franklin TN

The town of Franklin has a storied past, having suffered through Federal occupation during most of the civil war; a battle that was so horrendous, the townspeople did all they could to forget it; and a difficult reconstruction. The bloodiest battle of the civil war, the Battle of Franklin was fought near what is now the downtown area, with many homes and other buildings greatly affected and later utilized as field hospitals.

There were 10,000 casualties lying on the Franklin battlefield at the battle’s conclusion, and the burial and care of the dead from both sides became the paramount concern of residents. Witnesses described the aftermath as “the night when the devil took full possession of the earth.” More than one survivor of the battle described the streets of Franklin filled with a stream of blood afterwards.

However, the town recovered; thrived, even. A population boom started in the early nineties, and Franklin experienced another one more recently. The growth of Franklin has most likely surpassed anything Abram and Martha Maury could have ever imagined.  Read our story on Abram Maury here.

Natural Grave Markers 

When they were building homes in Franklin back in 1996, developers set aside the land where the cemetery for the enslaved is located, based on documentation in the Williamson County archives. At one time, a huge wild cherry tree grew in the center of the burials, serving as a sort of marker. Years ago, that tree was taken down by lightning. Of note are stones which still remain that may have served as markers for the enslaved persons buried there.

Also of note is the existence of periwinkle growing in a shaded area under large bushes which served as a sort of buffer to nearby homes. Periwinkle is known to have been used by African-Americans to identify where their loved ones were buried. That periwinkle gives a voice to those who are buried within the Maury Slave Cemetery.

Sitting alongside the road, just north of the fenced in Maury Slave Cemetery, where the thirteen burials likely remain, a huge plant resembling a yucca sits. The plant is called a Great Mullein, and was in fact a part of many gardens kept by the enslaved. Great Mullein was used in a tea or poultice as an anti-inflammatory and helped greatly with respiratory illness. 

George Washington Carver described Great Mullein, 

“I wish to say mullein is one of the oldest of our medicinal plants and is a noted remedy for all kinds of coughs and colds, rheumatic troubles, stopping of blood, asthmatic affections, and all manner of things that human ills are heir to. It is of unusual value along that line, one of the best known of household remedies. The flowers are especially valuable in aggravated cases of earaches.”

That Great Mullein stood out to me immediately when I visited the area where the thirteen burials remain.

The Maury Slave Cemetery

Maury Slave cemetery sits serenely nestled between houses within the picturesque landscape of our quiet little neighborhood here in Franklin, Tennessee. Behind the cemetery is Del Rio Pike, formerly a quiet farm road lined with fences and plantations, hay and cotton fields, horses, and cows. Aerial photos taken of the area show that the location of Del Rio Pike changed slightly over time, as did the name of the road. 

The only indication that there was a cemetery for the enslaved within this neighborhood was a notation made by historian Lula Fain Major in the Burial Book, kept in the archives of Williamson County, Tennessee. Former property owner W.L. Reese had taken Lula Fain Major to the site of the cemetery and told her that when his father purchased the farm around 1900, he was approached by a black man with the last name Maury. This man took Mr. Reese’s father to the cemetery, pointed out its perimeters, and asked Mr. Reese not to plow over it. This former resident went on to describe how he had two wives and twenty-three children buried within the cemetery, all having died of typhoid years prior.

In the early nineties, developers building what would become the Founders Pointe Community set aside the land outlined within this Burial Book. As far as can be ascertained, no other survey exists or has been completed to indicate how many burials exist or their perimeters within the cemetery.

Matilda’s Escape

One day, while reading an old newspaper, I found an ad placed by Abram’s son, A.P. Maury. The Maurys had not only been enslavers, but had even placed an ad looking for one of those they enslaved after she escaped.

In my research, I found the will of Abram Maury’s granddaughter Elizabeth, who died at 21 years old. Her will named each enslaved person and ordered they be divided between five family members. Because the Maury family came to Tennessee around 1800, they enslaved individuals for sixty-one years. Abram Maury passed away in 1825, and for the next thirty-six years, members of his family enslaved individuals inherited from Abram, and attained more as time went on. In 1860 the Abram Maury plantation had nine slave houses on the property, with the enslaved held by many different family members.

The catalyst for me writing to the state archaeologist for more information was the start of new road work adjacent to Founders Pointe. This road work was close to the burials that were left after the 2002 discovery, and I wanted to ensure they were not disturbed. I grew more concerned and began to notify county and city officials.

The Maury and More Cemeteries were determined by archaeologists to most likely be the same cemetery, separated by neighborhood boundaries and Del Rio Pike.

Advocating for the More Cemetery Gravesites

On April 25th, 2023, I learned that a water line on Del Rio Pike will again be expanded, necessitating the digging up of that same water line where the burials were first discovered twenty years ago. A bridge adjacent to the burials will also be demolished and reconstructed.

Existence of at least thirteen burials is part of the “More Cemetery” report completed by the Tennessee Department of Archaeology in 2002. There may be many more burials in the area. I contacted the Founders Pointe Homeowners Association, City Alderman, City Administrators for the City of Franklin, Water Department, Street Department, and even the Mayor for help in advocating for the preservation of these gravesites.

One engineer set an appointment to meet me at the Maury Slave Cemetery so I could show him where the burials were discovered in 2002 and their proximity to the existing marked burials in the Founders Pointe subdivision. I invited representatives from local preservation and historic organizations to join us. 

On May 10th, 2023, our meeting took place. I wasn’t prepared for the large gathering of neighbors and advocates that showed up at the Maury Slave Cemetery. My husband set up a table and my daughter set up the storyboards I’d made. NewsChannel 5 came and did this story.

The May 10th meeting was a productive one on so many levels, with many great strides made as a result. The city official did give me a commitment that no work would be done where the lost burials are located, unless I were notified in advance. He even offered to have the engineer creating plans for a nearby bridge replacement send me the plans so that I would know the work would not disturb the burials. 

After the meeting, the Williamson County Historical Society offered to place a larger marker at the existing cemetery within our neighborhood. Many neighbors, community advocates, and friends stepped forward to offer their assistance and encouragement. Even the city of Franklin Mayor Ken Moore set aside time to speak with me in his downtown office. I left that meeting knowing that he was not only an excellent advocate, but also a friend to me and this important cause.  Watch my NewsChannel 5 Interview here.

Next Steps 

It’s undoubtedly an oversight that the More cemetery graves became a part of the landscape, lying under Del Rio Pike and within the easement and hay field across the street. Recent ground-penetrating radar by the Tennessee Department of Transportation noted three burials. I suspect that because of the many generations of enslaved individuals that resided on the Maury plantation as well as the neighboring Davis plantation, many more burials exist. 

My goals moving forward are:

  • To document the rest of the Maury and neighboring plantations’ entire sixty-year history of enslaving individuals.  
  • To identify a property owner of the land connected to the easement area where there may be more enslaved individuals buried. This area was where the neighboring plantation stood previously. 
  • To obtain permission from the landowner and city to do a ground penetrating radar, as well as a LiDAR. LiDAR uses light and aerial photography together to identify depressions and is very useful in finding lost gravesites. Getting both surveys done would undoubtedly give us more information as to the cemetery’s perimeter and number of burials. 
  • To see that any burials within the city-owned easements or under Del Rio Pike are eventually moved out of the way, so they are out of danger. 
  • To raise money for a fence and a marker placed for these enslaved persons. 

Words cannot express the sadness I feel for those that have not only struggled and were so mistreated in their lives as an enslaved person. It’s even more of an atrocity when one contemplates the abuse they suffered in their life, combined with the abuse they’ve suffered after their death in the desecration of their burial sites. It’s almost as if these enslaved persons were twice enslaved.

I will continue to advocate and seek support from anyone who is willing to help protect these burials and accomplish the goals set forth above. Proposals to city and county government need to be written and presented to our local authorities for the protection of all cemeteries. 

Watch the entire documentary here:

https://www.pbs.org/video/last-rites-saving-tennessees-black-cemeteries-iewueo

Sharing the forgotten stories of the women of historic Franklin,

Kimberly Clutsam

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