Reprinted by permission Quincy Whig-Herald
Article published November 18, 2001
Submitted by David L. Bush
Several people are working to restore cemeteries and stones
By Ron Brown, WGEM News Reporter.
Hannibal, Missouri: Benjamin Franklin once said: “Show me your cemeteries and I’ll tell you what kind of people you have.” He was talking about white cemeteries. In Franklin’s time and until slavery was finally abolished in 1865, blacks were not buried in the worst public cemetery Franklin ever saw. Slaves buried their own in meager patches of ground during night-time torch-lit ceremonies after the workday was done. The graves were crudely marked with wooden slabs, sticks or rocks, if they were marked at all. Consider the lack of slave graves in Marion County. From the early to mid-1800s thousands lived in and around Marion County – thousands of black domestic servants and field hands, thousands of black men, black women and black chidren who were bought and sold at the Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra. But no one can say for sure where these thousands of slaves lie buried. Because they were slaves no one knows. Only one slave cemetery is known to exist in this area, on a small plot of ground now wooded over on a former farm by U. S. 61 near Hannibal. In a tiny one-acre plot behind the main house a dozen crudely marked graves are visible in a cluster. Plain rocks jutting out inches from the earth now identify where the one-time slaves lie buried. Under brush and trees obscure up to two dozen more. “The significance of the cemetery is – there are 40 slaves buried out here according to family tradition, said Terrell Dempsey, a Hannibal historian.” “Of course, slave graves generally are not marked. Slaves couldn’t read or write. Slaves were just property.” “But the slaves in the cemetery identified the graves themselves by putting simple pieces of stone in the ground. Just by coming out here and raking the leaves away, I’ve located 11 of the stones” “I think they’re a very eloquent statement because, they obviously wanted to be remembered.” The slaves belonged to JOHN BUSH an early Hannibal pioneer who arrived in 1816. The property, along with the graveyard remains in the family, owned today by BUSH’S great-grandson, LOU GORDON. “I think its important to remember that this was a part of history that’s not really that well documented by any race”, Gordon said. “The whites didn’t document them (slaves) and they weren’t able to document themselves so just having them here on my property is something that needs to be preserved.” Of the thousands of slaves surely buried in and around Marion County, there is but one other known slave grave in NorthEast Missouri. East of BUSH’S cemetery lies the dilapidated Old Baptist Cemetery in Hannibal. It counts among its many occupants one of the most extraordinary graves in American History, that of Agnes Flauntleroy. Her birthdate was unknown. Only her date of death is recorded. She died a slave on July 16, 1855. We know this because Flauntleroy’s grave has a commercially produced tombstone and those on slaves graves are “as scarce as hen’s teeth,” Dempsey said. It’s certain that Flauntleroy was well known to Hannibal’s favorite son, Samuel L. Clemens, the beloved author of Mark Twain. Etched into her tombstone is the engraving that Flauntleroy, in death as in life, was the slave of Spohia Hawkins, a Clemens neighbor and the mother of Laura Hawkins, Twain’s literary model for everything lovely and beautiful about a young girl – Becky Thatcher. There is a movement under was to preserve Flauntleroy’s disintegrating limestone grave marker. It’s withering away after years of neglect in the elements. Dempsey and others have begun collecting donations with the “AGNES FLAUNTLEROY PRESERVATION FUND” at Hannibal National Bank. Once enough money is collected, the tombstone will be encased in a protective sheath. On the other side of town, LOU GORDON, is working with archeologists and historians to document and preserve for future generations the slave graveyard behind his home. Benjamin Franklin would no doubt approve.
POSTSCRIPT: John Bush (1799-1877) was my g-g-grandfather. He migrated from the Grassy Creek vicinity of Pendleton Co., Kentucky. He was married to Margaret Gardner (also a migrant from Pendleton Co., Ky.) in the home of Samuel Conway, Sr. who was the first owner of the land on which the slave cemetery is located. I received this article from John H. Bowles several days ago. John operates a farm there in Marion County.