Saturday, January 28, 2023

An ancient graveyard in Tennessee at the base of Ginger Hill

The grave of Amy Campbell near Columbia, Tenn.

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After our exploration of slave cabins, farmer Campbell Ridley drives us in his pickup truck roughly a mile to a clearing and then parks. To our left are woods and remains of an old pond. To our right, at the base of a low hill, are another stretch of woods near a creek.

Campbell Ridley, a direct descendant of
 Confederate Brigadier General Gideon Pillow,
stands in a remote cemetery in the woods.

“Used to play out here when I was a kid,” says Ridley, the 80-year-old direct descendant of Confederate Brigadier General Gideon Pillow.

We walk a path a short distance into the woods. A carpet of brown leaves and twigs crunches beneath our feet. Then we find what we came for. Scattered in woods are gravestones and footstones in a remote, unmarked cemetery.

Graves of the enslaved, formerly enslaved and their kin, we believe.

“Amy Campbell. Wife of Ben Polk,” reads the inscription on a marker, tilted toward a deep-blue sky. “Died Oct. 24, 1862. An affectionate husband is left to mourn.” “B.W.L.,” reads the inscription on another stone. It lay flat in the Middle Tennessee earth.

Ragged footstones — or are they ancient headstones? — peek from a covering of leaves. The ground has subsided in places, perhaps the signs of old burials. After a short visit, we depart. Our destination is an impressive, brick plantation house nearby.

“They used to call the hill back there Ginger Hill,” Ridley tells us.

We all wonder about the forgotten place we leave behind.

Who else lies buried in the woods near the base of Ginger Hill?

To be continued.

Gravestone of Daniel Webb, aged 15.
Campbell Ridley in the graveyard near the base of Ginger Hill.
The gravestone of Willie Pillow, who died in 1887, a little more than a year old.
A gravestone inscribed with "B.D.L."
A close-up of Amy Campbell's grave.

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