Posted By Bill Payer on May 29, 2017 | 0 comments

Shouldn’t EVERY day be memorial day?  If not today, take a moment soon to visit four almost forgotten cemeteries right here on Daniel Island. 

There aren’t many physical reminders of the 4000 years presence of humans on Daniel Island, not even from the 300+ years since colonization.  We have stately rows of live oaks planted to delineate 18th century property lines, but no buildings or landmarks survived the island’s changing economic face from plantations to truck farming to cattle ranch and hunting preserve.  What hurricanes like Hugo didn’t level, the next wave of change and progress did.

The biggest change of the face of the island has obviously been since the building of I-526 made today’s planned community possible. 

But just out of sight, on the fringes of that development, are four reminders of those who came before us.  Gravestones stand silent vigil in the stillness at the edge of marshes and the Wando River.  Sentries of centuries past poking through the mist and the weeds.

The four cemeteries are scattered from Ralston Creek in the Daniel Island Park neighborhood to just off Raven Creek.  Two are behind the Family Circle Stadium.  Only Alston Cemetery is easily accessible by car just off Ralston Creek Street.   The other three…Simmons, The Grove and Lesesne are scattered along the Wando or adjacent marshes.  They’re near the walking trails but not easy for the elderly or infirm to reach.

Lesesne, on the banks of the Wando behind the Family Circle, differs in several ways.  It contains graves (dating back to the 1700s) of the Huguenot Lesesne family, which has endowed a fund for upkeep and maintenance.  Some of the graves were relocated from a previous site because of the construction of I-526.   Although there’s a striking stone obelisk commemorating the site, the Wando is encroaching on the graves.

The other three sites are all on the fringe of tidal creeks and marshes and contain graves of African Americans dating from reconstruction to the 1970s.  Among the most poignant are headstones for military veterans who served in “colored” regiments, including at least one Civil War veteran.   Prominent in two of the three are tombstones of members of the extended family of famed blacksmith and artisan Phillip Simmons.

Some of the graves seem well tended with evidence of flowers and flags; others clearly are in disrepair with toppled and illegible tombstones.  There are depressions that indicate now unmarked graves. 

How to properly maintain the sites, improve access and rediscover the history of the island through the stories of the people buried in the three cemeteries has been the focus of a several years project involving the Daniel Island Company (which actually owns the land those three sites are located on), The Daniel Island Historical Society, and various individuals and groups representing families of those buried.  Unfortunately there hasn’t been that much progress in in the several years since the article this post is based on was written. 

But the cemeteries, and the memories buried there, are still part of the fabric of the island we call home.

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