Thursday, March 31, 2016

Clearing a Family Cemetery

Once in a while, I need to set aside the family history and focus on the family present. This is one of those times.

On Saturday, March 19, 2016, three descendants of Mathias Harman (1769-1802, Henry, Sr. > Heinrich Adam) met once again at The Quarter Way Inn near Bland, Virginia. You may (or not) recall our meeting last summer at the invitation of Tina Kiehn, proprietor of TQWI, who had contacted me earlier in the year and said, “I think I live in a house where your ancestors lived." Was I excited? I could hardly contain myself! She described, also, a cemetery across the road from her house. For a refresher, click on this link to read my account of last summer’s visit and to view photos.

Although Tina had warned us that the cemetery was overgrown with weeds, my husband Myron and I did not come prepared to hack through a tangled mass of raspberry and multi-flora rose bushes, not to mention pokeberries and saplings and such—all of it taller than our heads.

Two Harman cousins, Kitt Slusser and her mother also met us there. Kitt and I left feeling an urgency to return to clear off the cemetery where our ancestors lay. Many thanks to Kitt for actually taking charge and organizing a workday. Myron was skeptical about whether we could get it done in one day and I wondered, too, but our desire to be a part of the work motivated us to drive from Indiana.

After a few days of blue sky and sunshine and temperatures in the sixties, we woke up Saturday morning to skies the color of slate, pelting rain and a temp of about 50°. We pulled on boots and extra layers and took raincoats. Brrr!

Leaving our motel in Wytheville, we hoped the skies would lighten and the rain stop by the time we emerged from Big Walker Mountain Tunnel on I-77. It did—somewhat. The sky seemed brighter and the rain sprinkled instead of pelted. Maybe it was our high hopes, but I don’t think so.

By the time we arrived at The Quarter Way Inn about 8:45, the rain had nearly stopped. Kitt and her husband Jeff were already at work. We unloaded our equipment, handed it over the gate, the key for which could not be found, and hefted it up the hill.

At the entrance to the cemetery, a row of yellow daffodils smiled at us—a refreshing sight on a gloomy day. New life, promise of restoration, of resurrection, of joy.

Myron and Jeff, wielding chainsaws, cleared the perimeter of the cemetery first. As fast as they sheared off the briars and brush, Kitt, her sister Shannon, Tina and I could hardly keep up as we picked up the cuttings and hauled them to a burn pile. Shannon's boyfriend, Roger, showed up later and pitched in. By this time, instead of carrying every bundle of prickly sticks to the fire, we threw them over the fence, and Shannon and Roger threw them on the fire. As Myron and Jeff worked their way into the center of the cemetery, we spotted the sign hanging lopsided from one eye bolt—Harmon Family Cemetery. Finishing in one day looked promising. In fact we finished in four hours, and we were bothered only once for a few minutes with a light rain.

Thanks to Shannon, who insisted that Kitt stop her work to take pictures, our busy day was photographed. Thanks to Kitt for the photos.

The Quarter Way Inn viewed from the cemetery. Note dark sky.
The cemetery clearing task looked daunting, at first.

Tina, working hard.

Myron with his chain saw.

On overview, Jeff on left, Myron on right.

Finally, we get a glimpse of the sign.
Clearing around the sign.
Zola carrying brush.
Roger and Shannon burning the brush. Jeff taking a breather.
Zola and Tina, clearing brush.
After the work was done, I took a few photos of my own. The cleared cemetery's beauty was breathtaking.

Poor neglected sign! Kitt has ideas for a new one. I like this one, except the wood is split, so re-attaching the eye bolt would not be feasible.
Harmon Family Cemetery, sign
The earliest burial in this cemetery was most likely Mathias Harman who was killed in an accident on his horse in 1802, leaving behind his wife Mary and five children. He was thirty-three years old. I'm not sure which tombstone is his--many of the stones are unreadable. The tombstone pictured below belongs to Mary. She never remarried. It's actually easier to read than the photo suggests: "Mary, wife of Mathias Harmon, Married Jan. 25, 1791." No birth and death dates, only marriage--interesting. Kitt, Shannon, and I are descended from Mathias and Mary.
Mary Harmon's tombstone.
To compare, here is a photo taken only three years ago by another Harmon descendant that shows how much the tombstone has deteriorated in that short amount of time. Makes me worry.
Photo courtesy of Find A Grave contributor, "Mike."
Henry Harmon's tombstone is lying on the ground. It appears to have been broken and attached to cement to keep the parts from getting scattered. The clasped hands can mean unity in life and death or the last good-bye. Henry, Mathias' son, was my 3x great-grandfather and a brother to Jezreel, who was Kitt and Shannon's 4x great-grandfather. Henry's wife, Fanny Brown Harmon, is buried here, too, but her tombstone is probably one of the illegible ones.
Tombstone of Henry Harmon (1797-1878).
Nancy F. Harman Bales was a daughter of Henry and Fanny Harmon. Her husband William Bales was killed during the Civil War and is buried here, too. His inscription is on the other side of Nancy's marker.
Nancy Harmon Bales (1827-1889)
Jerome Bonaparte Harmon, son of Henry and Fanny Harmon, is buried here, too.
Jerome B. Harmon (1831-1915)
We couldn't read the tombstone below, but the heart design at the top is beautiful.

My great-great-grandmother, Anna F. Harman Waggoner, may be buried in this cemetery, somewhere. It seems likely since her parents (Henry and Fanny) are buried here along with two of her brothers, Jerome and Hezekiah, and her sister Nancy Bales, not to mention numerous nieces and nephews. Anna and her husband Jacob Waggoner lived close by in Bland County.  She died in 1871 giving birth to her ninth child, William. Little Willie also died about six months later, so he may be buried here, as well. Perhaps the stone below is Anna's. Or it could belong to Mathias or Willie or Fanny. I'm adding it to honor each of them whose particular burial spot is unknown.
Unreadable tombstone.
Despite our aching backs and legs, we left feeling satisfied for honoring our ancestors by clearing their cemetery. Now we have to figure out a way to keep it maintained. Kitt has ideas.

1 comment:

  1. The after looks amazing! I enjoyed reading along :)