Beaufort uncovers historic cemetery

By Jaime Dailey - bio | email

BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - The City of Beaufort's clean up initiative uncovered a historic black cemetery dating back to right after the civil war.

Until recently, the back part of what's known as Mercy Cemetery in Beaufort was thought to be just an overgrown lot.

"It was a forest and I called the city manager after I saw that they were taking care of these old lots," said Alex Speaks.

Speaks, who has lived next door for 40 years, had no idea city crews would uncover a hidden part of Beaufort's African American history, a cemetery dating back to the early and mid ninteenth century.

"I didn't know," said Speaks. "I come in this graveyard a lot of times, sit around, but this part I've never been in it before."

But now that it's been cleaned up so he and others can enjoy it.

Maxine Lutz, the executive assistant at the Historic Beaufort Foundation, was excited to hear of the discovery.

"These people have been lost to history and obviously their families are not longer around to remember they're here," said Lutz. "We understand some for these graves are Union Civil War Soldiers and these are people that lived, breathed, and died in Beaufort and it's good to remember them and to know where they are."

The cemetery is located in Beaufort's Higginsonville neighborhood, an area already rich in history.

"It's been called Beaufort's first suburb," said Lutz. "It was developed after the work and during the war an named after Thomas Wentworth Higginson who was the commander of the first South Carolina African American Infantry here. He was a noted Civil war soldier."

Now that the cemetery has been uncovered, the Historic Beaufort Foundation is hoping to find out more about the people laid to rest here.

Lutz says the Historic Beaufort Foundation is working with Penn Center and plans to work with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Carleston to help search for more details.

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