Debby Summey: Potter's Field - update

  • Friday, November 23, 2012

In January 2011, I wrote a column on Potter’s Field, the cemetery sitting under the present site of the Bank of America, the Georgetown Ice House, and the old Winyah Gym.

The cemetery takes up an entire city block, bounded by Highmarket, Fraser, Duke, and Dozier Streets.  The map shown with this column is a small portion of the “Plan of Georgetown, South Carolina” submitted by Le Grand G. Walker, Clerk and Treasurer of Council, dated June 27th, 1885.  

For anyone interested in the early history of Georgetown, this is a fascinating map.  The actual size is 24 x 30 inches and may be purchased at Prince George Framing Company, 718 Front St., Georgetown.  Many thanks to Aimee and Katie for letting me copy the portion that shows Potter’s Field.

In his book “Trial and Error,” Tom Rubillo references the “Georgetown Advocate”, a newspaper started in 1901 by local African American leaders R.B. Slater, W.P. Carolina, and G.E. Herriott.

In one of its first editions, they supported closing the Potter’s Field cemetery, describing the conditions there as “...a disgrace.”  In that same year, the “Georgetown Outlook” reported some graves being as shallow as twenty inches.

It wasn’t until 1919 that the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina passed an act allowing the owners of Potter’s Field to alter the use or dispose of the property “...as they may desire.”

Patti Burns, Head of Adult Services at the main branch of the Georgetown County Library, has spent months researching burials at Potter’s Field.  Through the website Ancestry.com, she found seventy-six death certificates showing this cemetery as the burial place, the most recent in her research being two burials in 1938.

Patti submitted her information to another website, findagrave.com.  I learned from this site that of the seventy-six burials, at least twenty-seven were infants and children under the age of six.  I can’t drive past there now without thinking of those babies.

The seventy-six death notices Patti found are just the tip of the iceberg, as many more people, mostly poor and African American, have been buried there since sometime in the 1800s.  There should be a marker erected to honor them, and if anyone is interested in doing so, let me know and I’ll spearhead the effort.

I love a good mystery, and Patti uncovered one while researching Potter’s Field.  All of the people she found buried there were identified as ‘colored’ on the death certificates, except for one ... a nameless ‘white’ male whose body was found floating in the Sampit River on April 8, 1915.  

The local paper reported on April 15 that the Coroner, G.R. Mercer, could not determine the cause of death because the body had been in the water for two to three weeks.
The death certificate shows “drowning” as cause of death because there were no wounds found on the body.  

The deceased was described as a blue-eyed white male, 30-35 years of age, about six feet, two inches tall, weighing 175-190 pounds.  

He was “...well developed, clean shaved, hair cut short, large head and as pretty white teeth and as even as any man could boast of ... fine shoes ... over-coat buttoned tight around him, collar turned up around his neck, in his neck tie was diamond scarf pin (heart shape), sleeve button diamond set, gold plated collar button, back and front, these goods are marked 10-k gold.”

A related article describes him as wearing “...a nice black worsted suit of clothes and a black overcoat, striped top shirt made by Wilson Brothers ... upper right bicuspid tooth gold, silk necktie ...”.

Chief (of Police) Bolick stated that the only thing found in his pockets was a blue railroad “marker” ticket.  
“In fact, every indication was present to prove that either the man himself had removed every trace by which his identity might become known, or that he was done away with by persons who performed this precautionary office.”

He was buried in Potter’s Field on April 10, 1915.  I don’t know if he was ever identified.  
All we know for sure is that he was someone’s son.

To Patti Burns, Tom Rubillo, Aimee and Katie ... thanks for the memories.

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email me at djsummey@gmail.com.






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