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Smalley Anti-Slavery Cemetery

Well, as I’m sure it’s now become apparent, Group 3 of Katie, Kate, Lillie, and Taylor, was not able to locate their predetermined Smalley Anti-Slavery Cemetery. We gathered the horses, moved out, and drove out in search of Smalley for nearly an hour before simply returning to the Old Georgetown Cemetery. We passed at least two other cemeteries on the way up to where Smalley was supposed to be, both prominent and well kept, near the street for easy access, but when it came to Smalley not even the residents in the area knew what to tell us. We stopped and asked a leasing agent of the larger apartment complex in the area if they knew of where we could find Smalley and, to my honest surprise, they couldn’t tell us where to find this historic piece of land — a bit of locational information I expected, of all people, a Realtor/leasing agent to be aware of. Apparently this was a naive assumption.

However, while we failed in this aspect of the assignment, I was able to locate some basic facts about Smalley online. Surprisingly, I was able to find a pretty interesting source over Williamson County cemeteries which draws on our historic figure, Three Legged Willie (Three-Legged Willie: History and Genealogy of Williamson County, Texas).

According to Three Legged Willie’s, the cemetery is actually known as the Anti-Slavery Union Baptist Cemetery which simply became nicknamed Smalley due to Freeman Smalley, a Baptist preacher (who, I assume, is buried there). The oldest grave marker is apparently dated at 1853 however, it’s suspected that Smalley’s son was buried there four years earlier. There is also, according to Three Legged Willie’s, an 18×28″ sign marking the cemetery as an Official Texas Historic site. Of course, even despite all of this historic significance, we were still unable to find the cemetery no matter how far out we drove or who we asked for aid.

http://three-legged-willie.org/markers/cemetery.htm — This site also has some basic facts over other cemeteries in the area, if you’re interested :]

I was also able to find a photograph of the cemetery’s official marker on the Historical Marker Database (online: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=24902).

from the Historical Marker Database (online)

The marker essentially provides the same information I found on the Three Legged Willie’s website, explaining Smalley’s work as a pastor at the Anti-Slaveholding Union Baptist Church (which is the reason why Smalley’s is actually a graveyard and not a cemetery (graveyards are connected with churches, cemeteries are not). This marker wasn’t erected until 1986, which I find odd, problematic, and, sadly, rather unsurprising. Given the racism and conservatism Texas is absolutely rank with, it’s hard to believe that Smalley was able to be as outspoken about abolition as he putatively was with his church.

I was also able to find — again on the Historical Marker Database — a photograph of Smalley’s grave marker:

from the Historical Marker Database (online)

This marker appears new, well taken care of, and rather prominent. It begins with the caption, “In Memory of Our Loved Ones,” which is a rather personal and caring sentiment when compared with some of the epitaphs found in the Old Georgetown Cemetery. This grave marker, however, marks the graves of seven different people. This suggests that their graves went unmarked for years (or perhaps that the grave markers were disturbed/destroyed many years ago) and that this marker is an attempt, in conjunction with the Official Texas Historic signage, to right the wrongs done to the people buried in this graveyard. Of course, one could also contend that if they (whoever “they” are) truly wanted to acquire some justice for the people buried in Smalley Cemetery then they would do a better job of “advertising” this historic site, perhaps with some community awareness or central website dedicated to the historic cemetery rather than tucking Smalley and its official marker out of sight and, thus, out of mind.

So, unfortunately, we ended up wheeling our way back to the Old Georgetown Cemetery in order to bring a bit of closure and catharsis to this quest.

Katie Mead at the Old Georgetown Cemetery, looking onto the "black" side of the burial site, camera looking onto the "white" side

Traveling back and getting to spend some more time at the Old Georgetown Cemetery (in slightly warmer weather) was rewarding in and of itself (despite our disappointment with not getting to experience Smalley). We all as a group spent a bit more time observing the graves marked on the “black” side, especially the most modern marker with its cruder epitaph and vibrant purple flowers, unveiling the greater care and remembrance which persists for those on this more informal and un-manicured side of the cemetery whereas the “white” side stands stiff and colorless by comparison. Perhaps this difference also speaks to a difference in cultural memory, revealing that there may be a general divide between white “short” memories and “longer” black memories — a trait which could be linked to historical trials or hardships.

However, the object I focused on wasn’t a tombstone, cross, or marker, but the eyesore of a drain which the city apparently had installed right there in the middle of the “black” side of the cemetery, emptying out so that all matter of excess water and refuse might simply pour out into the grave site. And, of course, I second Dr. Stockton’s observation: how did they know where to dig so as to not disturb any bodies while putting in the drain? This in combination with the lack of attention or knowledge of Smalley Cemetery, says to me that though Texas counties are now officially recognizing these sites, they still aren’t paying them the respect or attention necessary to come near to recompensing the people buried there for years of neglect.

The oldest stone, I believe, belonged to a person who died in 1820 and the earliest that we found belonged to the flowered grave of 1904. The cemetery, as we discussed as a class, is striking primarily due to the wide physical and aesthetic divide between the “black” and “white” graves. This speaks, perhaps, as a metaphor for the divide the entire country was feeling during the time of the Civil War. The official marker, as we also discussed, simply labels the site as the Old Georgetown Cemetery, a place of vague pioneers who, despite any supposed efforts, have essentially been forgotten. Forgotten but for those deathless purple flowers, so ironic and lovely on such a grave.

Overall, it was good to get to spend some time with my group members and I’m glad we got to revisit the Old Georgetown Cemetery, but I am disappointed in our inability to actually locate, appreciate, and explore the Smalley Anti-Slaveholding Union Baptist Cemetery.

till Thursday,

katie mead

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