WILLIAMSTOWN-It may not be the largest in town but the Williamstown Cemetery can hold its own among the area's historic graveyards.
"The earliest marked grave I've found was for John Hazelrigg, who was born in 1778 and buried at the cemetery in 1845," said Jim Miracle, a member of the Wood County Landmarks Commission.
He said the cemetery was apparently established around that time and noted that several other burials followed in 1848, including a 5-month-old infant, Lewis Newton.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Jim Miracle, a member of the Wood County Landmarks Commission, stands by one of the 19th Century grave markers in the historic Williamstown Cemetery.
Miracle said the cemetery was originally privately-owned.
"It was a private for quite a while but in 1958 the city took over and now keeps it maintained," he said.
The latest burial in the cemetery was of Susan Bateman in 1999. She was the wife of longtime Williamstown physician George Bateman.
At a glance
The Williamstown Cemetery is located along the east side of Highland Avenue (West Virginia Route 31) near the southern city limits.
The cemetery was established in the 1840s and in the 1930s became the final resting place for an estimated 270 slaves who were moved from a burial ground originally located on Fourth Street in Williamstown.
A Civil War buff, Miracle noted at least three veterans of that conflict are buried in the graveyard, including Lieutenant G.W. Putnam, who was born in 1839, died in 1919 and served with Company A in the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
The two other soldiers' graves do not include birth and death dates but their names were Lieutenant John B. Edmonds, who served with Company C in the 77th Ohio Infantry and Lieutenant Porter Flesher, who served with Company A in the West Virginia Cavalry.
Miracle added that one of the cemetery's most unique features is that more than 80 years ago it became the final resting place for a number of African-American slaves.
In 2005, after some years of lobbying and fundraising by local historical groups, a monument was erected in the cemetery, citing that bodies from a slave burial ground discovered on Fourth Street Williamstown were moved to the city graveyard in 1930.
"The bodies were moved when a building was to be built on the burial ground site at 304 Fourth St. It's a residential area now," said local historian Henry Burke, of Marietta.
He said an estimated 270 slaves were transferred to the Williamstown Cemetery, where they've been buried in unmarked graves.
"I've heard that those graves were dug at the outside perimeter of the cemetery but there's no way to know for sure and there are no markers," Burke said. "At least they had enough regard in 1930 to move the graves from that burial site."
Burke noted that the graves of slaves were very seldom marked and most marked graves of African-Americans during the slavery period of U.S. history would have belonged to those who were free men.
According to the monument erected at the Williamstown Cemetery, slaves were first brought into the area in the 1790s and by the 1820s the local slave population had peaked at around 852.
Burke said there are likely other slave burial sites in the Williamstown area, including at least one on property that was formerly part of the Henderson Plantation in Boaz.