Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Richard Caswell's Grave

Searching For Richard Caswell's Grave:
The Evidence

By Ted Sampley
Olde Kinston Gazette
March 1999 Issue

Spokesmen for Betty McCain, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, say that because there is "insufficient evidence" to prove the location of Governor Richard Caswell's grave, the state has no intention of doing any excavation in the historic graveyard at Caswell Memorial Park in Kinston.

CSS Neuse Barn

"Even if we did the excavation, we wouldn't find anything to confirm anything," Jackie Ogburn, one of the agency's spokesmen, told the Kinston Free Press February 25. "We feel it would be a waste of money."

Ogburn was responding to information sent with supporting documentation to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources in Raleigh on February 17. The packet included data sent by four other individuals responding to a $1,000 reward offer.

The reward is being offered to any individual, group or organization that identifies the exact location of Gov. Caswell's grave. Sponsors are Christopher's Restaurant, Johnson Music, Waller Printing, Neuse River Antiques & Pottery and the Last Firebase Veterans Archives Project, a non profit veteran's organization, all located in Kinston, N.C.

It is the opinion of many historians that the cemetery in which Gov. Richard Caswell was buried after his death in 1789 is directly related to one of his plantations known as the "Red House," the location of which has been the subject of much debate.

Caswell, one of Kinston's most important historic figures, helped settle the town for England's royal colonial government and had it incorporated in 1762 as "Kingston," honoring young King George III who had just ascended to the throne.

Before the Revolutionary War, Caswell traveled to Philadelphia and participated in the Continental Congress, helping draft the American Constitution. During the war, he played an instrumental roll in kicking the British out of North Carolina, thus becoming one of the state's most famous war veterans.

After the war, the people chose him to serve as North Carolina's first constitutional governor. Before he died in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he had served six terms as governor.

Caswell was a Grand Master of the North Carolina Masonic Order, so the rites of the Order were observed at funeral services for him first in Fayetteville, then in Kinston and New Bern.

Gov. Caswell's Will of July 2, 1789, states: "First, I reserve for the use of a burying ground for all those of my family and Connections who may choose to bury their relations and friends there, one half acre of land where the bones of my dear father and mother be, at a place called the Hill, to be laid out east, west, north and south so, as to have those bones near the center of the said half acre of ground; and I also reserve in like manner one half acre of land where the bones of my beloved wife and, son William now lies near the red house to be laid out in the same manner and for the same purpose as the above half acre is directed, and these two half acres to be reserved for the purposes aforesaid for ever. And its likewise my will that them who wish to bury their dead at either of the said places and coming within this meaning of the description above shall always have liberty of Egress, Ingress and Regress to, at and from the said respective burying ground to bury the dead or repair or raise an enclosure to the same."

In his will, Richard Caswell very clearly laid aside two one-half acre tracts of his land to forever be used as Caswell family cemeteries.

Lura May Bell, a 14 year-old student who in 1935 wrote a history of persons and places in Lenoir County, placed the Red House "about two miles west of Kinston."

Caswell monument before 1908

Bell wrote that Gov. Caswell referred to his house as the "Red House" because it was painted red. She stated that Gov. Caswell was "buried across the road from his home and a very beautiful marker marks the resting place of such a great man."

The "beautiful marker" Ms. Bell was referring to was the remnants of the first Caswell memorial monument erected in the center of Kinston's Caswell and Queen Streets intersection in 1881. It was seriously damaged by a fire in 1895 that destroyed two blocks of Kinston's central business district. Heat from the fire was so intense that the obelisk and other parts of the memorial were cracked.

When it was replaced in 1908, members of Kinston's Masonic Lodge placed the damaged parts of the memorial on what they believed to be the grave of Gov. Caswell.

Those broken parts are clearly shown in a 1929 picture of a ceremony where the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) dedicated a fence around "the Richard Caswell cemetery."

The second memorial, also erected in the middle of Caswell and Queen streets, was accidentally knocked over in 1934 by city workers who were paving over Kinston's brick streets. City workers hauled that broken memorial off to the dump, parts of which were found and recovered 50 years later by Kinstonian Jake West.

Staff writer Roy Parker, Jr. wrote about Caswell's Masonic funeral in Fayetteville in a recent Fayetteville Observer article headlined Military rites a city tradition: "Prominent among the mourners were members of the Masonic Grand Lodge of North Carolina, of which organization Caswell was Grand Master at the time of his death.

"While there were no military units, members of the fraternal order were nearly all Revolutionary War veterans, and the Masonic ceremony, with its lined procession, colorfully draped coffin and marching mourners mimicked the traditional rites for military funerals.

"As soon as the ceremonies ended, Caswell's coffin was placed in a wagon, and with an escort of mounted mourners, departed for the two-day journey to Red House."

If Parker's sources are correct, then it is very clear that Gov. Caswell's body was returned to Kinston and buried in the Red House plantation cemetery.

Division of Archives and History researcher Jerry Cross, in a June 1990 report titled The Peebles House in Kinston A Research Report for the Structure Restored as `Harmony Hall,' stated that the "Red House" was "a plantation northwest of the original town and believed to have included the present CSS Neuse State Historic Site and Caswell Memorial Park. Susan Caswell's Grave

A chapter from The Masonic Governors of North Carolina, a book published in 1937, lists Gov. Caswell as the second Grand Master of the North Carolina Masons, and described his funeral service as steeped in Masonic traditions. The book cites a newspaper article from October 1877:

"On the banks of the Neuse near the town of Kinston, in the midst of a cotton field, without fence or enclosure, with no slab or stone to mark the spot, is the grave of Governor Caswell. Not a hundred yards from either the railway or public highway, yet of the many wayfarers passing daily few know of our first patriot Governor, or can point out his resting place.

"From the middle of the grave, or what is said to be the grave, springs a handsome red-oak tree about 18 inches in diameter, which is Caswell's only monument and the sole means of knowing his exact place of burial. ... Nearby is the grave of his daughter Susan, which at least is marked by a neat headstone. Around are buried several of the Desmond family."

The tree mentioned in the book no longer stands at the site, but is shown in the 1929 photo of the DAR's dedication of a fence around the cemetery. That photo also confirms the location of Susan Caswell Gatlin's grave.

An 1862 Civil War map marked Gov. Caswell's grave site in the same location as described by Lura Bell, Jerry Cross and the 1877 newspaper article. Caswell Cemetery in 1929

A Dec. 4, 1958 Kinston Free Press article printed a list of people buried in the Caswell cemetery. The list had been received from Sue Bond, Gov. Caswell's great-granddaughter, and made public in 1914.

Included in the list were Gov. Richard Caswell, his daughter Susan Caswell Gatlin, John Gatlin, Sarah C. Reaves (daughter of Susan Caswell Gatlin), Lewis C. Desmond, Joshua Desmond, (Here lies a good man.), Eliza W., wife of Lewis Desmond, Mary E. Fonvile, Walter Davenport, Mary Catherine (great granddaughter of Richard Caswell), wife of J. Chestnut, Several children - unmarked graves, Mary McIlwain (first wife of Richard Caswell), Sarah Heritage (second wife of Richard Caswell), William Caswell, Dallam Caswell, William B. West, Holland Caswell West (granddaughter of Richard Caswell), wife of William B. West.

A 1936 state historical marker (on highway 70 by the railroad in front of Gov. Caswell Memorial Park ) says Gov. Caswell's grave is 166 yards to the south, and the same claim is inscribed on a granite monument erected in 1919 by the N.C. Historical Commission.

According to Eugene Brown, curator of the CSS Neuse State Historical Site and Caswell Memorial Park, North Carolina conducted scientific studies of the Caswell Cemetery in the 1960s which indicated that "there were some masses" underneath the headstones and scattered throughout the Caswell Cemetery including areas where no headstones existed.

Also, "an archeological survey done a few decades ago" on a house north of the Caswell Cemetery suggested that portions of the foundation "could have belonged to Caswell's home."

Scientific excavation in the Caswell Cemetery of the graves in close proximity to the grave of Gov. Caswell's daughter, Susan Caswell Gatlin, will prove that Gov. Richard Caswell's remains are interred in the Caswell Memorial Park Cemetery .

DNA testing could be a useful tool in the identification process, but it could also prove to be inconclusive.

If, however, with the remains of a male, Masonic Badges are found such as those of a Grand Master, it could be reasonably assumed that the remains are those of Gov. Richard Caswell.

Locating the grave of Richard Caswell is important in reporting an accurate history of Kinston and North Carolina. It will determine where the red house really was, whether it was in downtown Kinston or on the hill at Vernon Heights or directly in front of the CSS Neuse Historic Site and Caswell Memorial. It will fill a lot of holes in Kinston's history as it pertains to North Carolina's first governor. Many old questions will be solved, uncertainties cleared up and rumors laid to rest.

The location of Richard Caswell's grave will also protect from development and desecration the two one-half acre tracts our famous governor had willed to be Caswell family cemeteries.

The state's plans to construct a $4 million Civil War Museum to house the remains of the CSS Neuse ironclad adjacent to the Caswell family cemetery may be a criminal violation of laws written to protect graveyards.

The hull of the artifact was moved into the middle of the Caswell Memorial Park last year, costing the state approximately $400,000. The shelter that was built to house the ironclad may have been erected on the half-acre tract that Gov. Caswell designated as one of his family cemeteries.

According to a general statute, it is a felony to "take away, vandalize, destroy or deface any tombstone. . . shrubbery, flowers, plants within any cemetery erected or placed to designate the place where any dead body is interred."

Ogburn said she could not comment on the legalities of the grave site or any possibilities where the future museum would be located.

North Carolina has more than four centuries of history to document, but the research staff's time and the state's money is limited, Ogburn said.

Ogburn's response was curt and appeared to indicate that Sec. McCain was incensed that private individuals would take it upon themselves to find the lost grave of the state's first constitutional governor.

"Mr. Sampley started this contest, and put in the rules of the contest, and then appointed us judge, without any of us knowing," Ogburn had told the Free Press three days earlier.

"They set it all up without consulting anybody here. They didn't check whether we thought it was worth spending time and taxpayers' money on," Ogburn said.

Ogburn's statement was incorrect. Olde Kinston Gazette Senior Editor Jan Barwick had contacted John Taylor, Stan Little and a Mr. Langford, all of Archives and History at the Department of Cultural Resources, in early January.

She informed them that a reward was being offered for information that would identify the exact location of Richard Caswell's grave and that the resulting information would be sent to Archives and History for review.

Betty McCain's office was not asked to judge a contest. The request was simply for the state to determine whether any of the information pointed to the grave of Gov. Caswell .

It's a question the state should have answered long ago.

Source: Olde Kinston Gazette (March 1999)

Unsuccessful Search For Lost Governor's Grave Spawns New Mystery
By Patsy Williams
Olde Kinston Gazette
November 2000

Who lies here? - an appropriate epitaph for the outcome of the latest venture to locate the grave of Richard Caswell, North Carolina's first Revolutionary War hero and constitutional governor.

The much anticipated archaeological dig in Kinston by students of East Carolina University's Professor Charles Ewen led to the conclusion that the graves in question did not contain Gov. Caswell or his parents.

Who then occupies the mysterious graves hidden in the bamboo thicket off Herritage Street, between the Kinston Clinic North and the Bentley Bed & Breakfast?

The trail of clues which led to the dig began when local historians Ted Sampley and Jan Barwick started to question the actual whereabouts of Caswell's grave in mid 1998.

The pair felt that Caswell deserved to be honored properly for his role in history and as North Carolina's first constitutional governor. The Richard Caswell Memorial Park on Vernon Avenue (now The CSS Neuse and Governor Caswell Memorial Park) was compromised by the state two years ago when it built a large barn in the middle of the Revolutionary War park to house the remains of the Civil War Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse.

Sampley decided to kick off a search for Gov. Caswell's grave with a contest to draw interest in the project. He and two other local businessmen chipped in to offer a $1000.00 reward to whomever could provide proof of the exact location of the grave of Richard Caswell. Sampley then sent the entries received along with his own research and conclusions to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, asking them in February 1999 to review the information and investigate.

Sampley and Barwick had concluded after gleaning all the information they had received that the grave of Gov. Caswell was adjacent to that of his daughter, Susan Caswell Gatlin, buried in the Caswell Cemetery in the Gov. Caswell Memorial Park.

Jackie Ogburn, spokesman for the Department of Cultural Resources, told the Kinston Free Press, "Mr. Sampley started this contest, and put in the rules of the contest, and then appointed us judge, without any of us knowing."

Ogburn said the state had no intention of searching for the grave of the Lost Governor. She said, "we feel it would be a waste of money."

Sampley insists the state should be concerned as to where the missing governor lies. "Locating the grave of Gov. Caswell is important if we are ever to have an accurate history of Kinston and North Carolina," he said.

As a young surveyor, Caswell helped incorporate Kingston in 1762 in honor of King George III, but would later become England's enemy and a champion for American independence. He became a Revolutionary War hero in the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776, when his troops defeated the Tories crushing a planned Redcoat invasion of North Carolina.

Caswell was soon appointed a brigadier general, commanding North Carolina's militia. He would later serve six terms as governor before his death in 1789.

Caswell lived in the house (built in 1747) on Hill Plantation until he built the Red House a few years later just "outside of town." The land where the house on Hill Plantation stood is near the Kinston Clinic North on Herritage Street. Gov. Caswell's parents continued to live on Hill Plantation until Gov. Caswell's father died in 1755 and his mother in 1787.

According to Gov. Caswell's will they are both buried somewhere in the cemetery Dr. Ewen's class excavated. Gov. Caswell died in 1789, just two years after his mother, in Fayetteville.

Sampley says, that despite claims by state historians to the contrary, there is evidence that a funeral procession left Fayetteville for Kinston shortly after Gov. Caswell died.

Most local historians agree that Gov. Caswell is buried in Kinston, and narrow his burial place down to being near either the Hill Plantation or near where the Red House once stood..

The Red House, Sampley believes, was built somewhere near the Caswell Cemetery in the Memorial Park off Vernon Avenue. There is a house near the park that sits on an 18th century foundation. This location corroborates research which indicates the Red House was in the same area. (For further reading on this evidence, see the March 1999 issue of the Olde Kinston Gazette).

During the Revolutionary War, Gov. Caswell accumulated enormous debts helping to finance the Continental Army. Because of those debts, when he died his estate was in serious financial trouble forcing his children to sell most of his land. His daughter, Susan Caswell Gatlin, sold the Hill Plantation to a General William Croom.

In 1806, Croom conveyed ownership to John Washington, who renamed it Vernon Plantation after Mount Vernon, the home his relative President George Washington.

Historians have long believed that Washington's son, John Cobb Washington, an influential Kinstonian during the Civil War is buried on the Hill along with other prominent members of the Washington family.

Gov. Caswell stated in his will that his mother and father and brother Samuel are buried at the cemetery on the Hill. The will also reserved forever a half-acre of grounds centered on their graves to be kept forever as the Caswell family cemetery.

Long time local historian, Dr. Charles R. Holloman wrote a letter February 16, 1971 to Attorney Marion Parrott of Kinston detailing the historical importance of the cemetery on the Hill. At that time, owners of Kinston Clinic North were attempting to have the cemetery moved so they could continue to expand the clinic's parking lot. During the expansion they had accidentally disturbed several ancient crypts forcing a halt to the expansion.

Holloman explained that the graves in the cemetery were unique in that they were vaulted brick underground graves. The removal of the cemetery would have meant destroying the vaulted bricks. He wrote that "these tombs go back to the eighteenth century and as early as 1755 when Gov. Caswell's father was buried on the premises. It is quite likely that Gov. Caswell's brother-in-law, Dr. Francis Stringer, was buried on this site in 1753. We know positively that the governor's father was buried there (Richard Caswell, Sr.) in 1755 and his mother and brother Samuel were later. Samuel Caswell was the Commander of the State Regiment (bodyguard of the Governor and the government offices and officials during most of the period of the Revolution.)"

Gov. Caswell's will, according to Holloman, is ultimately the deciding factor: "It is my opinion that the land comprising these grave sites has not been conveyed to the present owners of Vernon [the former Vernon Hall, now the Bentley] or the Clinic or to any other owners, inasmuch as the reservation made by Gov. Caswell has never been revoked in any way, shape or form; but, even if it is found deficient, the reservation by the heirs of Eliza Heritage Washington Knox in Deed Book 14, page 527, is effective and subsisting."

The Hill Plantation graveyard came to Dr. Ewen's attention after Stephanie Bourdas Smith wrote a letter to the Kinston Free Press recalling an incident taht took place in 1962 or 1963 while she and her brother and cousin played in the thick bamboo behind Kinston Clinic.

During a hurricane, Smith wrote, an oak tree was uprooted revealing a hole and what appeared to be a brick tunnel.

Smith said that she and her playmates crawled inside the tunnel she described as "very long." In the tunnel, Smith said she saw a full skeleton and a crumbling wood casket.

"It scared us so bad we jumped out," Smith said.

She said she was reminded of the incident after the Kinston Free Press ran and article detailing Sampley's search for Gov. Caswell. She wondered if she had accidentally found Gov. Caswell's grave nearly 40 years-ago.

Credence was given to the possibility that Gov. Caswell himself rested on the Hill when Dr. Ewen's archaeology class quickly uncovered two vaulted crypts using ground penetrating radar.

After opening the crypts, Ewen concluded that the cast iron coffins in the graves were not old enough to be those of Gov. Caswell or his parents because the irons and bolts used to make the coffins dated them to the 19th century sometime around 1850 to 1880.

Caswell relative Susan Burgess Hoffman of Williamsburg, Va., a fifth generation descendant, was present for the excavation. She watched eagerly as the events unfolded in the search for her famous ancestor. "I would like to see an actual tombstone, an actual marker, instead of crumbling stone where he might be," Hoffman said. "I want my family, and my brand new grandson, to be able to visit where he is buried."

Echoing Gov. Caswell's instructions in his will, she adds "even if he's not there [on the Hill Plantation land], it is where a prominent family lived. If they can find where the cemetery is, we can fence it off and preserve it forever."

Hoffman agrees with Sampley's belief that Gov. Caswell is probably buried in the Memorial Park near his daughter.

However, the conclusion reached in the dig only deepens the mystery surrounding Gov. Caswell. Who is buried in those two graves and where are Gov. Caswell"s parents buried?

Sampley says he Sampley says he believes the caskets contain the remains of some of the Washington family, possibly John Cobb Washington and his wife. He said he has found evidence of several more underground crypts near the two Dr. Ewen's class uncovered.

Adding to the buzz around the mystery is the fact that the Smithsonian Institute has expressed interest in the partially excavated graves. Sampley says it helps to keep the project alive, which will keep the search for Gov. Caswell going.

In November, Sampley filled the graves with builder's sand to protect them from the elements and vandalism until it is decided just what will be done next.

Olde Kinston Gazette (November 2000)


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