Settlers cemetery discovered

By MARK ROGERS,

In the early 1800s, members of the Lee family moved to Foxworth and as they died were buried on family property.

Now, nearly two centuries later a property owner and descendants of the family are working to restore the cemetery and discover how many graves are located there.

“We had no idea this was here,” Wesley Sylvest, whose family owns the land, said. “We thought there might be three graves here. There are graves all over.”

Wayne Lee traveled from North Carolina, where his ancestors moved from, to Foxworth to examine the cemetery. It was initially thought to contain the graves of Jesse Lee Jr. and his wives, Nancy Lewis Lee, who died in 1838, and Jane Graham Lee, whose death date is unknown.

“For many years, some of our older relatives told us that they came here as children,” Wesley Lee said. “They lost track of where it was. It’s a registered cemetery, the Jesse Lee Cemetery. It tells you basically where the cemetery was, but it was lost up in the woods. Nobody had seen it for years.”

Descendents thought they might find a few more graves, up to 20 at the most as they began to clear brush. What happened next stunned them.

“There are probably 120 graves here,” he said. “We’re putting out 48 crosses that we made ourselves. There are probably another 80 graves or so. We don’t know. We think it may have gone from being a family cemetery to a community cemetery. We hope someone may know the history. We don’t really know because there are no headstones.”

What is believed is that many of the headstones were wood or carved in wood, and they have since deteriorated.

Finding the gravesites was done, with all of things, a divining rod. Wayne Lee demonstrated as he walked around the cemetery, and the rod would show the spots that had something buried and those that did not. As he demonstrated the technique, it was easy to see the spacing of the graves.

“I went all the way back to the pine tree back there,” Wayne Lee said as he pointed to a distant tree. “There are still graves back there. They just keep going. There are 12 feet between each row, but as it goes back it gets more jumbled.”

The Lee family was among the early settlers in Marion County, arriving in about 1810.

“They came with some other families between 1810 and 1817,” Wayne Lee said. “We came up here expecting 20 graves, and there are so many more.”

Family members were in Mississippi as early as 1805, emigrating from Robeson County, N.C. Gen. Benjamin Lee, who is buried elsewhere near Foxworth, also arrived in the area around the same time and is a cousin of the Lees buried in the cemetery. A brother, Everett Lee, arrived in Claiborne County in 1811 and then moved to Marion County.

“What we’d like to do is put a marker up here, a headstone to mark the cemetery,” Wayne Lee said. “We want it to be a memorial for the whole cemetery. Maybe somebody has something in the archives that will let us know who is buried here.”

Sylvest said he is glad the Lee family has taken an interest in the spot.

“They’ve worked hard on all of this,” he said. “I think it’s just awesome. These people are now known to be buried here. They’re no longer silent. We want to know who is buried here. It’s a mystery.”

Wayne Lee said in the future family members plan a dedication and will have a minister conduct the service.

“We want to continue the work and honor our ancestors,” he said. “We want them to rest in peace.”

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