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Preserving slave graveyards

The story that follows first appeared in the April 28, 1988 issue of the Southside Sentinel. William Booker T. Dickerson, the subject of the story, died July 20, 2009 at the age of 83. He is buried in St. Paul Baptist Church cemetery at Nesting, not far from where he grew up and the slave graveyard that he purchased to protect.

The documentation of African-American cemeteries will be the program topic this Saturday, February 8, at 11 a.m. at the Historic Middlesex Courthouse in Saluda.

by Larry Chowning

There’s a little left today of a piece of Middlesex County lore that is hidden beneath the forest floor in the Jamaica District. Covered in honeysuckle and towering pine trees, the land is sacred to some county blacks whose only recollection of the purpose of this land comes from their grandparents, who passed the knowledge of its existence down from generation to generation.

This spot of earth was one of the slave graveyards for both Corbin Hall and Nesting plantations. Although the only markers left are from recent deaths, some of the more legendary Middlesex County blacks are buried there.

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The late William Booker T. Dickerson (above) purchased a graveyard in 1961 that is the final resting place of former slaves and their ancestors of Nesting and Corbin Hall plantations in Middlesex County. The graveyard is located in the woods near the intersection of Montague Island Road and Nesting Road. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

William Dickerson of Jamaica and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bought the burial site in 1961 mainly to keep anyone from building a house over it. Many of his grandmother’s ancestors are buried there.

Lucy Crump, his grandmother, was born a slave on old Nesting Plantation. As a boy, William listened attentively as Mrs. Crump told stories that were passed down to her from her slave parents and grandparents.

The Crumps came from old Crump Plantation in Mathews County. “That’s where we got our name,” said Dickerson. “My ancestors were owned by the Crumps, so when they were sold to Nesting they kept the name.

“When I was a boy, there were wooden crosses on many of these graves,” he said pointing to some sunken areas of earth that were obviously gravesites. “They were made of cedar and would last a long time. They’re all gone now. 
“James Lomax is buried here,” Dickerson said with an air of pride.

Lomax is a legendary figure to many of the elderly blacks who now live in Jamaica District. Dickerson’s grandmother passed down stories of Lomax to her grandson.

Lomax was a slave on Nesting Plantation. As a boy, he was taken from his family and his name was changed from Jason to James by his master. He was then moved into the “big house” and there he was made a “buggy boy” and servant to his master’s wife, Mrs. Lucy J. Eubank. In an unusual move for those times, Mrs. Eubank taught Lomax how to read and count. 

“He was the only literate slave on the plantation,” said Dickerson. “He was treated very special. They (Eubanks) would put him on an ox cart by himself, and let him go to the mill to carry flour. You see, he could count the bushels. For those times that was unusual for a black to go anywhere off the farm by himself. They were too busy working the oxen in the fields.”

Plantation owners did not encourage slaves to travel for fear they would run away. When slaves traveled, they were required by law to have a pass from the master stating they were allowed to leave the plantation.

Legend has it that Lomax talked Mrs. Eubank into allowing the slaves to have their own Sunday worship services on the plantation. “He was able to read some and he read to them from the Bible,” said Dickerson. “They would worship underneath some big trees and that was our first church.”

Outside church grounds were called brush-arbors or bush-arbors.

During slave times, many blacks were allowed to go to church in Middlesex with their white masters as a way for whites to keep an eye on them. Most masters would not allow them to congregate in groups or have their own worship services. In churches where slaves were allowed to worship with whites, blacks would enter the church through a separate door, known as the “slave door,” and sit in the balcony.

Lucy Crump also told her grandson about another unusual event that occurred after the Civil War when the slaves were freed and allowed to leave the plantations of Middlesex County, but some had nowhere to go.

“Where were they going to go?” asked Dickerson. “They didn’t have any money to buy land with. They didn’t have anything much as far as possessions. Most just lived on the farm—until something unusual happened. Somehow James Lomax was able to buy the Evans Plantation.”

Evans Plantation was the farm next to Nesting and where the slave cemetery is located. Lomax purchased the property and began moving Nesting slaves off the plantation into housing of their own. He enabled the former slaves to either purchase, or he provided, small tracts of land for them to build their homes.

What was unusual with this procedure was that a former slave led the transactions. Normally, the plantation owner cut off a portion of less desirable land from his farm and either gave it to his slaves or enabled them to buy it. After the Civil War, white farmers still had to operate their farms and this required labor, so they wanted their former slaves to stay close-by.

Many of the blacks living in that area of Middlesex are descendants of the slaves of Nesting and Corbin Hall.

“There are a lot of Crumps buried right here,” said Dickerson of his slave relatives. “It’s my heritage.

“I remember Addie Lomax, she was a mid-wife and a great spiritual singer,” he said. “She used to say ‘put a horseshoe over the kitchen door and it will bring on good luck.’

“She’s buried right here along with others and nobody much knows it,” he said with a sigh of regret.

In more recent times, several people were buried in the old cemetery. Three small markers are stuck in the ground nearby. The most recent burial date was 1958. 

There used to be a road back to the cemetery, but that road was plowed under and has been gone for decades. “In later years, they would tote the bodies in from the main road,” said Dickerson.

“James Lomax was a great man,” said Dickerson. “Oh, you won’t read about him in history, but he did a lot for our people here. Some of us, are better off because of him.”

One of the greatest mysteries for the blacks in the Nesting community was how James Lomax got the money to buy Evans Plantation. When asked about that, Dickerson said he felt Mrs. Eubank provided the means for it to happen. “Where else would he have gotten it, he certainly wouldn’t have had any money,” he said.

The roots of the black community in Middlesex County date back to the 1600s. Slavery is a time many would like to forget, but for William Dickerson it is a reminder of where he came from. His graveyard nestled beneath the Virginia pines of Jamaica is a loving effort by him to preserve his heritage.

posted 02.05.2014

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