The Stono Preserve's Changing Landscape

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St. Paul’s Parish Churchyard

Gravestone of Amerinthia Elliot Lowndes, photograph by Mills Pennebaker, Stono Preserve, 2019.

Gravestone of Amerinthia Elliot Lowndes, photograph by Mills Pennebaker, Stono Preserve, 2019.

Rawlins Lowndes became a wealthy landowner deeply invested in the slave system. He was also a successful lawyer and prominent politician during and after the American Revolutionary War. As the president of the newly formed South Carolina, he fought against federal control of commerce because he feared it would impede the use of slavery in southern states where the economies were built upon it.

Although these are the only marked eighteenth century burials, it is unlikely they were the only people buried in St. Paul’s Parish churchyard. Amerinthia Lowndes’ gravestone references other burials as her epitaph states that she wished to be buried near her deceased parents. Unfortunately, testing using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) did not identify any unmarked graves. However, archaeological testing located several potential burials in an approximately 35-by-25-foot area in the churchyard’s northwest quadrant.

While the exact number of burials is unknown, the relatively small area of potential burials suggests there are not many. This low number is not surprising as it was a common eighteenth-century practice to bury people in family cemeteries on their property. St. Paul’s Reverend Orr made note of this practice in a September 30, 1744 letter when he discussed his extensive travel throughout his parish to “Bury the Dead which is generally done on the Plantation where they lived.”

There are no records listing the names of those buried in the cemetery. However, burial practices of the period would suggest they were white parishioners, not enslaved peoples. Enslaved Africans brought with them their own traditional religious beliefs and rituals, which they continued to practice in the Carolina colony. Even if an enslaved person wanted to convert to Christianity, colonial slaveholders rarely allowed it because they were concerned that once baptized, they would not be allowed to enslave that Christian. In 1707 Reverend Dun expressed his frustrations with parish planters because they were not allowing him to fulfill one of his primary goals, bringing Christianity to the enslaved Africans. Over three decades later, St. Paul’s Reverend Orr wrote that the parish had “near 4000 Negros in it [but] very few of whom know any thing of Christianity at all.” To date, documentary and archaeological investigations have not revealed where people enslaved by the church were buried. However, historians and archaeologists have discovered that the burials of enslaved peoples were often governed by the religious practices brought with them from West and Central Africa.