Births Deaths Marriages, Business, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs


Aunt Ninas stone

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about looking for my cousin Nina Frances Faison Hardy‘s unmarked grave and wanting to honor her by placing a stone. Today, I got a text from my cousin and an email from my mother with photos. My cousins’ business, Eastern Carolina Vault Company, installed the marker today and, after 45 years, A’nt Nina’s final resting place is no longer lost.

Eastern Carolina Vault at work

My cousins L., left, and T., right, and a helper install Nina Hardy’s gravestone today at Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson NC. When A’nt Nina arrived in Wilson from Wayne County circa 1910, she lived for a while with Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs, who reared L. and T.’s great-grandfather Jesse “Jack” Henderson and his nieces, my grandmother and her sister Mamie.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Row Q.

Less than an hour after we got from the WCGS meeting last night, I received an email from president Joan Howell. I’d mentioned to her that I was trying to locate an unmarked grave at Rest Haven, she’d offered to check her records, and there it was: Nina F. Hardy, Section 3, Lot 20, Q in the street, Space 4.

This is how the morning went:

  • My father and I drove over to Rest Haven, but quickly realized that there was no way to determine where A’nt Nina’s grave was just by looking.
  • We got back in the car and crossed town to Maplewood Cemetery, where the City of Wilson Cemetery Commission is headquartered. The manager provided a chart and a print-out and a good suggestion. “Walk about halfway up Q,” she said. “Then call me and tell me what headstones you see.” [Sidenote: Q was once a track running through Sections 3 and 4 of the cemetery, like P and R to either side of it. Years ago, Q and the other odd-lettered rows were closed off and converted to burial space. The designation “Q in the street” means that A’nt Nina’s grave lies under what was once a pathway.]
  • Back to Rest Haven. A few minutes and a call later, we had the general location of A’nt Nina’s grave between those of Rev. Calvin Harris Boykin and Annie Thompson. I snapped a shot or two, though there is nothing much to see. [Cemetery employees can pinpoint graves, but none were available at the time.]
  • No time like the present, so we headed to our cousin L.H.’s house. His family owns a vault business that does a sideline in gravestones. I ordered a simple flat granite marker to be inscribed with A’nt Nina’s name, birth and death dates; my dad wrote a check (I’d left mine in Georgia, and L.H. doesn’t truck with credit cards); and it was done. I kissed L.H.’s new grandson, and he promised to send me a photo when the marker is installed. [L.H. remembers A’nt Nina. I don’t know why that surprised me. When they arrived in Wilson from Wayne County, Nina and L.H.’s grandfather, Jesse “Jack” Henderson, both lived with Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs on Elba Street.]


My father standing at the approximate location of Nina Hardy’s grave this morning. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson, North Carolina.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Family cemeteries, nos. 11 & 12: Rountree & Rest Haven.

The wooden church was still standing then, on a sandy bank that rose from a curve in the highway at Lane Street.  In my father’s time, Rountree church was well beyond city limits, but our subdivision leapfrogged it in the early 1960s, and a grocery store popped up across the road, and it was no longer an outpost.  Still, when we were children, Lane Street was raw and unpaved and, for us, a gateway to adventure.  A hundred yards in, the road crossed over a sluggish branch, the pines began to crowd down to its ragged edge … and tombstones began to poke through the snarl of catbrier and cane choking the forest floor.  Here was the remnant of Wilson’s first colored cemetery*, abandoned at mid-century and, by the mid-1970s, when we prowled these woods, completely overgrown with bamboo and sweetgum and loblolly pine.  Burials by then had moved around the corner to Rest Haven cemetery, which is city-owned and maintained.  Perhaps 20 years ago, after several half-hearted clean-up efforts, a small, ragged section of Rountree was cleared and its remaining stones propped up.  A hundred yards down the road, in an open field, a memorial was erected to Rountree’s many hundreds of lost graves. A set of my great-grandparents were probably buried there, as well as my father’s stillborn brother, Uncle Jack’s sickly boys, and other kin unknown and maybe unknowable.


 The sad remnants of Rountree cemetery, February 2014.

My grandmother was buried at Rest Haven in 2001 and my uncle in 2005, but only recently did I begin to regard that cemetery’s conventional, lettered rows as as interesting as wild Rountree. My grandmother’s headstone, like all from the last 30 years or so, is machine-cut, its lettering precise and even. Older markers, however, reveal an artist’s hand, quickly recognizable in a squarish font with flared serifs and, especially, the long, pointed tails of the 9’s. Marble cutter Clarence Benjamin Best carved headstones for more than 50 years, chiseling lambs, stars, flowers, and Masonic emblems, as well as pithy, grammatically idiosyncratic epitaphs, into slabs of gray granite. I have found his work in rural Wilson County cemeteries and as far afield as Wayne and Greene County, but Rest Haven is ground zero for his oeuvre.


 An early example of Clarence Best’s marble-carving in Rountree — before he developed his signature long-tailed 9’s. (Foster was an early investor in Commercial Bank.)


A late example — with 9’s and a bit of a extra verbiage, Rest Haven.


 Rifle, fish, peaches — a Best creation for husband and wife, Rest Haven.

In addition to my father’s mother and brother, my paternal grandfather is buried in Rest Haven, as are my aunt’s husband; Uncle Jack and his family; Josephine A. Sherrod and countless other Artises; and, somewhere, Aunt Nina.

Jesse A Henderson headstone

My uncle, Jesse A. Henderson.

Jack Henderson headstone

Cousin Jesse “Jack” Henderson and wife, Pauline “Polly” Artis Henderson.

*I have since learned that it was not, in fact, the first. That distinction may belong to a small cemetery just off Pender Street, memorialized in today’s Cemetery Street. All traces of it have disappeared.