Documenting Their Resting Places

More than 150 years ago, a Louisa County surveyor, George Dickinson, prepared a detailed pen and ink drawing of Bracketts Farm.  This framed drawing hung in the main house for many, many years.

The drawing contains extraordinary details of every feature of the farm.  Among those details are two cemeteries, side by side, lying out near the Tobacco House.  One of the cemeteries shown is larger than the other.

The smaller cemetery is the Watson-Taylor Family Cemetery.  The larger cemetery on the drawing shows no evidence of burials.  A number of experts have examined the ground conditions at the indicated site of the larger cemetery and have not been able to discern any evidence of burials.

A board member of the Elisabeth Nolting Charitable Foundation, Jim Bell, told the board that “if George Dickinson put a graveyard there, you can be certain it was there when he made that drawing.” Jim Bell is a highly respected Louisa County Surveyor.  For this reason, the board decided to take some extraordinary measures to determine whether there are any burials at this location.

These measures are detailed in the Proposal for a Ground Penetrating Radar Survey and Archaeological Testing of an Historic Cemetery. This work is being funded by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Enriching Communities Fund, and by a grant from Virginia Vermiculite.




The family cemetery is clearly defined in the top half of this image. The blue area is where the ground penetrating radar was used. (Click on this image for a larger version.)

The two rows of light blue long oval shapes are burials. They are oriented N-S and line up with the rows in the family cemetery; burial practices were to lay the body east-west with the feet toward the east. This was so the deceased’s face was toward the rising sun.

The direct descendants of slaves at Bracketts decided they did not want any soil removed, even though the plan was just to move enough to confirm what the radar showed. So the work at this location has stopped. A memorial, designed by the descendants, will be placed here and the area will be permanently fenced to keep the cattle out.