Monday, February 8, 2010
super sunday hike at stagville
I attended the Trading Path Association's "Super First Sunday Hike" yesterday. A couple dozen of us parked our cars outside the state-owned Stagville historic site and immediately started trouncing briars and rotten pine logs in the hopes of finding an old packhorse trail or wagon road bed. TPA founder and CEO Tom Magnuson has been leading hikes around this former plantation site for years. We had originally planned to check out one of the old fords across the nearby Flat River, but the ground was too wet (and in some places-too frozen).
For me, the highlight of the trip was coming upon the Bennehan family cemetery. I had a vague notion of where this burial ground was, but since it is not a part of the normal public tour, I had never visited. I wasn't expecting to see beautiful low walls of red sandstone. This was obviously not the rubble foundation of a service building. You could tell right away that it was the work of a skilled mason or team of masons.
Inside the cemetery were three raised tombs. This was where Richard Bennehan, his wife Mary, and son Thomas, were laid to rest over a span of thirty-five years. Mary A. Bennehan, in 1812, was the first to be buried here. It seemed like a big empty space for only three grave sites. In Piedmont Plantation, Jean B. Anderson's history of the Bennehan-Cameron family, she notes that the large size probably reflected Richard Bennehan's hope that his daughter Rebecca would be buried there along with members of her brood. She married into the elite Cameron family. Her body lies elsewhere. I'm not an expert on this family history but the docents at Stagville are......the site is open for free guided tours Tuesday-Saturday from 10-4pm. The last tour starts at 3pm. Again, I should note that this cemetery is not on the tour and visitors are not allowed to wander into the forestland surrounding the visitor's center, parking lot, or main house. If you want the behind-the-scenes treatment, then get involved with the Trading Path Association because this hike is one of their favorites.
I would love to learn more about the work that was done to build this cemetery's walls. Tom Magnuson mentioned that it is one of the finest examples of a dry-stacked stone wall that he has seen in North Carolina. And even though dry-stacked stone masonry has a long western European tradition, that does not mean it wasn't often carried out by folks only a few generations removed from west Africa. Like almost everything else on a Southern plantation, it was likely built by the enslaved.