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St. John dedicates cross honoring slave cemetery

The Rt. Rev. Porter Taylor led the dedication service. The Rt. Rev. Porter Taylor led the dedication service.

FLAT ROCK — The Rev. John Morton stood at the foot of a pine-covered slope and prayed for the souls that lay underneath plain fieldstones and unmarked crosses.

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“We honor them. We love them,” he said. “We wish we knew their names and we’re confident that one day we will.”
The occasion was the installation of a granite base and six-foot-tall cross memorializing the slaves and freedmen buried in the cemetery at St. John in the Wilderness in Flat Rock.
Crane operator Tim Roberts, of Jim’s Crane Service, slowly lowered the three-ton base into place and then maneuvered the cross onto a square with two holes for the bolts. Stonemason Nelson Motes and his son, John, guided the cross into place.
“I had it quarried and I finished it,” said Motes, a St. John parishioner who operates a granite countertop business in Zirconia. “I created the size and shape that you see. It started out as a flat piece of stone 16 inches thick and roughly 3 feet by 6 feet. From there it’s just making a cross out of it and making it work.”
Make it work he did.
A crowd of St. John parishioners looked on. Many of them had worked on the project for two years. Others were Flat Rock history enthusiasts.
The St. John Historic Churchyard Committee received a $6,000 grant from the Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina to help fund the project. Historic Flat Rock, Inc., the Historic Churchyard Committee at St. John and private donors also contributed. Motes had the granite quarried from Elberton, Ga., then set to work with chisels, cutters and pneumatic drills.
Most of the graves contain slaves and servants whose names remain unknown. Until 1971, they were marked by simple fieldstones. That year parishioner Clyde H. Bloehorn installed 60 hand-made crosses. Forty-four years later, the crosses had fallen into disrepair, and the parish wanted to do more to honor the occupants. Church records identify 19 slaves or servants buried in the cemetery, from the households of Flat Rock residents and church founders with familiar Charleston and Flat Rock names: Mr. and Mrs. Molineaux, Dr. King, W. Cuthbert, Judge King, R.J. Middleton, E.L. Trenholm, Mrs. Reed, H.L. Farmer, Jas. R. Pringle. The dead ranged in age from infants to 85, buried from 1836 to 1881. It’s estimated the slave graveyard has about 100 graves but no one knows for sure.
The church will dedicate the cross at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10, in a service that the Rt. Rev. Porter Taylor, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, will attend. It’s hoped that descendants of slaves in the cemetery will be invited to attend.