There is a sacred place in Liberty County that remains a mystery even after all these years.
The Tomb is located on a point of land jutting out into the marsh on the North Newport River in a grove of pine trees and a tangle of underbrush and vines. I am sure there are many unidentified burial sites in this county, but this one is very unique.
The Tomb also has been referred to as the Old Sailors’ Tomb and The Mariners’ Tomb. No one knows how long it has been there. According to Nathan Merritt, head forester assigned to the Jelks-Rogers pasture and tree farm for 35 years, more than 25 professors, teachers, individuals, organizations, anthropologists and archaeologists from the University of Georgia have visited the site and conducted investigations, but nothing ever was determined regarding who was interred in the Tomb.
The Tomb was constructed with hand-made brick, while oyster shell tabby-type mortar held the bricks together. The bottom of the Tomb was about five feet underground, and the front faces in a northerly direction. Two red cedar poles support the brick over the doorway. The distance from the front of the Tomb to the first step is 11 feet. There are 10 or 11 brick steps leading into the Tomb. The inside dimension below ground level is 10 feet long from the doorway to the back wall. It is 7 feet, 9 inches wide and seven feet from ceiling to floor. The Tomb was deeper, but over the years it has filled in with soil that washed in through the doorway. Perhaps the floor also was brick.
Many years ago, a fire burned the door that probably was made of cedar. The door was 5 feet, 7 inches high and 3 feet, 10 inches wide. Someone heard that a big fire had swept through the area many years ago and burned the door. No one knows for certain. In 1988, there was a large dead oak tree about 10 feet from the first steps. The large fire may have burned the tree and killed it. The tree trunk still is there today.
Human bones are scattered across the floor. Many are leg and arm bones and then there are many bone fragments. Perhaps as many as six or more people seemed to be buried in it. There were shelves along the walls that the bodies had been placed on at their times of deaths but over the years, through the fire and animals and people intruding inside, the bones had fallen to the floor.
Above the door of the tomb is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Much of the quotation is missing, but enough remains to trace the complete quotation. The printing of the letters is beautiful and precise. The phrase “baseless fabric” means a structure without physical foundation. “Rack” means a wisp of a cloud. Here is the full quotation: “As I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air and like the baseless fabric of this vision the cloud–capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself. Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep.”
One can only imagine why this verse was printed over the Tomb. Were the people on a boat or ship that had an outbreak of yellow or malaria fever or the black plague, and several died? Were they Spanish explorers? Had they been shipwrecked on this island and died? Did they have a copy of this play with them? The play was written and the first performance recorded Nov. 1, 1611. What did they use to print the words over the Tomb? There are many questions but no answers.
The land located between the North Newport River and the Midway River was referred to as Bermuda Island. Information from the book “Crown Grants” refers to grants of land given to people by the king of England. Kenneth Baillie was granted 350 acres; John Barnaby, 250 acres; Thomas Young, 100 acres; and St. John’s Parrish on Bermuda Island was granted Nov. 1, 1774, according to Grant Book M, page 768. Here is a description of the grant: North surplus land that was granted to John Jones now deceased for 350 acres on Bermuda Island now the property of Thomas Young.
From reading “Children of Pride” and “The Dwelling Place,” I know that the Jones family owned many plantations in the coastal area and probably owned the very property on which The Tomb is located. But there isn’t a mention of it in anything I have read. One only can gather that the dead must have been thought of very highly to go to such great lengths to prepare such a nice burial tomb and mark it.
I have not been to The Tomb, but in preparing this article, I talked to several people who have personally seen it, and more information was sent to me by Michael O. Smith. Stanley H. Whonic and John R. Woodward contributed to this article.
The Tomb is on private property owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company. I want to talk to its public relations department in Seattle about protecting The Tomb from further invasion and destruction. I would like to suggest that The Tomb be sealed as it was in the beginning to further deter deterioration or vandalism. There are laws against plundering gravesites or burial grounds.
Let’s each do our part to keep the Tomb a sacred burial site, and let it forever remain a mystery in Liberty County.
I originally wrote this article in November 2006 and, since then, Plum Creek representatives said they’d build a shelter over the Tomb to protect it from the weather and put a fence around it for security. However, nothing has been done yet for the preservation of this sacred place and great piece of history. Hopefully, the protective measures will be put in place soon.