BRUNSWICK — With 34 gravesites identified, some possibly dating back more than 200 years, and several large piles of displaced soil surrounding them, the excavation of what is believed to be a Colonial-era cemetery in Brunswick’s Wright Square is nearing an end.
City Manager Bill Weeks, who previously was a research associate with the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology, said much of the digging is complete at the site on the old Glynn Middle School at the northeast corner of George and Egmont streets.
After the school, which was built in 1953, was demolished this summer and the city regained ownership of the land from the Glynn County Board of Education, Weeks and a crew from the city public works department began searching for graves and the boundaries of the cemetery.
Although there are few written records of who is buried in the cemetery or how many graves there may be, the existence of the cemetery at what had been known as Wright Square before it became school grounds had been suspected for more than a century.
Now, after several months of excavation, Weeks has identified what he says he believes to be 17 adult graves and 17 adolescent or infant graves.
“They are very well organized and in a line, like they could be family plots,” he said.
The corners of each grave, marked with a green flag, stick up from the flattened dirt. Among them are pink flags that mark disturbances from past construction. Some of the graves actually are within the borders of the foundation of what used to be the school’s cafeteria.
Weeks said the school’s foundation in that area was undisturbed on purpose during the demolition in an effort to leave the graves intact.
“We are letting these people rest where they lay,” Weeks said.
He hopes to complete the surveys to record exact grave locations during the weekend and have the site filled in again by the end of the year. Weeks said surveys for 27 of the graves have been completed. None has been opened.
He did not go so far as to say he had located the boundaries of the cemetery, but to the north and east, Weeks said workers stopped digging after they had gone out 20 feet without finding another grave.
Before the project is complete, Weeks said he plans to dig shallow slot trenches to the south to search for more graves without damaging trees. He also hopes to dig to the west, on a vacant lot across Egmont Street from the cemetery, but he must first get permission from the property owner.
While Weeks has gotten a chance to use his archaeology training again, he says Glynn County resident Amy Hedrick, a local history enthusiast who runs the genealogy website Glynngen.com, has been searching death records in Savannah from the late 1700s and early 1800s in hopes of identifying who lies in some of the graves.
It is believed that Benjamin Hart, the husband of Revolutionary War figure Nancy Hart, is buried in the cemetery. Nancy Hart gained fame for allegedly shooting and killing several British soldiers during the war.
Weeks plans to apply for several grants next spring to help preserve the area and properly memorialize the area when it becomes a city park once again.