On Sunday, Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. in Spiro 2, please join the Archaeological Society of Staten Island for a lecture by Dr. Rita Reynolds, a Wagner college history professor, on “The Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground: Charleston’s Famous Unknown Free Black Cemetery.”
Dr. Reynolds summarizes: The Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground was established in 1790 by a group of wealthy free men of color in Charleston, S.C. In antebellum Charleston, cemeteries were racially segregated. Free blacks who did not wish to be buried with slaves established their own burial grounds to allow them a degree of dignity in death. The BFS interred members and their families for roughly 150 years. Unfortunately, the property was sold to the Catholic Diocese of Charleston in the mid-1950s after it fell into disuse. The human remains from the cemetery were supposed to have been moved by the new owners of the property to a different location, but only the headstones were moved; the bodies remained. The site was paved over and used as a parking lot for 50 years. Because no formal society cemetery records have survived, anthropologist Michael Scholl and I have used Charleston city death records from 1829 to 1870 to illuminate what life was like for this segment of society. We were able to extract details about living conditions, gender disparities, infant mortality, overall health, medical treatment and, to a lesser degree, attitudes about class and race when it came to burial of some of the slaves owned by wealthy free people of color.