Funeral home records indicate Beulah marker belonged to white

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 28, 2009

From staff reports

A grave marker at historic Beulah Cemetery in Vicksburg that predates both the Civil War and the known founding of the graveyard is perhaps explained in records from the 1850s.

Dr. Mary Landin of Utica, active in the Vicksburg Genealogical Society, was prompted by a Sunday story in The Vicksburg Post to research W.W. Williamson, identified on the marker as having been born on June 4, 1815, and having died on July 3, 1859.

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“On page 99, Fisher Funeral Homes records for 1854-1860, are two listings for W.W. Williamson,” Dr. Landin found.  “On Oct. 31, 1857, he ordered a coffin and case and listed as ‘debtor.’  On July 3, 1859, a coffin, case, and drayage was ordered by H.P. Hunt for W.W. Williamson, again listed as a debtor.’”

That would mean Williamson, if it’s the same person, arranged one burial with the funeral home a bit less than two years before his own death and that Hunt, a kinsman, friend or associate, arranged for Williamson’s burial — drayage being the fee for taking the coffin to the cemetery by horse-drawn wagon — on the day of his death.

The location of the cemetery, just west of the Louisiana Monument in the Vicksburg National Military Park, was largely open farm and pasture land. It was routine practice in those days for people to create small, family cemeteries on their property or to be buried in churchyards. Within four years of Williamson’s death, the area was also the site of key conflicts in the Siege of Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863.

Additional information about Williamson was not immediately found. “I checked 1850 census records for Warren County,” Landin said, “and did not find a listing for a W.W. Williamson as living in Warren County.” Free blacks were identified by name in the 1850 Census; slaves were not — but it was unlikely a slave would have had a stone marker or commercial coffin and case.

Historically, Fisher has served white clientele. “Williamson could very well have been a white man, buried where Beulah now is before the African-American cemetery came into existence,” Landin said.

Before the marker was found, the earliest burial in the cemetery was believed to have been 1884. From then until the 1940s, the private cemetery was the primary graveyard for African-Americans.

The Williamson marker was found by two volunteers from AmeriCorps NCCC working with the Beulah Restoration Committee in an ongoing project to clean and maintain the area as well as compile a list of names and information about the people buried there.