23 March 2009

Gravestone Placed By Former Slave

This gravestone is located in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. It is rather unusual. Though the inscription is hard to read on this image, here's what it says:

David McKinley
Died 1851
About 70 Years
My Trust Is In God
Placed by Peter Fleming
his former Slave

The stone is located just to your left as you enter the cemetery. In his book, Black Confederates and Afro Yankees in Civil War Virginia, Ervin Jordan notes the following about Peter Fleming:

"Peter Fleming returned to Lexington from Ohio (where he had made a small fortune) fifteen years after being freed by David McKinley to pay his respects at the graves of his former owners. Upon discovering the absence of tombstones, he ordered and paid for two marble markers."

There are similar stones like this one throughout Virginia and the rest of the South. I know of another one like this located at the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church graveyard in Rockbridge County. There can be no doubt that these headstones, placed by slaves over their master's graves, reveal part of the complicated feelings that were involved in the slave/master relationship. Certainly, these feelings were not universal, but they did exist in many slave households.

(Click on image to enlarge.)


cenantua said...

Quite the touching story Richard, and it helps to bring the complexities of slave/slaveholder relationships into focus. Thanks for sharing.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I thought so. The fact this former slave came all the way from Ohio and paid for the stone himself is quite remarkable, in my opinion.

I'm going to try and locate the one at Timber Ridge some time.

Thanks for stopping by Robert.

cenantua said...

You should stop by Too Long Forgotten sometime (http://toolongforgotten.wordpress.com/) and read about Bethany Veney's return to Page County and visit with her former owner. It's in the latter part of the book. Her story is the only complete account of a former slave from the Valley (at least that I am aware of).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Sounds very interesting Robert. I'll do that.