William Blackard's fascination with graves stems from a healthy respect for local history.
That's why it bothers him when someone else would be so blatantly disrespectful as to break an almost 150-year-old headstone.
According to a Columbia County Sheriff's Office incident report, sometime between March 10 and 14 vandals broke a white grave headstone in the Harriss family cemetery, in Appling at the corner of Ray Owens and Crawford Place roads.
Blackard lives near the small cemetery and reported the crime. He was particularly upset by the vandalism, because he and his wife, Jean, recently cleaned up the area by removing broken branches and weeds.
A retired illustrator with the U.S. Army, Blackard, 74, has taken an interest in local history. He has illustrated books for Augusta State University history professor and author Ed Cashin, and is a member of the Columbia County Historical Society.
Columbia County historian Bill Blackard tries to find all the pieces of a broken tombstone for Caroline Casey that dates to 1856. Vandals knocked over the headstone in the Harriss family cemetery in Appling.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
His latest project is seeking and cataloging Columbia County's many grave sites for an upcoming book.
"For the last three or four years, my wife and I have been recording all the cemeteries in the county," said Blackard.
"Of course, there's over 50 church cemeteries and the woods are full of them too, like the Harriss Cemetery."
Blackard is hoping, with a little help, that the broken headstone won't remain that way for long.
"I'm trying to contact someone in Augusta that could restore it or glue it back together one way or another," he said.
"It's a shame. This is an historical area. (The cemetery is) located in what was called Brownsboro, which was named for Thomas Brown. Brown received a land grant for this area in 1774 and had a plantation close by. Ed Cashin wrote about him in his book The King's Rangers."
According to Blackard, the six-grave cemetery is of additional historical significance because the patriarch of the family buried there is Juriah Harriss.
"I have a copy of a plat showing where the Marshall family sold 600 acres of land in Brownsboro to Juriah Harriss," said Blackard.
"He was one of the first pastors of Kiokee Church, which is the oldest Southern Baptist church in the country."
The headstone that was broken belonged to Caroline Casey, Juriah's daughter, who was only 34 when she died in 1856.
"There are a lot of family type cemeteries like this where their family would just take them out in the back yard and bury them," Blackard said.
"Back in those days it was just too far to go to Augusta for a proper funeral."
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