While attending the funeral of my aunt several years ago, I was very intrigued by a conversation I had with another person there.
This person knew of my interest in the history surrounding Harlem. I was told about an old gravestone with an unusual name on it. The name especially got my attention, and I wondered if it had any possible connection with another name I was researching.
I was eager to see what this person was talking about, and he agreed to take me to the location. He made me aware that it was hard to get to.
As we rode along in his pickup, I had to agree that this was a rough ride. We had to do a lot of ditch-hopping and dodging of other obstacles. The area was overgrown with trees and bushes, and by the time we arrived on the scene I felt like I had been on a safari.
The gravestone was that of a young woman who had died just two days before Christmas, more than 160 years ago. This predated Harlem, as well as Mt. Tabor Church in Sawdust. The Georgia Railroad had just laid tracks through the area.
This must have been a sad Christmas for the family of this young woman and to her husband of only a little over a year.
The gravestone was very worn by the elements of time and was a little difficult to read, but by using a special method we were able to accomplish our goal.
The epitaph engraved on the gravestone is as follows:
Here lies the remains of Emily Campania, Daughter of James and Mary Shaw, Consort of Benjamen Leigh; Thou was born the 26th of June 1819, and died on the 23rd day of Dec 1838, Aged 19 years 5 months and 25 days
The gravestone was made by Glendenning Payne & Co. of Augusta.
According to some early Columbia County marriage records, Emily Campanias father and mother, James and Mary (McDaniel) Shaw were married April 28, 1803. Emily married Benjamen Campania Feb. 23, 1837. Sometimes old records are difficult to read due to faded ink, torn documents or poor handwriting.
There was evidence at the site of at least one more grave. Bricks were neatly piled in a mound that was about five to six feet long.
Emilys resting place is in the Harlem area and located on private property.
During the early days it was customary to have the family and those working for them buried together on the land they lived on. As times passed and things changed, some land was sold or lost due to hard times. Families died out or moved away. After decades of neglect, the cemeteries became overgrown with bushes or consumed by forest. Some have been found, but others are lost forever.
As you stroll down that old familiar road or perhaps walk through the forest, keep a sharp eye on the surroundings and perhaps you may find a treasure from the past.
Special thanks to Anthony and Kay Coleman for taking me to Emilys grave and sharing this information with me.
(Bette Sargent is a Harlem historian.)
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