Kevin Mishoe never expected to get help from the groups that turned out to clean up Eddy Lake Cemetery, a recently recovered African American burial ground that most people believe is filled with slaves that once belonged to Henry Buck.
About 45 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and went to work raking straw, adding mulch and even repairing deteriorating tombstones. Nine were Horry County policemen, and most of the others were descendants of Confederate soldiers.
“It was awesome, and I thought it was an opportunity to talk about something positive because you hear so much about the Civil War and how it was fought to preserve slavery,” Mishoe said, adding that for this restoration project descendants of slaves and of Confederate soldiers came together for a worthwhile project.
People in the Bucksport area have long talked about a slave cemetery, and some people knew that their relatives were buried there, but they weren’t sure where it was.
Marie Owens, whose great-great-grandmother is buried there, set out a while back to find the cemetery, and she did!
It’s on property now owned by the Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority, whose officials gave her and others the okay to restore the cemetery, where they believe that as many as 100 people might have been buried.
There are only 23 headstones, but indentations in the ground indicate that there are others there who were buried in homemade wooden boxes with their graves marked by things like conch shells and farm implements.
Again Mishoe uses the word awesome to describe Saturday’s event.
“It was awesome and all the blowers and the rakes and the mulchers, and then we had a catering service that came out and cooked for everyone,” he said.
Mishoe says anyone that saw the cemetery before Saturday will not recognize it now.
Jamie Graham, president of the S.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, was able to restore several of the stones that were broken and crumbling from age.
They are sure that at least one of the graves dates back to 1887, but they aren’t sure if there are some that are older.
Graham wasn’t surprised about the camaraderie of the groups working Saturday, saying his group has been doing cemetery cleanup for decades.
He said he and Mishoe attended Conway High School at the same time, and because he’s local he had already read a story about the cemetery.
Actually interest in Eddy Lake Cemetery from Confederate descendants started before Saturday. Mishoe said the Daughters of the Confederacy went to the cemetery to make sure that Owens and Mishoe were right about who was there.
They knew there was a JP Williams, who was a Confederate soldier, but the person buried at Eddy Lake turned out to be a JA Williams.
Graham contacted his classmate later saying his group wanted to help restore the cemetery.
Mishoe’s son is an Horry County policeman, and he pitched the idea to police.
“Chief Hill was instrumental in allowing his officers to come out, and they all worked, so it was just a beautiful gathering for a beautiful cause,” Mishoe said.
Horry County Councilman Orton Bellamy has also become involved in the project, working on an historical marker for the site. Mishoe says they’ll have a memorial service when they’re all done and the sign’s in place, but that likely won’t come before June of 2021, maybe on Juneteenth.
Graham said his group wanted to help because its members realize that Bucksport isn’t a rich community and he knew they were having trouble trying to raise enough money for the cleanup and renovation.
He told Mishoe that he knew of a professional group that would take all of the precautions not to damage anything in the cemetery and would show the upmost respect for the dead that are buried there.
“It’s a community project,” Graham said. “I am part of this community. I put the word out to my guys and they were ecstatic about being able to do it.”
Graham, who repairs gravestones himself, put his skill to work at Eddy Lake.
“It’s really not as complicated as most people think. It’s more tedious…You have to make sure you don’t hurt the stones more,” he said.
He said restoring cemeteries isn’t the SCV’s only contribution to the community. They deploy teams to assist victims of disasters, collect toys for underprivileged children and more, but they don’t seek lots of publicity for what they do.
‘It’s not about credit; it’s about giving back. That’s who we are,” he said.
He said the group has thousands of members from around the country.
“We have a love of our ancestors and our history and we are not all white. We have people from all different races to include African Americans. A lot of people find that hard to believe, but it’s true,” he said. “If you know the true history, then it wouldn’t surprise you. Unfortunately, history’s not being taught the way it should be these days.”
He says today’s narrative is that Confederates were racists, and they were all slave owners.
But, he says, only 5 percent of South Carolinians owned slaves.
“So where do you come up with the idea that they were racists and hated blacks,” he asked.
He asks if only 5 percent owned slaves what were the other 95 percent fighting for. His answer is their state that they thought was going to be invaded by 75,000 government troops that President Abraham Lincoln was talking about sending here to squelch a rebellion.
He says South Carolinians at that point didn’t see themselves as Americans, they saw themselves as South Carolinians first.
“It’s never been a race issue. It never will be. You know there are bad apples in everything…Yes, there were bad slave owners and slavery is an abomination. Just about every race in this world has been enslaved at some time. That’s fact. That’s Biblical,” Graham said.
He said too many people automatically think that anything confederate is bad; anything law enforcement is bad.
But, bottom line is, they are the two groups that came out to help Saturday, he said.
“The truth is the majority of slave owners did not mistreat their slaves,” he said.
Graham says the SCV plans to do more at Eddy Lake.
“We’re not finished,” he said.
Bellamy says he’s been talking with Horry County, the Horry County Historical Society, Coastal Carolina University and the S.C. Archeological Association about what services they can provide to the cemetery restoration.
He also hopes to do some private fundraising for the cemetery, adding that they have enough money now for an official S.C. grave marker.
About Saturday, he said, “They did a phenomenal job.”
He was also glad to see the Horry County Police Department working to build community relationships.
He wants to pass the information from the cemetery on to the next generation to help keep the legacy of Bucksport alive.
He also wonders if they can work out some type of sister city situation with Bucksport, Maine, where Henry Buck came from.
They have also been working with a genealogist, Grant Mishoe out of Charleston, who is associated with the Gullah Society, who has begun studying old records and obituaries trying to determine who all of the remains belong to.
“He is a historian for slave cemeteries, so God just brought everything together here,” Kevin Mishoe said. “I just don’t believe in coincidence. He’s been very instrumental in helping us find the background on this lost cemetery that we have gotten together.”
Mishoe said when he first told people that the SCV was going to help there was some suspicion.
But, he said, “They really came through as an organization to help us. It was good to see the hugging and shaking of hands, to see the groups supposed to be foes be friends.”
He says some people who have moved away from Bucksport have reconnected because of the cemetery.
And, he said, there has been much camaraderie in the African American community, both local and distant, and with many organizations that cross denominational, ethnic and theological lines.
“We have crossed every possible line that divides us and this thing has actually brought us together and united us, so it’s been a good thing,” he said.