Saturday, August 27, 2016

Where is the oldest marked grave in Wilcox County, Alabama located?

Is Lt. J.M. Wilcox buried beneath this headstone?
Where is the oldest marked grave in Wilcox County?

This question came to me one day over a week ago as my son and I walked among the headstones in the historic, old Camden Cemetery. As we walked along, reading the dates of death on the tombstones, we came across two likely candidates, the graves of Lt. Joseph Morgan Wilcox and Margaret Beck. It’s possible that there are older graves in this cemetery, but these two appeared to have the oldest legible death dates.

With that said, the grave of Lt. Wilcox raises an interesting question, that is, is he actually even buried in Wilcox County? As many of you know, Wilcox County was named in his memory by an Act of the Alabama General Assembly on Dec. 13, 1819. This honor came five years after the 23-year-old Army officer was tomahawked to death and scalped during a fight with a Creek war party on the Alabama River on Jan. 15, 1814. Most sources say that two days after his death, he was buried with full military honors at Fort Claiborne, which was located in present-day Monroe County.

Over 200 years have passed since the death of Wilcox, and I wonder if perhaps his remains were moved at some point from Fort Claiborne to Camden. This would explain his headstone in the Camden Cemetery.

Margaret Beck, who was born in 1783, died at the age of 39 on Nov. 8, 1822. What’s interesting about the age of her grave is that it’s older that Camden itself. At the time of her death, the county seat was located at Canton Bend, and it remained there until 1833. That year, the county seat moved to what was first called Wilcox Courthouse and was later renamed Barboursville. It wasn’t until 1841 that Barboursville was renamed Camden by Dr. John C. Caldwell in honor of his hometown, Camden, S.C.

With the idea in mind that there could be older marked graves in the former county seat of Canton Bend, I began to investigate records from what’s likely the largest cemetery in that old community, the cemetery at Canton Bend Methodist Church. To my surprise, I discovered that that old burial ground contains a legibly marked grave dating all the way back to Jan. 15, 1815, the final resting place of three-month-old Eunice Rebecca Mathews. Born on Oct. 6, 1814 (five years before Alabama even became a state), Mathews was the daughter of William T. and Dorothy Mathews. 

It should be noted that this cemetery contains dozens of unmarked graves and graves without legible dates of death, so it’s more than possible that graves dating from before Jan. 15, 1815 are located there. I think it’s also highly likely that there are older marked graves in other Wilcox County cemeteries, especially those in communities that were settled before Canton Bend and Camden.

Some sources say that Lower Peach Tree was the oldest European settlement in present-day Wilcox County, and this community contains more than a few cemeteries with graves dating back into the county’s early history. The question remains, is there a marked grave there, or elsewhere within the county’s borders, older than Jan. 15, 1815?

In the end, please let hear from you if you know of a grave with a legible date of death older than Jan. 15, 1815. If you know of one or more, let me know by e-mailing me at If you’ll give me the details, I’ll update the good readers of The Progressive Era with another column on the oldest marked grave in Wilcox County.

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