In search of Elizabeth A local man’s quest to find the grave of Elizabeth Lumpkin
Story by George L. Batten, Jr.
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Rubbing by Kathryn Schiliro
I blame my friend.
My friend loaned me a copy of the book “Rambles Through Morgan County, Georgia” by Louise McHenry Hicky (1971, reprinted 1989), and in reading this book I discovered that Elizabeth Lumpkin is buried in our fair county.
Elizabeth Lumpkin, who died at age 33 in the year 1819, was the first wife of Wilson Lumpkin, a man who held several important public offices during his life, including that of governor of the state of Georgia (1831 to 1835). Elizabeth Lumpkin is just the sort of minor historical figure that intrigues me, and so I decided to visit her grave.
It is interesting to visit the graves of the famous, and I’ve visited my share, but the graves of the nearly famous can be just as rewarding. I value a photograph of the grave of Ottmar Mergenthaler that I took in the late 1970s or early 1980s, in Baltimore. Once upon a time school children learned about Mergenthaler and his invention, and I suspect that even today newspaper publishers of a certain age still recall fondly the inventor of the Linotype machine. He is no longer famous, but still intriguing.
And so it is with Elizabeth Lumpkin. She married a future governor, gave him children, lost three in infancy, and died young. Best of all, she is buried nearby. I had to see her grave. The problem was finding the grave.
Mrs. Hicky was not very helpful. Here is her description of the grave’s location, in its entirety:
“Some miles out from Madison and Rutledge, on the Centennial road, and then turning off on an old but seldom used road today, and into a forest of tall, whispering pines, that makes one gasp, ‘This is the forest primeval,’ we suddenly came to an old rock chimney of a burned house. And a few yards further on, treading over a floor of pine needles, through tangled vines and overgrowth, among the shadowy trees, we found the moss covered tomb, a square kind of vault, several feet high, built of rocks. Inserted in one side is a marble slab with the following inscription, which dates back to an epoch of Georgia history: ‘Sacred to the memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Lumpkin and three infant children, being the wife and sons of Wilson Lumpkin. Mrs. Lumpkin died November 30, 1819 in the 33rd year of her age. Beloved and lamented by her family and friends. She lived the life and died the death of the righteous.’”
A few minutes spent with Google Earth will convince most anyone that the grave cannot be near Centennial Road. This is a problem with portions of Mrs. Hicky’s book: the book is a collection of articles, some dating back to the 1940s, and a few street and road names have changed during the years. We know, for example, that Old Post Road was once South First Street, and that Academy Street was once South Second Street. Clearly, the Centennial Road that we know is not the Centennial Road that Mrs. Hicky knew. Either that, or the seldom used road that she described is a very, very long dirt road that has been obliterated with time.
During this phase of my research I happened upon a Cemetery Survey of Morgan County, dated 2007, posted on the county’s Web site. Each cemetery is marked with a fairly large cross on a not-very-detailed county map. In most cases, the lack of detail is not a problem. For example, it is not difficult to find the Mars Hill Church Cemetery using the survey map, given that the cross is shown near U.S. Highway 278, and there is a Mars Hill Church Road intersecting U.S. Highway 278. But the cross that marks the location of the “Elizabeth Lumpkin Cemetery” is in the middle of a cluster of parcels of land off Davis Academy Road, and there is not a landmark, such as a road, that can be used to fix the location of the grave.
I drove along Davis Academy Road until I was fairly convinced that I knew where to begin. The most likely location was a parcel for sale, accessible by what appeared to be nothing more than a logging trail. I guessed that the grave would be found somewhere on that parcel. But, given the fact that there really wasn’t a road there, I decided that it would be a good idea to enlist the aid of a like-minded but more experienced partner. So, I contacted Ron Daughtry, retired timber buyer, and a man who had spent years hiking along logging trails, and in a moment of insanity, he agreed to join me on this quest. Ron called the realtor who listed the property, and obtained permission to hike in and search for the grave. And so it came to pass that on one hot, humid Saturday morning we plunged into the woods, in search of Elizabeth Lumpkin.
We did not find the grave that day, but we did find the remains of her house, the stone fireplace that Mrs. Hicky described. The grave was supposed to be near the house, but we were not sure just what Mrs. Hicky considered to be “near.” We decided that asking the county for help in finding the grave was the reasonable thing to do.
A very nice lady at the county sent me an aerial photo of the area we had hiked, showing the division of the land into numbered parcels, and locating the grave with a red dot. It was not on the parcel we had received permission to explore. Unfortunately, according to the photo, we had already strayed onto this parcel, and so it was time to contact another property owner for permission.
The owner of this second parcel gave us permission to explore his land, and said that he recalled seeing the grave, some 25 years earlier. He believed that Elizabeth Lumpkin was not buried on his land, but that is not what the county indicated. We decided to go with the county’s aerial photo, given that it was more recent. In the process I called the owner of an adjacent parcel, which contained a road of sorts that might run near the grave. I left messages, but didn’t hear from him before our second plunge into the woods.
The county was wrong. Ron and I spent more than two hours exploring nearly every square foot of that parcel of land, and we did not find the grave. The owner was probably correct: the actual location of the grave must be south-southwest of the spot marked by the county, on yet another parcel of land.
Sometime after this second adventure, land owner number three, the fellow who owns the road, returned my call. Yes, he knew the location of the grave. It was on his land, near the road, south-southwest of the spot marked by the county. He agreed to show it to us. We met him, drove up his dirt road, and within 50 yards from where we stopped our trucks we saw the grave of Elizabeth Lumpkin.
This owner does a very nice job of maintaining her grave. The county had an old photo, showing a tree growing out of the walled grave. The owner had cut the tree down, and he periodically cleans up the area.
Elizabeth Lumpkin rests in a quiet, beautiful spot, cared for by a land owner who shows respect for the departed. I almost felt guilty, disturbing the tranquility of these surroundings.
And so our visit to the grave of Elizabeth Lumpkin was far from a simple drive to the cemetery. It was a detective story followed by a treasure hunt, which kept us occupied for three or four weeks. And for that, I blame my friend, the one who loaned me Mrs. Hicky’s book.
I haven’t revealed the exact location of the grave for a couple of reasons. First, I never asked the owner of the land for permission to use his name. It doesn’t seem right to disturb his peace and quiet by putting a score or more of grave hunters on his trail. Second, it seems a shame to disturb the tranquility of Elizabeth’s resting place. When she was buried, her grave was near a major north-south stagecoach line, but the stagecoach hasn’t run in awhile, and our paved roads have passed her by. It is quiet there now. Let her slumber in peace.
But, if you decide that you really must visit her grave, then by all means, do so. I have provided enough hints in this article for you to find the grave, and just in case that doesn’t work, I’ve given approximate coordinates for the grave to the county. It will require some work on your part, and for that you, too, can blame my friend.