The sun had been up for only a few hours, but the humidity was already in full swing as Daniel Island resident Dick Porter arrived to begin his work at Lesesne Cemetery on a recent weekday. He gently pulled his rake across the sacred grounds, as a group of cicadas, equally undeterred by the heat, provided a lively morning chorus in the background.
If you’ve visited this site along the banks of the Wando River, just off the island’s main trail system, chances are you’ve seen Porter in action. He, and his rake, have become familiar fixtures here. A retiree who has a background in biology and chemistry, Porter has made it his personal mission to provide some tender loving care to the historic cemetery. He was inspired to help many months ago when he noticed the path leading to the burial ground was encroaching on the graves.
“People were walking over these stones as a part of the path,” Porter said. “And I told my wife, I said that’s just not right. I’m not an overly religious guy, but ... it’s just respect.”
So Porter got to work. He began clearing overgrown vegetation and cleaning headstones, some of which date back to the 1700s. Porter’s careful work has revealed inscriptions long covered from the passing of time.
“That one really got me,” Porter said, pointing at a stone dating to 1798. “... I was pleased with the way that cleaned up.”
Porter also reached out to Charleston resident Dan Lesesne, a Lesesne descendant with ancestors buried at the cemetery, to make sure all improvements had the family’s blessing.
“When he came by and met with me, he was elated that we were gonna do this,” Porter said.
After receiving Lesesne’s approval, he connected with Chris Hamil at the Daniel Island Property Owners Association (POA) to see if they could help redirect the path around the cemetery. The POA jumped in to assist, not only creating a new trail around the site, but also a brand new fence from repurposed materials. They also conducted additional clearing and top-dressed the trail from the main path to the cemetery.
The result – a newly enhanced cemetery that all parties hope will provide family members and other visitors a quiet, reflective place for remembering and honoring those laid to rest.
“It’s really amazing what has been done,” Porter said.
“Dick’s enthusiasm and desire to honor the Lesesne cemetery was the key instigator for this entire project,” Hamil added. “Dick was open to feedback for his vision and readily available to see the vision to its completion.”
“To begin with, the very fact that Dick took the initiative to get in touch with me was of great significance,” added Lesesne, who called Porter a godsend. “... He and I were often in communication even weekly... and he was always enthusiastic, always cheerful, and just full of ideas. Another one of Dick’s qualities is that he was always differential to the interests of the family. I always enjoyed the fact that he was sensitive, diplomatic.”
Also impressive to Lesesne is the fact that Porter is not a Charleston native, making his contributions all the more meaningful.
“Obviously he loves what he does and has a real abiding interest in this part of the world where he lives,” Lesesne noted.
Porter hopes the ongoing work at the cemetery will help draw attention to the hallowed spot so that more people know it’s there. And he’s happy to keep visiting with his rake, while looking for other ways to preserve and protect it.
“It’s just the accomplishment of seeing this restored back to where it should be,” Porter noted. “... And I enjoy staying busy!”
For more information on the cemetery’s history, and a list of those buried there, visit dihistoricalsociety.com/the-lesesne-family-cemetery/.