Exploring Daniel Island's final resting places
Even though it is, by the books, an unofficial holiday, everybody wins on Halloween. Kids get copious amounts of candy, adults get spooky movies, and South Carolina gets slightly lower temperatures. And while the island is the opposite of scary in most respects, it does have one eerie feature that goes mostly unrecognized. Four different cemeteries, all with a surprising amount of historical background, sit on Daniel Island.
In honor of All Hallows’ Eve, Daniel Island Historical Society co-founder and “Daniel Island” co-author Mike Dahlman took The Daniel Island News on a tour of the four historic island cemeteries. He provided a quick history lesson and noted the significance of each, while we took in the serene autumn sights.
Grove Cemetery is nuzzled off of one of the island’s many walking trails. Located behind Volvo Car Stadium, near the large pond adjacent to the complex on Seven Farms Drive, Grove contains a substantial number of unmarked graves. The site’s most recognizable feature is the row of new pillars that mark the outskirts of the burial ground.
“This site contains the remains of approximately 45-50 individuals,” Dahlman wrote in his island history book “Daniel Island.” “It has 17 marked graves with a date range of 1927 to 1969.”
The unmarked graves, which are also seen in Simmons Cemetery and Alston Cemetery, can be noted by depressions in the ground. Dahlman said that the Grove Cemetery was used by the Lesesne Family as a place to bury the enslaved African-Americans they owned in their time operating a plantation.
William Simmons, grandfather of the late Daniel Island native Philip Simmons, a master blacksmith, is buried in Grove Cemetery.
LESESNE FAMILY CEMETERY
Adjacent to the Grove Cemetery, behind the tennis courts of the Family Circle Tennis Center, is the Lesesne Family Cemetery. It sits just south of the I-526 overpass, along the Wando River.
“They had an active working plantation here until 1710,” said Dahlman.
This resting ground is smaller in scale to the rest and is marked by an engraved obelisk. Roughly 20 to 30 graves and markers are located in this spot, and they date from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century.
In addition to the Lesesne family, members of the Beekman, Cochran, Parker, and Brailsford families are buried in this cemetery. While it takes up less space than the other cemeteries toured, this is the home to the oldest tombstone on the island. It belongs to James Frederick Lesesne, who was 11 months old when he died in 1784.
The obelisk in front of the cemetery was erected by descendents of Isaac Lesesne in April 2001.
Simmons Cemetery is a short walk, or an even shorter bike ride, from Children’s Park near the Daniel Island Sales Center. To access, take the trail along the Wando River towards the boardwalk that leads to Barfield Park. The cemetery will be on your right in a small wooded area. The first thing visitors will notice is the multi-colored wooden gate at the end of the tree canopy.
“The darker wood came from a blacksmith shop that was here when the Daniel Island Company started doing developing,” said Dahlman. “I think it was the first one [cemetery] they tried to block off.”
The differential characteristic of the Simmons Cemetery is the graves of African-American soldiers, who all fought in wars during the time of segregation in the military.
“Two World War I military markers indicate service in the black infantry regiments, and one Civil War marker identifies the grave of an African-American who fought for the Union as a part of the U.S. colored infantry,” Dahlman wrote in “Daniel Island.”
G.C. Coxswain is one of the African-American soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. The inscription on his grave reads “Corporal, Company K, 103 USCI.”
Private David Sparkman of the USCI also rests at Simmons Cemetery. Several years ago, a new tombstone was placed over his grave, thanks to his descendant Reverend David Riley.
John Bellinger, who is one of the two African-American World War I soldiers buried on the site, served in an integrated combat unit with French troops in the Verdun sector.
Located in a residential area along Ralston Creek Street in Daniel Island Park, Alston Cemetery is the least remote of the four, positioned in between two large homes.
“Alston is a derivation of Ralston,” said Dahlman about the cemetery’s name. “There was a gentleman by the name of Ralston who owned a plantation of about 735 acres. That one goes back as far as 1820.”
This sacred burial place has almost equal amounts unmarked and marked graves, totaling between 25 and 30 individuals.
“It’s old, it has slave roots to the Ralston plantation,” said Dahlman. “This is another one of those cemeteries where it was associated with a plantation.”
Philip Simmons’ grandmother, Sarah Simmons, is buried in the middle of Alston Cemetery.
Similar to Simmons and Grove Cemeteries, Alston is referred to as a “sacred burial ground,” by the African-Americans that buried their dead there.
“This is the place of their ancestry,” Dahlman explained.