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REPORTS: Location of Gov. Caswell's Grave?

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REPORT ON THE SEARCH TO LOCATE THE GRAVE OF

RICHARD CASWELL, 1729-1789
 
 
Submitted by
Jerry L. Cross
 
Research Branch
January 27, 1999
PREFACE
 
The site of Richard Caswell's grave appears to have been taken for granted for the sixty-one
years following his death. If any of his surviving children knew the exact spot, not one
recorded it for posterity. In 1850, the last surviving child, Anna Caswell White, died, and the
next year statements began to appear in print that Richard was buried in a family
buryingground near Kinston. No one challenged the conclusion, which seemed logical since
he had made Dobbs (now Lenoir) County his home for more than forty years. By 1914, a
cemetery identified as the Richard Caswell Burying Ground, so-called because some of his
descendants were interred there, lay about two and a half miles east of Kinston. Despite an
apparent lack of any documentary evidence, the tradition that the first governor of the state
of North Carolba lay beneath the soil somewhere on the tract took strong hold.
 
The Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument (still standing) on the grounds
in 1916. Two years later, that tradition prompted the North Carolina Historical Commission
(later the Department of Archives and History) to appropriate $100 to assist the citizens of
Kinston in placing by the roadside a tablet, which, with additional research primari1y about
the career of Richard Caswell, was supplemented by an official highway historicalcal marker
in 1935. Responding to the appeal of prominent North Carolinians such as R. Hunt Parker
of Roanoke Rapids, then associate justice of the State Supreme Court, and Tom White and
John G. Dawson of Kinston, both to become members of the General Assembly, the state
purchased the tract of twenty-two and one half acres in 1956 to develop as state historic site.
Still, the exact placement of Caswell's grave had not been located, and the lack of documented
evidence led some historians to question whether or not he actually was buried there, especially
since he died in Fayetteville some seventy-five miles distant. For many years the Department
(now Division) of Archives and History has maintained the official position that Caswell's burial
site remains unknown.
 
The question leaped to the forefront in early 1999 when Ted Sampley, a Kinston
businessman and history buff, issued a challenge and reward to anyone who could
authentically determine the location of Richard Caswell's grave. Knowing that the agency
would be besieged with inquires and contentions, Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow, director of the
Division of Archives and History, requested the Research Branch to examine thoroughly as
many records as possible within a limited time span to see if the grave could be located.
This report is the product of that search. Every member of the branch contributed to the
effort, and this writer believes that, unless additional records are found or positive evidence
turns up some place not generally expected to yield results, the data given herein represents
the best approach to the question at hand.
 
For purposes of time and convenience, this report does not contain footnotes. The research
notes and data are on file in the Research Branch and any documentation deemed necessary
can be provided. The following are the sources used in the course of this research.
 
Original Sources
 
Caswell, Richard. Estate Papers. New Bern District Court Records. State Archives
_______________ Papers. State Archives and Southern Historical Collection
_______________ Will. Secretary of State Records. State Archives
Clark, Walter, ed. The State Records of North Carolina
Cumberland County Records. Court Minutes, 1789-1790. State Archives
Dobbs County Records. Grantee Index. State Archives
Governors' Letterbooks. Samuel Johnston, Alexander Martin. State Archives
Governors' Papers. Samuel Johnston, Alexander Martin. State Archives
Keith, Alice Barnwell, ed. The Papers of John Gray Blount, Vol. I
Lenoir County Records. Colonial Records, I, 173 8-1866 (bound volume), State Archives
New Bern Lodge No. 2 [Masonic]. Minutes. North Carolina Collection
North Carolina General Assembly Papers. Sessions 1789-1790. State Archives
North Carolina Land Grants. State Archives
Swain, David L. Papers. Southern Historical Collection
Unanimity Lodge [Masonic]. Minutes. North Carolina Collection
White, William. Diary. State Archives
 
Secondary Sources
 
Alexander, Clayton B. "The Public Career of Richard Caswell". Ph.D., UNC (1930)
Ashe, S. A., ed. Biographical History of North Carolina..., III (1906)
Cross, Jerry L. "The Peebles House in Kinston: A Research Report on the House Restored
as 'Harmony Hall'." (1990)
Fouts, Raymond. Abstracts of Various North Carolina Newspapers of the Late Eighteenth
and Early Nineteenth C'enturies.
Hayden, Sidney. Washington a/k/His Masonic Compeers (1905)
Holloman, Charles R. "Benjamin Caswell (1737-1791)", "Martin Caswell (1733-1789)",
"Richard Caswell (1685-1755)", Richard Caswell (1729-1789)", and "William
Caswell (1754-1785)" in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Garolina Biography,
vol. 1 (1979)
Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field Book of the Revohition.. ., II, (1860) Newspapers
State Gazette of North (j7arolina (Edenton), December 3, 19, 1789
North Garo/ina Ghronicle (Fayetteville Gazette), February 1, 1790
Kinston Free Press, August 18, 1897; September 2, 1899; August 31, 1962; January 13,
1999
Unknown, undated. Article in clipping file, North Carolina Collection
North Garolina University Magazine, 4(March, 1855); 7(August, November, 1857)
Oates, John A. Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear, (1972, second printing)
Parramore, Thomas C. Launching the Craft: The First Half ~Zentuty of Freernasoniy in
North Garolina (1975)
Paschal, George Washington. A History of Printing in North Carolina (1946)
Wheeler, John H. Historical Sketches of North C'arolina from 1584 to 1851 (1851)
 
 
Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians (1878)
Works Progress Administration. Pre-1914 Graves Index
 
 
THE SEARCH FOR RICHARD CASWELL'S GRAVE
 
 
The Senate of the North Carolina General Assembly meeting in Fayetteville in 1789 chose
Richard Caswell as speaker for the session that began on November 2. Three days later he
suffered a paralytic stroke and was taken to the boarding house of Leharius [Le Hansyus]
De Keyser where he was staying. He lingered until November 10 when death claimed his
speechless body. That same day the Senate proposed that a joint committee be appointed "to
direct and conduct the mode and order of his [Caswell's] interment" and selected William
Blount, Joshua Skinner, and Timothy Bloodworth to represent the Senate. The House of
Commons received the proposal and concurred unanimously, appointing William R. Davie,
John Stokes, John Gray Blount, Matthew Locke, Philemon Hawkins Jr., and Thomas
Person to the committee. The next day, November 11, at 8 AM, William Blount reported the
plan "to conduct and direct the mode and order of the burial of the corpse of Hon. Richard
Caswell, Esq." While no final resting place is identified or a cemetery mentioned, one
cannot totally ignore the deliberate use of "interment" and "burial of the corpse" in the
directive to the committee and its subsequent report. Nowhere do the terms "funeral" or
"services" appear.
 
The plan directed that: "The Clergymen and Doctors precede the corpse--The Corpse--The
Relations of the deceased and chief mourners--The Speakers--The Members of the Senate
two and two--The Members of the House of Commons two and two--Governor and
Secretary of State--Treasurer and Comptroller--Clerks of the General
Assembly--Other persons attending two and two--That the General Assembly go into
mourning one month." John Gray Blount presented the plan to the House which adopted it
unanimously. Both houses then adjourned until the next morning.
 
Meanwhile, others prepared Caswell's body for burial. Mr. Arants (barber) shaved, washed,
and laid out the corpse; Mrs. Boyakin [Boykin] (probably a seamstress) made the shroud
and dressing; and Mr. McAustin (Store owner) provided the linen for scarves and [arm]
bands, ribbon to tie the scarves and bands, and cambric for the cap of the shroud. The coffin
containing the body was carried to the church from which the above described procession,
described by William Blount as the "most regular I ever saw," took place. At this point, the
body of Richard Caswell, seven times elected governor of the state and a Revolutionary War
general, seems to disappear from the written record. Was he buried in Fayetteville as
implied by the directive to the legislative committee? Was the body transported back to
Dobbs [now Lenoir] County for interment? Some even speculate the possibility that he was
buried in Fayetteville and later removed to a family burial ground near Kinston.
 
 
Caswell's personal servant, Jack, who had accompanied him to the legislative session,
remained in Fayetteville until November 22 (twelve days after Caswell's death) when
William Blount sent him to New Bern to take the financial accounts and a copy of the North
Carolina Gazette to William White. He did not return directly to Kinston, which would have
been the usual procedure had the body been transported overland, and Blount made no
mention of the corpse in his letter to White if a decision had been made to ship the deceased
by water. Likewise, no evidence whatsoever was found in this research to indicate local
interment and later removal to Dobbs County. The records so far examined are completely
silent as to the disposition of the body after the procession in Fayetteville.
 
Since Caswell was Grand Master of North Carolina Masons at the time of his death,
ceremonies honored him at virtually every lodge in the state. Particularly elaborate were the
services at Christ Church in New Bern held by St. John's Lodge where Francis [Francois]
X. Martin delivered a stirring eulogy. Records mention a similar service at the fledgling
lodge in Kinston but no details were given and none addressed the place of burial. No one
knows for certain the placement of Caswell's remains, but the tradition has been so strong in
favor of the Kinston area that it has become an ingrained part of the Lenoir County heritage.
 
As stated in the preface, this brief research found that none of Caswell's contemporaries or
his surviving children seem to have recorded the former governor's grave site. His will
(1787) designates two one-half acre tracts as family burying grounds:
 
"the Hill" where his father, Richard Caswell Sr., and mother, Christian Dallam Caswell, were
buried and the "Red House" where his first wife, Mary McElwean Caswell (died 1 757) and
son William (died 1785) were interred. By platting the few available land grants and deeds,
"the Hill" appears to have been located on the northeast side of Kinston near Adkins
Branch, a tract of eighty-five acres granted to Richard Caswell Sr. in 1748. The same
procedure places the "Red House" on a tract of unknown acreage that included the property
where the state historic site and the so-called Richard Caswell Cemetery are located. Richard
Caswell [Jr.] acquired this land sometime prior to October 7, 1756. For some years the
claim has been made that Caswell's will stated that he wanted to be buried at the "Red
House," and that claim found its way into print and has been often repeated even by this
agency. A close reading, however, clearly reveals that Caswell did not make a preference as
to where he was to be buried, thereby leaving open other possibilities.
 
An undated article from an unknown newspaper, found in the clipping file of the North
Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, makes an interesting,
albeit undocumented argument favoring the "Red House" site. The writer contends that he
accompanied the noted orator Edward Everett of Massachusetts and Judge John R. Donnell
of New Bern to the grave site in 1858: "In a field nearby the road, next to the river, a small
circle of cedars and bushes told where for three-quarters of a century peacefully reposed the
ashes of the hero and patriot." He added that on this land once stood "a place now known as
the Red House, which, it is said, Gov. Caswell did once occupy. Unfortunately, according to
the writer, "The grave of Caswell is utterly neglected. He sleeps under a clump of trees and
bushes is all that is known. The encroachments of the plow is little, by little, season after
season, circumscribing the burial place.
 
The writer of the article, known only by the initial "W," based the location of Caswell's
grave largely on the testimony of Lewis C. Desmond and Gen. Richard Caswell Gatlin.
Desmond owned the property for many years and was residing there when visits were made
to the grave site. He had married Eliza, born in 1804 and who, according to the writer, was a
granddaughter of Richard Caswell who had once owned the "Red House" tract. Gen. R. C.
Gatlin was the son of Caswell's daughter Susanna and her husband, John Gatlin. He was
born in 1809 and named for his grandfather. Historians usually afford credence to family
knowledge in direct relationship to the passage of time from the event in question. The
closer the informants are, the more reliable the information. Eliza was born fifteen years
after her grandfather's death and General Gatlin's birth came twenty years after. It seems
likely that they learned about the family cemetery and its famous occupant from their
parents who lived until the 1830s and 1840s, but the data does not appear to have been made
public until the 1850s, more than sixty years after Caswell's death. That much passage of
time enters the gray area of reliability and raises one very important question. If Richard
Caswell's grave and the cemetery were known to members of the family, and was even in the
possession of a granddaughter and her husband who were not suffering financially, why
was no effort at all made to maintain the site in good order? According to "W," Caswell's
grave continued an accelerated deterioration while on the land of his descendants, Eliza W.
and Lewis C. Desmond. A visit to the site during the Civil War, about five years before
Desmond's death in 1868, led the writer to state: "Some of the bushes, in the lapse of a few
years, began to acquire the dimensions of small oak trees and one was pointed out growing
from an acorn accidentally dropped directly at the head of the grave of the first governor."
The last visit occurred shortly before the article was published, at which time the writer had
some difficulty in locating the supposed grave.
 
By 1914 the Richard Caswell Family Burying Ground had attracted the attention of Mrs.
W. T. Hines of Kinston who requested a professional surveyor to lay Out the site. A map
drawn by J. B. Harding, Civil Engineer, in January 1914, shows a cemetery plot 100 feet by
75 feet about 700 feet north of the Neuse River. That places it on the land now owned by
the state and developed as a historic site. Mrs. Hines then asked Miss Sue Bond to provide
a list of people buried in the cemetery. The typescript list, dated April 3, 1914, was found
among the Caswell Papers in the Southern Historical Collection at Chapel Hill. Sixteen
graves were identified, including Richard Caswell (1729-1789), his first wife Mary
Mcllwain [McElwean] (died 1757), his second wife Sarah Herritage (died 1794), and his
sons William (1754-1785) and Dallam (1769-ca. 1833). There is also the notation that the
Masons "marked" Richard Caswell' s grave in 1908; "until then the only marker was one
erected by nature--a giant oak still standing."
 
The papers do not indicate how much of Sue Bond's record came from personal observation
and how much from local history. Obvious errors, such as the dates for Eliza W. Desmond
showing her to be 140 years old at her death and Lewis Desmond producing his first child
at the age of eleven, simply may be typographical errors, but they may also be the
incorporation of inconsistent data taken from local tradition. The Works Progress
Administration conducted a statewide survey of cemeteries throughtout North Carolina in
the 1930's, and some of their information contradicts that given by Sue Bond. The WPA
noted that the earliest marked grave was 1831; Miss Bond listed Mary McElwean Caswell,
Richard's first wife, who died in 1757. The WPA stated that the cemetery contained no
unmarked graves; yet, the Bond data indicated that there were several unmarked graves, and
"many more [too] hard to obtain indisputable evidence as to whom [sic] they are." The
contradictions pose a problem and call into question the entire series of events that identified
Caswell's grave.
 
The argument for the Lenoir County location stems from a family tradition that began in the
1850s. Without any known documentary evidence, an unmarked grave was pointed out to
prominent men who wished to visit the final resting place of Richard Caswell. That site went
unchallenged for more than eighty years, and even today remains the alleged grave of the
first state governor; yet, the contradiction in the WPA records, the events that took place in
Fayetteville in 1789, and the inability to tie any documentary evidence to the spot of burial
cause concern among people wishing to preserve history as authentically as possible. If
logic prevailed, the surviving children and subsequent grandchildren should have known
where Richard Caswell was buried. If they did, why did they not record such information
for more than sixty years, and then only when dignitaries such as Edward Everett and Judge
John R. Donnell asked to visit the grave? The tradition is strong, extremely so in the
Kinston area, but at present there are too many nagging questions and loose ends to say
beyond any doubt just where Richard Caswell is buried. A lengthy and more intensive
research investigation possibily will provide additional information and, one can always
hope, a definitive answer to the question.
. Files in State Archives
 
 
 
SOURCE: THE BLOUNT PAPERS:
 
Addendum to the Cross Report. The following information, found in the Blount papers,
states that Richard Caswell's body was returned to Kinston.Mr. Cross overlooked or did not
include this in his report.
 
 
"The Senate placed William Blount in charge of the funeral arrangements for
Caswell, his old personal friend. Blount saw to it that the Federalists
(backers of the Constitution) were solemnly, but also conspicuously,
positioned along a special order of march. The participants were to follow
behind the coffin, which was heavily draped with scarfs and Bands and
Ribband."
 
"The funeral got under way at what Blount identified simply as "the church".
>From there, the procession made its way to Market Square, where there were
outdoor eulogies at the State house,during which time the town's only bell
tolled a dirge from Barge's Tavern."
 
"Prominent among the mourners were members of the Masonic Grand Lodge of
North Carolina, of which organization Caswell was grand master at the time
of his death."
 
While there were no military units, members of the fraternal order were
nearly all Revolutionary War veterans, and the Masonic ceremony, with its
lined procession, colorfully draped coffin and marching mourners mimicked
the traditional rites for military funerals."
 
"As soon as the ceremonies ended, Caswell's coffin was placed in a wagon,
and with an escort of mounted mourners, departed for the two day journey to
Red House."
 

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