Lieutenant James Nephew received the property along Cathead Creek that came to be known as Ceylon Plantation as payment for service rendered to Colonel John Baker’s Regiment of the Liberty County Militia during the Revolution. Nephew and his wife, Mary Magdalen Gignilliat (pronounced Gin-lat), owned plantations in Georgia and South Carolina. Ceylon became quite successful from the labor of around 120 slaves by 1859. Nothing remains of the plantation, except for a few rice canals on Cathead Creek and this cemetery, where Ceylon’s slaves and their descendants rest in eternity.
Few places illustrate the dark shadow of slavery more than slave cemeteries. Many have been permanently lost and the few which do survive are often in poor condition.
Ceylon Cemetery is no exception in its lack of known burials and marked graves. Walking these historic grounds, one struggles to locate any old headstones. It’s thought that most burials were commemorated with wooden markers and shells, hence their absence today.
The cemetery is slightly more than an acre in size, and though the exact number can’t be known, surveys have indicated that about 76 souls are interred here.
Bailey, Blige, Butler, Carter, Cooper, Gibbs, Harris, Mansson, Mungin, Sheffield, Wilson, and Young, are among the family names represented here.
As the headstone of Corporal Andrew Bailey indicates, at least some of the former slaves of Ceylon served in the Union effort in the war. Bailey joined Company E, 33rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops, at Beaufort, South Carolina, on 12 January 1863. Though rosters list his age at 21 years old at the time, the birthdate on his headstone suggests he was actually 17; his corporal commission came in October 1865, after the war ended. He died on 17 November 1885.
Joseph Gibbs (5 June 1864-14 December 1918) is one of just a few visible older headstones.
Recent burials here, though infrequent, illustrate an ongoing connection between Ceylon’s slaves and their descendants.