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A promise restored: Neighbors preserve cemetery

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The marsh grass in Pawleys Creek turned from gray to gold as a small but steady procession of people passed through the cemetery gates late Monday afternoon. Candles set between the finials of the wrought-iron fence held back the gathering twilight.

Sixteen people gathered in the corner near the tomb of Sarah Jane Shackleford. The Rev. Tommy Tipton led them in reading aloud the 118th Psalm: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”

It was the love of the small cemetery set on a rise along the South Causeway to Pawleys Island that brought neighbors and friends together to reconsecrate the plot.

In a week of thanksgiving, it was a time to be thankful for the piece of history that rests in their backyard and to honor their efforts to keep the cemetery in good repair.

The neighbors along the mainland side of Pawleys Creek are stewards of a pledge made by R.F.W. Allston, one of the state’s largest antebellum rice planters and a former governor, to Elizabeth Shackleford in 1845.

Allston built the South Causeway, connecting the mainland to the property on Pawleys Island where he built a summer home. The land at the west side of the marsh was owned by the estate of Hannah Tait, who was Shackleford’s mother.

Tait died on Nov. 23, 1833. She was 70. Allston was an executor of her estate and an advisor to her daughter.

Shackleford agreed to let Allston build his causeway on her land “provided also that the family burying place shall not be encroached on in any manner whatever.”

The cemetery eventually became overgrown. “You couldn’t tell what was under there,” said Charlie Schooler. He and his wife, Pat, who live along the creek, bought a house on Pawleys Island in 1972. In the 1980s, someone uncovered the raised graves. Pat recalled that there was a garden club involved.

Another renovation began this summer when Lily Grace Hudson noticed one of the gates was off its hinges. She was afraid someone would steal it.

While the gate was repaired, Tom Hudson and Chris Fisher, whose house is next to the cemetery, cleaned out the brush and pruned back the limbs. That led Anne Burgin, another neighbor, to suggest cleaning and painting the fence. The project cost about $300, with Hudson suggesting most of that was spent on Roundup to kill off the poison ivy.

Walter McElveen of Pawleys Island Realty provided a box to hold information sheets Hudson wrote for curious passersby. True Blue Nursery provided mums, one pot for each grave.

Along with Tait’s grave, is her granddaughter’s. Mary Dubois Shackleford died in July 1839, less than two weeks after her 16th birthday. Sarah Jane Shackleford’s grave contains only her name, and it is assumed that she was an infant daughter of Elizabeth Shackleford and her husband, John.

“We thought the thing to do is have Tommy come over and say a few words,” Lily Grace Hudson said.

It was Tipton’s first reconsecration, so he turned to the Episcopal Church’s Book of Occasional Services and came up with the psalm reading and two prayers for the cemetery. “I’m not sure it was ever desecrated,” he said. “But we’ve got it covered.”

The brief service continued as the light faded, punctuated by a dog barking across the street and a pickup truck that rumbled by on the causeway.

Making the sign of the cross, he finished by saying, “I declare this cemetery restored to the use for which it has been dedicated and consecrated.”

“This is a piece of history,” Tipton told the neighbors. “You are good to do this.”

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