Family discovers slaves were buried at historic family cemetery

Posted at 7:50 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-17 00:52:31-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — An old family cemetery now a historical marker in Nashville, but the mission to preserve history uncovered more about the family's past. The Gower descendants discovered several slaves were buried at the family cemetery.

The family spent about two years trying to save the Gower Cemetery on Nashville’s west side.

“We're amazed with 75 [grave sites], and now we're up to 120 [grave sites], so I'm just amazed how many people we've actually been able to determine were buried here,” said Jana Stephenson Co-chair of the Gowers Cemetery restoration project.

The graveyard is typically a place to honor the dead, but the Gower descendants say this cemetery is all about keeping their family's history alive.

“This small piece of land is probably the last piece of soil that belongs to the Gower family,” said Marsha Fagnani.

For years, the family worked hard in saving and preserving this piece of their past.

“We just decided that this was something that deserved to be saved and you can see even in the hillsides around here there's apartments and condominiums going up and we wanted to make sure that it was saved,” said Stephenson.

The more this family started to dig the more they uncovered.

“Six of these burials are enslaved African Americans buried right here,” said Fagnani.

With the help from Nashville City Cemetery Association, archaeologist and an old plat map they learned more. They were able to identify where everyone was buried in this graveyard; their names, the children's names and the names of the slaves.

“It is unusual that we run into people's families saying the slaves were buried in this end of the large family graveyard,” said Fletch Coke with Nashville City Cemetery Association
Now the Gower Cemetery is marked as place in Tennessee history.

“Two in a half years later, here we are with a historical marker,” said Fagnani.

This family was among the first settlers to arrive to the Bluffs in 1779-1780.

Tuesday was the Historical Marker Dedication and 203rd Anniversary of the death and first burial in the cemetery of "Lady O" - Obedience Blakely Gower.