Twice Enslaved: An Update

200 year old burials of the enslaved located

The inscription below is displayed on a memorial stone at Midway Cemetery, located not far from where these burials lie.  Midway is a preserved African American Slave Cemetery beautifully kept behind a stone wall within a median, with roads on either side in Brentwood Tennessee.  I had to include these words, as they are so beautifully written, and create an image of the respect deserved by every burial unearthed from every enslaved individual. They deserve to be respected. and remembered. 


Miracles do happen. I received a call from the City of Franklin this past week with the very best news. I am so thrilled to share that the lost remains of the seven enslaved individuals who were in the path of a pipeline expansion and involved in a 2002 exhumation have been located! These burials included five children and two women in their thirties that were part of a study published and presented in 2003. Their remains were located in storage at Middle Tennessee State University. So, the seven assumed lost are now found and will be reinterred beside their family again. It was very hard for me to hold back the tears when the wonderful men from our city of Franklin shared this news with me. These individuals, originally laid to rest with their family beside them more than 200 years ago, will now return to their final resting places, more than twenty years after their 2002 removal.

Just to recap, ten burials were discovered during work done in 2002 to expand a pipeline, but as many as twenty graves were said to possibly exist within the same vicinity. The seven burials in the way of the pipeline were exhumed and examined, with a paper written about the archaeological findings associated. Those seven burials were lost until a few weeks ago, but have been found and will be reinterred alongside their family. Three existing burials still existed close to the road, at risk of destruction because of utility or road work. Their location was undefined until a few days ago. Another miracle occurred when the city of Franklin and archaeologists worked together to locate and mark the existing three graves that were found in 2002.

From the original report archeologists compiled after this cemetery was discovered in 2002, this graphic showed the three burials located today circled in red. The burials not circled were exhumed in 2002, lost for 20 years, but found only a few days ago stored at MTSU.

These burials seemingly scattered throughout a soybean field and under the road behind the Founders Pointe neighborhood are not an anomaly. These burials are part of a cemetery that was set aside by developers and builders of the Founders Pointe neighborhood upon its construction in 1986.  The Abram Maury Slave Cemetery lies only a few feet away from these burials, separated by a fence, thickly forested berm and a road, which a few of the burials lie beneath.

Description of the Abram Maury Slave Cemetery from Williamson County, Tennessee Archives.

 In the weeks leading up to this phone call,  retired State Archaeologist Nick Fielder approached the city of Franklin with a plan to locate the three burials that were found in 2002, but never marked as to their locations. Fielder went to work coordinating  with the city of Franklin, bringing together a team of his creation consisting of the very best of the best of Tennessee’s archaeologists and historians, in an effort to locate these burials.

I felt so honored that representatives from the city of Franklin coordinating this effort with Nick Fielder, made the effort and took the time to invite me to the site during the exploration to find these lost burials.  I arrived at the site at 8 am to find the bulldozer already working and a team of archaeologists and others standing all around the area carefully watching. My daughter Maddie accompanied me and we set up our lawn chairs as far out of the way as we were able, while still giving us the ability to see and hear what was ongoing. I occasionally paced the road beside the work, which moved pretty quickly, over and over so that I might be able to hear what was going on. It was a hot day and I felt really awful for the archaeologists standing in the boiling sun. I could hear them mentioning how they needed to get a probe or some other tool from time to time over the roar of the bulldozer.

About forty five minutes in, I heard one of the archaeologists tell Nick Fielder they were concerned for him, because of how hard he was working in such extreme heat.  A few moments later,  Fielder emerged from the deep trench the bulldozer had created. He was almost completely soaked from head to toe with sweat and it was obvious he had been working very hard. Realizing who I was, he gave me an update as he sat and cooled off and rehydrated. Having watched a couple of the lectures he had given at the Tennessee State Museum concerning some of his experiences during his time as state Archaeologist, and during his career in general, I felt like I knew him already. I am still humbled and so grateful for all he has done in this effort. Fielder is retired and told me during this first chat that he is 82 years old. Seeing the amount of hard work he was performing, I was amazed. He said this would be the last archaeological project for him, as he felt like it was time and  he needed to stop. Only moments after making this declaration, Fielder was back on his feet and climbing the steep embankment leading to the dig. I was amazed. 

The blue circles show the three grave shafts discovered following the August 2023 exploration. These previously lost burials of the enslaved, will be marked as a cemetery moving forward, safe from utility or road work. The red circles show the yellow tags left from the discovery of these burials that occured over twenty years ago (2002) during a pipeline expansion.

Only ninety minutes after beginning the dig, my daughter and I noticed a difference in those looking down into the trench. We couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the bulldozer shifted gears and the engine wasn’t quite as loud as it had been all morning. After seeing several of the archaeologists jump down into the trench, the bulldozer driver looked at my daughter Maddie and me and held up one finger, then two and then three, then yelled across the dig, proclaiming to us that all three burials had been located. It was such a great moment that I will never forget. We looked at each other and realized we were both teary eyed, and hugged at the realization of what had just occurred. Although it is still undetermined as to the perimeter of the cemetery or how many of the enslaved in total are buried here, for now these burials will be safe from development, road expansion or utility work. 

Former State Archelogist Nick Fielder showing us the tags left that identified where the grave shafts were located.

About twenty minutes later, Fielder came down from the dig and invited me to accompany him and a few others into the area alongside other officials and view their findings. As you can see, the tops of the grave shafts are clearly visible.


On top of the grave shafts, little metal rods with yellow tags attached remain from the 2002 discovery of these burials. They are labeled “Burial 4, Burial 5 and Burial 6.” 

The grave shafts will not be opened up, as this is the only proof that is  needed to proclaim officially these three burials are a cemetery. There is no way to know definitively whether these burials were part of the Maury Slave Cemetery within our nearby neighborhood, but it seems to be assumed and accepted by officials to be the case. 

Exhibit from the City of Franklin showing the image surveyors created following the successful locations of the burials of the enslaved.

The site was taped off later that day after it was surveyed. I was so thrilled that officials from the City of Franklin shared the above image, created after the survey. They have kept me in the loop and I will be forever grateful. 

Although I feel there are many more burials in the field around this area, for now, unless I am asked to assist, my work on this side of the road is done. Burials 4,5 & 6 are in the right of way, but simultaneously on private property. If there are more burials, I would love to assist in fundraising efforts or rallying support to locate or in identifying the cemetery perimeter.  However, I make no assumptions about my involvement moving forward. I was blessed to briefly speak with the property owner on the day of the dig. She is a very kind person and stated how important it is for the right thing to be done in this situation. In my heart I believe she will do all she can to insure that every burial within her field is located and added to the cemetery that was created when these three lost burials were once again located. 

If you look carefully, you can see where the burials are marked after a City of Franklin survey. 

A temporary fence will be erected around the perimeter of these three burials, and they will receive a marker. They are in the GIS (Geographic Information System) for the City of Franklin forevermore, and their location linked to data of all types, including the fact that this location needs to be handled with care, because it is officially a cemetery.

There was a little talk while the group stood around and viewed the grave shafts that were visible about fencing, and the representative from the city even stated that the city might be able to contribute to a more substantial fence. 

I never intended to get involved in this or become an advocate for these burials. But, when I received the report from the Tennessee department of Archaeology and saw the photos of the child that was exhumed, along with the others, I knew I had to speak up. How could anyone read about the damage these enslaved  individuals’ bodies endured during their lifetimes in the way of malnutrition and early deaths they suffered, and be able to rest, knowing a solution was not that difficult. It would be different if we had never found the burials, or had any knowledge of their existence. But, when  you know better, you should do better. We know better now, and I am pleased to say that there are so many working together to cause great change in this situation. We are working together to do better. I consider this to be baby steps, as there is so much more left to do. Great strides have been made though, and it’s truly unbelievable.  At the same time I must say that rarely am I ever shocked by people’s behavior. But in this case, I have been shocked over and over at the outpouring of support from our city, our state and the amazing volunteers who gave their time and energy to help work  towards making this right. 

I would like to acknowledge Nick Fielder and the City of Franklin in all that they have done in coordinating this project. There is no way to ever thank someone for doing something so phenomenal, something that will make such a difference. But I do say Thank you!  I would like to also thank the volunteers and anyone with the State of Tennessee and city of Franklin, along with the very precise and amazing bulldozer driver! Thank you, thank you to all!

To read Kimberl’y original post entitled, Twice Enslaved, please click here …

Picture of Thanks for reading ... Kimberly

Thanks for reading ... Kimberly

For more on Kimberly, please visit the About page on this website

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