- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) - For nearly 140 years, the burial sites of Stephen Binyard and his family sat unnoticed in a thicket of trees overlooking a creek off the Harbor River, waiting for someone to uncover the history behind it.

Over a decade after Beaufort native Kimberly Morgan stumbled onto the cemetery and began researching the lone tombstone there, Binyard and his family got the celebration of life they deserved from the descendants who had long hoped to one day learn the roots of their family’s history.

Many of them made their way to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on the morning of Sept. 17 where a new sign identifying Edgerly Cemetery and its inhabitants was unveiled.

Not a bad result after a decade of work by a “military housewife who likes creepy graveyards and a math teacher from Atlanta,” as Morgan put it Friday.

The ceremony came seven months after Morgan and Akosua Moore, a descendant of Binyard’s who was fascinated by her family’s history as a teen and began researching her lineage in 2008, first presented their findings on the unmarked cemetery behind the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters building at MCAS Beaufort.

Binyard, a United States Colored Troops veteran, died in an accidental drowning in 1882 while working at a lumber mill in Beaufort. He was buried in the small patch of trees on land owned by his brother in the former Edgerly Plantation.

His marble gravestone, paid for by the U.S. government, is the only headstone in the cemetery, but records Moore and Morgan were able to obtain point to at least 10 burial sites and as many as 18 from four different families - the Binyards, the Finleys, the Kelsons, and the Stevens, all of whom are noted on the new blue sign marking the historic cemetery.

Through those records, Moore, Binyard’s great-great-great-grandniece, was able to determine that Binyard’s wife Jane Henry was also buried there.

Further records the two were able to find point to Moore’s great-great-great grandmother Dorcas Binyard, who died in 1916, also being interred there.

Ground-penetrating radar used in a 2008 study of cemeteries at MCAS Beaufort also shows multiple burial sites on the land, ones Moore and Morgan hope to identify with small headstones or pavers in the future.

The new sign, created by a Texas company that produces similar ones for the U.S. National Park Service, tells the history of Binyard and the land he was buried on. It also includes a Sankofa, a symbol represented by a bird with its head turned backward. The bird, which means “turn around and get it,” is an Adinkra symbol from the Akan people of Ghana, placed on the sign at the request of Moore’s mother Mafori.

Each of the people buried in the cemetery were laid to rest facing the creek, in line with West African culture.

“The water brought them here, and the water will carry their spirits back,” Morgan said.

Moore, who began searching Ancestry.com for her family’s history in 2008, said her desire to find out more about her family history in Beaufort came from her grandmother, who told her about the family’s early history during Moore’s teen years in the 1980s. She said she knew of Stephen Binyard and Jane Henry, but had no idea where to find them.

Records of his service and Jane’s pension application after Stephen’s death Moore obtained from the National Archives shed some light on their lives. But it wasn’t until Morgan’s three quick responses to Moore’s Ancestry.com post on New Year’s Day 2013 that they were finally able to connect and put the pieces together.

Soon after Moore and Morgan corresponded for the first time, Morgan walked into the office of MCAS Beaufort cultural resources director Gary Herndon, who joked Morgan followed up with an email headlined “the crazy lady with the cemetery questions.”

Herndon and the air station cleared the underbrush from the site and paid for the new sign, which came as a shock to Morgan. Quoted at $3,500 and built to last 100 years, Morgan never thought it would happen.

“I decided I’d go for the gold and ask for the sign,” she said. “I thought myself ‘there’s no way,’ but Gary called me and said they were going to buy it.”

Herndon called the sign a “small token of appreciation from the air station.”

The sign was delivered to the air station last week and unveiled by Akosua and Mafori Moore in the ceremony, after Mafori led the crowd of about 30 people in libation ritual in line with West African culture.

Along with the pavers noting the others buried at Edgerly, Moore and Morgan hope to put down mulch leading to the cemetery and install a wrought-iron bench for Binyard and his family overlooking the creek.

Morgan hopes to purchase similar signs at each of the predominantly African-American cemeteries at MCAS Beaufort, starting with the Baker Cemetery near Afterburners, a recreation facility at the air station.

In February, she and Moore plan to again deliver a presentation on the Binyard family history.

“The experience has been absolutely divine,” Moore said.

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Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com

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