Nestled in a beautiful clearing and just off a main road on I40 is a slice of history few know of, and yet should visit. It is the African Burial Ground in Roane County, Tennessee.
Possibly in 1805, John and Elizabeth Welcker owned a plantation, called Laurel Banks, along the banks of the Clinch River. Like many people of wealth, they owned African - American slaves. Henry died in 1838 and Elizabeth died in 1840. The Roane County Census tells us a George Gallaher, Sr. then purchased Laurel Banks. He renamed it the Gallaher-Stone Plantation. The estate was valued at $36,000, to include $25,000 worth of real estate and at least 19 slaves.
The 1860 Census tells us there were 1,338 slaves in Roane County. Slaves built much of the roads, buildings, and houses in Roane County. These people were a part of the estimated four million slaves in the U.S.
The Wheat Community had settled in the area in the midst of the 19th Century. In 1942 the Wheat community became displaced by the Government due to the Manhattan Project. Nearby town Oak Ridge remained a secret, not even mapped, from 1942 - 1949. Badges and vehicle searches were required for entry.
In 1979, Dorothy G. Moneymaker, a resident of the community, counted 90 - 100 graves with no inscribed markers in the cemetery. It is believed slaves of the Welckers, Gallahers, and the slave’s descendants are buried here. It is also possible this is the resting place for slaves of neighboring plantations, to include those belonging to the Burums, Carmichaels, and Staples.
The African Burial Ground remained a secret, almost lost, until 2000. It was cleaned up and refurbished by the U.S. Department of Energy employees and volunteers. It is possibly the largest slave cemetery in East Tennessee.
Because the stones are unmarked and there is very little history available, we will never know who lies in this plot of land. Some broken stones remain.
To get there from Nashville, take I40 East and exit 356 (Kingston). It is less than a mile from the Wheat Train Station. It is on the east side of the Oak Ridge Highway. There are markers directing you to the cemetery. Visitors have left flowers, coins, and other mementoes to honor those unnamed souls.
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Photo credit of JY