Slaves and Freedmen Memorial Cross, Flat Rock
The cross honors approximately one hundred African-American parishioners, slaves and house servants, who are buried in the historic cemetery at St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church. The 6-foot tall granite cross was hand carved by church member Nelson Motes. It stands on a 3-ton granite base 4-feet across and 3-foot high, giving the memorial a total height of 9-feet. A simple bronze plaque is attached to the front. This portion of the cemetery is also marked by a smaller granite and bronze memorial most likely placed in 1971. A low stone wall laid in the 1990’s surrounds the graves marked by small white crosses.
Images: 1971 Plaque | 2015 Plaque | Far-off view | St John in the Wilderness marker | View of the Cross and church highway markers
Plaque on cross base: THIS MEMORIAL RECOGNIZES AND HONORS THE SLAVES, FREED SERVANTS, / AND THEIR CHILDREN WHO WORSHIPED AS EARLY MEMBERS OF THE / CHURCH OF SAINT JOHN IN THE WILDERNESS / AND WERE BURIED HERE, DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
IT IS ESTIMATED THAT ABOUT 100 PEOPLE REST AT THIS SITE, THEIR / GRAVES ORIGINALLY MARKED WITH FIELD STONES. NO ENGRAVINGS HAVE / BEEN FOUND ON THESE STONES. THOSE BURIED BENEATH THESE / MARKERS ARE KNOWN ONLY TO GOD.
PLACED BY THE ST. JOHN HISTORIC CHURCHYARD COMMITTEE, DONORS, / AND A GRANT FROM THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF WNC FOUNDATION / 2015
1971 plaque: HERE LIE THE MEMBERS / - OF THE - / CHURCH OF ST JOHN / IN THE WILDERNESS / WHO WERE / SLAVES, FREEDMEN, AND / THEIR CHILDREN
Saint John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church
January 10, 2016
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De Bona, Beth. “Monument Installed to Honor Early African-American Church Members,” BlueRidgeNow.com, (Hendersonville, NC), December 13, 2015 Link
Moss, Bill. “St John Dedicated Cross Honoring Slave Cemetery,” Hendersonville Lighting (Hendersonville, NC) January 15, 2016 Link
Van Gelder, Florence and William. The Pictorial History of the Episcopal Church of St. John in the Wilderness (Flat Rock, NC: 1977) Link
“Flat Rock, N.C., The Church of St. John in the Wilderness,” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (PO77), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Link
“Historic Churchyard: Dedication of Memorial Slave Cemetery Cross – January 10, 2016,” St. John in the Wilderness, Flat Rock, NC, (accessed January 17, 2017) Link
Granite from Elberton, Georgia and bronze plaque
Saint John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor, Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina presided over the ceremony. The service began in the historic church, and the congregation followed the clergy and choir to the cross for the dedication. The Rev. John Morton, standing at the foot of the pine-covered slope, prayed for the souls that lay underneath the fieldstones and unmarked crosses. “We honor them. We love them,” he said. “We wish we knew their names and we’re confident that one day we will.”
The memorial became a reality thanks to a $6,000 grant from the Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina plus donations from Historic Flat Rock, Inc., the Historic Churchyard Committee at St. John and private donors.
Most of the graves contain slaves, and later, the freed house servants of wealthy Charleston, South Carolina residents who summered in Flat Rock to get away from the low-country humidity and malaria. Until 1971, they were marked by simple fieldstones. That year parishioner Clyde H. Bloehorn installed 60 hand-made crosses. Over the years since this portion of the cemetery had become overgrown and the St. John's Historic Churchyard Committee took on the task of creating an appropriate, lasting memorial for these early forgotten parishioners.
St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. It was built as a private chapel in 1833 on the grounds of Charles and Susan Barings’ home and deeded to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in 1936. Prior to Emancipation, the servants worshiped side by side in the church pews and the first wedding held in the chapel was actually that of two slaves. Many well-known members of southern aristocracy have family plots in the churchyard; those names include: Christopher Memminger, first secretary of the Confederate treasury; Rev. John Drayton, developer of the famous Magnolia Gardens of Charleston and family members of three signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The church address is 1905 Greenville Hwy. (US Hwy. 25) in Flat Rock, NC. The cross faces Greenville Hwy. near the North Carolina Highway Historical marker for St. John in the Wilderness Church. The memorial cross is separated from the highway by a high iron fence.
The memorial cross stands in a wooded area, on a pine straw covered slope.