On January 7, 1758, a deed is recorded in Rowan County (Book 2, page 259) showing that Fergus Sloan and wife Elizabeth sold “for five shillings ¾ acres between 3rd Creek and 4th Creek and Buffaloe Creek which empties into 4th Creek” to Robert Simonton, Thomas Allison, Samuel Thornton, Patrick Duffie, and William Simonton, the Trustees of the Fourth Creek Congregation. Sloan had purchased the land in 1753 from John Oliphant and he reserved the right to bury members of his own family there indicating it was already in use as a cemetery. This land today is known as the Fourth Creek Cemetery and will be the subject of a special presentation and discussion at the Iredell County Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m.
C. Donald Stevenson grew up in Statesville at 240 North Bost and Stockton Streets and sees the Fourth Creek Cemetery as a historical landmark. He became interested in making a new cemetery survey while seeking the burial location of one of his own Stevenson ancestors. Surveys had been done of the cemetery in the past, but Don found publications claiming people were buried there who were not listed on recent surveys. “In Fourth Creek Burying Ground, a large number of gravestones are either missing or never existed. Based on a survey, made in 1933 by the Society of Colonial Dames of North Carolina, with 41 rows of graves and 27 grave plots per row, I estimate as many as 1,107 or 80 percent of the gravestones are either missing or never existed in this cemetery. Some early families, for various reasons, did not purchase gravestones to mark the burial sites of their deceased family members.” There are approximately 448 known graves in the cemetery. The oldest readable grave is of Margaret Archibald who died in July 1759 and there are six more graves with dates between 1762 and 1767.
The Fourth Creek Cemetery has been called the cornerstone on which Statesville and Iredell County were begun. An early church document entitled “A Remonstrance to North Carolina Presbytery, Which is to Sit in April 1773”places the founding of Fourth Creek Congregation in 1753. By 1757 the congregation was meeting in a log structure at the present location of today’s First Presbyterian Church. The rock wall was begun by the Congregation sometime between 1790 and 1800. The cemetery expanded until it covered approximately two acres. In 1847 Statesville was incorporated and a large granite boulder was placed in the northeast corner of the rock wall as a corner marker. Fourth Creek was the city cemetery for nearly 100 years, but by the 1880s the newspaper reported that diggers were having trouble opening new graves without disturbing old ones. It was estimated that there were more than 1,200 graves in Fourth Creek. In 1887 Statesville citizens voted in favor of creating a new cemetery and the city purchased 15 acres which became Oakwood Cemetery.
In 1933 the First Presbyterian Church conveyed Fourth Creek Cemetery to the City of Statesville on condition that “the city accept and maintain the same as a memorial cemetery to be designated as “Fourth Creek Memorial Burying Ground” and be preserved in perpetuity as a memorial to pioneers and soldiers buried there.” It was also in 1933 that Marie L. Land and Reverend Charles E. Raynal used federal and state funding to repair and restore the cemetery wall. Don Stevenson has taken up the work of Land and Raynal and says, “Because this 1756 burying ground holds the sacred remains of the founders of this city and county, this meeting will also provide for a discussion of organizing a Fourth Creek Settlement Founders Society to provide research, education, oversight, restoration and preservation of this hallowed ground.” Stevenson would like to have a ground penetrating radar scan made of the cemetery to better determine how many are buried at Fourth Creek and also where the unmarked graves are located. Sam Hall, who recently supervised a ground radar survey of Snow Creek Methodist Church, will present a program at Wednesday’s meeting on how such a survey is conducted.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Cemetery’s mysteries” on Oct. 14, 2014