The Oldest Cemetery in Dallas Rediscovered:

The Lost Location of Dallas's Slave Burials

Dallas Co. Cemeteries of Tx

James M. Davidson, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

The earliest cemetery established in Dallas, Texas, had lain buried, lost,and
forgotten for nearly a hundred years. Now, from a clue found while
researching the origin of Freedman's Cemetery (the historic African-American
cemetery that was the focus of intensive archaeological investigations in
recent years), this lost cemetery, the Old Dallas Burial Ground, has been
rediscovered.The information recovered regarding this cemetery's origin and
demographyhas provided significant insight into life in antebellum Dallas.

Dallas's oldest cemetery is located a mere four blocks north of two
famous landmarks in Dallas history - the Texas School Book Depository and
Dealey Plaza- and some two miles to the south of Freedman's Cemetery. While
the village of Dallas itself was founded in 1841 by John Neely Bryan, the
precise founding date of the old Dallas Burial Ground remains unknown. From
our current understanding, however, it is likely that it was formed in the
early1840s in an impromptu manner, and only when the first death to visit
thevillage of Dallas dictated its necessity. Importantly, and not a typical for
the antebellum South, the Old Dallas Burial Ground marked the final resting
place of both "anglo" settlers and enslaved African Americans, making it a
true communal graveyard. From the archival record, it would seem that Dallas's
first cemetery was closed to further interments sometime around 1869, the very
year that Freedman's Cemetery was founded.

Prior to the discovery of the Old Dallas Burial Ground, it had been
widely believed that Freedman's Cemetery actually contained the remains of
both freedmen and slaves, and that Freedman's Cemetery could ultimately
trace its origin to a slave cemetery. The discovery of this earlier burial
ground will thus alter many basic assumptions regarding the origin and
history of the early community of Freedman's Town, of which Freedman's
Cemetery was but one part.

Ironically, like Freedman's Cemetery, an acre of which was paved over
by highway construction in the 1940s, the Old Dallas Burial Ground suffereda
similar fate. It was first impacted by the physical plant of the
Dallas Brewery during its expansion at the turn-of-the-century, and was
finally paved over by the creation of Woodall Rogers Freeway in the 1970s.

There is indirect archival evidence suggesting that most, if not all, of the
graves of whites were moved from the Old Dallas Burial Ground in the early
1870s to the newly formed City Cemetery. No archival evidence, however, has
been found regarding the fate of the remains of the enslaved
African Americans. Freedman's Cemetery was formed in 1869 specifically to
supersede the Old Dallas Burial Ground's role, and so it would have been the
logical (and indeed the only) place available for such re-interments. Although
the arliest portion of the Freedman's Cemetery was completely cleared of
graves during the highway department's archaeological investigation, no cases
of graves containing the disturbed remains of secondary burials were
recovered. With the complete lack of secondary burials at Freedman's Cemetery,
and nothing in the archival record to suggest their removal, it seems
highly likely that the remains of Dallas's slaves and early freedmen still
lie within the Old Dallas Burial Ground.

The presence or extent of subsurface impacts that may have occurred to
the graves, due either to the turn-of-the-century brewery expansion or the
construction of Woodall Rogers Freeway, is unknown. In the vicinity of the Old
Burial Ground, Woodall Rogers Freeway consists of an elevated roadway, and so
the cemetery is not capped off with roadbed materials in any conventional
sense. Accordingly, archaeological investigation could potentially reveal any
surviving graves, which could then be removed to a nearby cemetery.

Note: A full length article on the Old Dallas Burial Ground will be
publishedin the October 1998 issue of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.


Freedman's Cemetery (1869-1907):
Establishing a Chronology for Exhumed Burials from an African-American Burial
Ground, Dallas, Texas

James M. Davidson, University of Texas at Austin
In the early 1990s, archaeologists working in Dallas, Texas, participated in
one of the largest historic cemetery removal projects, to be treated
archaeologically, ever conducted in the United States. The focus of the
project, Freedman's Cemetery, was the principal burial ground for virtually
every African American in Dallas between the years 1869 and 1907, a critical
period spanning the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras.
The Freedman's Cemetery Project was necessitated by the expansion of North
Central Expressway (U.S. Highway 75). In the late 1980s, a preliminary
pedestrian survey of threatened cultural resources performed by the Texas
Department of Transportation (TXDOT) identified the remaining intact portion
of Freedman's Cemetery. Later research revealed that previous highway
building efforts undertaken in the 1940s had paved over nearly an acre of the
To mitigate the effects of highway expansion, the Freedman's Cemetery
Archaeological Project was formed by TXDOT. Between November 1991 and August 1
994, excavations within Freedman's Cemetery encompassed nearly an acre (.95
acre). At the close of these excavations, archaeological investigations had
resulted in the exhumation, documentation, and analysis of 1,150 burials
(containing the remains of 1,157 individuals); i.e., nearly 1,200 men, women,
and children who had lived and died a century ago (Condon et. al 1998). Since
none of the graves were marked with dated tombstones, both the identities and
dates of interment for these individuals were unknown.
Without knowing when someone lived and died, without the ability to view them
in the very context of their times, it becomes difficult to judge with any
certainty the quality or content of their lives in any meaningful way,
economically, spiritually, or socially. Thus, establishing a chronology for
these exhumed burials became the first step involved in realizing the vast
potential of the Freedman's Cemetery data.
Numerous prior historic cemeteries have been excavated and reports produced,
all without a thorough knowledge (or at times even a basic grounding) in the
material culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century funerary
industry (e.g., coffin hardware). Though most historic cemeteries subjected
to archaeological investigation are unmarked, and the individual burials
undated, as a rule the resulting site reports make only limited attempts at
interpretation or chronology. Some do not even deign to hazard a guess as to
when the burials, that are the very subject of the report, were originally
interred (e.g., Taylor, et. al 1986). What, then, made the Freedman's
Cemetery Project any different from previous investigations, and therefore
significant enough to justify the added time and expense in documenting the
site as fully as possible?
When excavations ended in the summer of 1994, the Freedman's Cemetery Project
had exhumed a total of 1,157 individuals, a population equal to a small town.
This staggering figure makes Freedman's one of the largest historic
cemeteries ever excavated archaeologically in the United States. This
circumstance alone makes the Freedman's Archaeological Project largely unique.
Additionally, unlike many historic cemetery excavations, where only the most
superficial study is permitted, the skeletal remains and associated artifacts
exhumed at Freedman's Cemetery were subjected to both extensive and intensive
documentation and analyses. For example, the typical burial generated 29
pages of documentation (e.g., excavation form, artifact inventory and
analysis form, skeletal analysis form, and dental analysis form). For the
1,150 burials exhumed arch-aeologically, the combined documentation is
approximately 33,000 pages (66 reams or 330 pounds of paper). Also, extensive
photographic documentation occurred with both artifacts and skeletal remains;
over 185,000 negatives exist (Condon et. al 1998).
Extensive local archival documentation was available as well. Such data were
an enormous help in interpreting the cemetery in its totality, and aided in
understanding individual graves as well.
The fact that Freedman's was an African-American cemetery was, for me, yet
another significant factor in the project. African Americans founded the
Freedman's Town, of which the cemetery was but one part, in the early years
of Reconstruction. Arguably, the one period in American history most fraught
with change for African Americans spans the Reconstruction Era to the time of
Jim Crow, a period within which the use of Freedman's Cemetery was known to
fall. Finally, it was established that for nearly all of its history, the
Freedman's Cemetery served as the only public burial ground for African
Americans residing within Dallas. Thus, the demography of the cemetery is an
inclusive one, simultaneously containing both the poorest members of the
community (numerous
paupers buried at city expense), as well as Dallas' African-American middle
class or elite represented by elaborately trimmed caskets.
Two basic and complimentary dating schema were used in the creation of the
Freedman's Cemetery chronology. First, an entirely internal chronology was
established, using specific artifacts as temporal diagnostics, cross-dating,
stacked burials (i.e., superposition), as well as knowledge of land purchase
and subsequent use (e.g., the spatial patterning of graves). The other dating
schema made use of broad, national trends in coffin hardware innovations and
stylistic motifs, through an exhaustive study of coffin hardware catalogues,
trade journals, and all pertinent records of the United States Patent Office.
Although extremely time-consuming, this study was a necessary step to advance
the knowledge base of 19th and early 20th century mortuary hardware beyond
the preliminary studies of Hacker-Norton and Trinkley (1984), Garrow (1987),
and others.
The chronology created for Freedman's Cemetery made it possible to assign
narrow date ranges to virtually all of the recovered burials. From historic
records, I was able to establish that Freedman's Cemetery was founded on
April 29, 1869, and remained open and received interments up to July 26,
1907. Three major (and one minor) time periods were identified. The Early
Period spans sixteen years, from the cemetery's founding in 1869 until 1884
(n=64 burials; 5.5% of total exhumed). The next period defined for Freedman's
Cemetery is the Middle Period, a fifteen year interval stretching from 1885
to 1899 (n=170 burials; 14.8% of total exhumed). The next temporal period is
a minor one, termed simply "Pre-1900." This designation was devised to
describe those burials that while identified as dating prior to 1900, could
not be further subdivided into either the Early or Middle Periods. The
"Pre-1900" Period contains 37 burials (3.2% of total exhumed). The final
temporal period is termed the Late Period; it covers a mere eight year
interval occurring between 1900 and 1907. The Late Period contains the bulk
of the exhumed burials (n=878; 76.4% of total exhumed). Of the 1150 burials
exhumed during excavations, only one (Burial 1127) could not be more finely
dated due to its highly disturbed nature, location within the cemetery, and
complete lack of associated artifacts.
The Freedman's Cemetery chronology took approximately six years to formulate,
research, implement, and finally, document within my masters thesis (Davidson
1999). Other investigators involved with historic cemetery excavations might
wonder at the necessity or the lengths that I have taken in this detailed
analysis and subdivision of a relatively short 39-year time span. This seemed
the first order of importance for a number of reasons. To date, Freedman's
Cemetery is the largest historical cemetery of its kind in the United States
to have been excavated, documented, and analyzed to the extent performed in
Dallas, and it seems unlikely that such a site of comparable size will ever
again be examined as minutely as Freedman's.
Until Freedman's Cemetery was firmly tethered in time, any analyses conducted
would have been perfunctory in tone or preliminary in extent. Indeed, for any
analysis or meaningful interpretations to come of the Freedman's Cemetery
Project, a diachronic perspective was imperative. The chronology forms the
basis for my dissertation work: diachronic studies of the subject of race and
racism within Dallas, the changing cultural landscape, health and demography,
socioeconomic, and the socio-religious realm as mirrored through specific
burial practices.
To only view this skeletal population and material culture (in toto) as
contemporaneous would deny the wonderful opportunity to chart the social,
economic, and health trends within the African-American communities of 19th
and early 20th century Dallas. Indeed, the active "life" of Freedman's
Cemetery parallels some of the most formative years of the Black Experience,
beginning during the troubled Recon-struction period and proceeding into the
early 20th century, both of which influenced the birth of America's modern