A recent GIS survey of cemeteries in Brunswick County was conducted that documented 419 cemeteries. Not one is as old and large as the Old Smithville Burying Ground in Southport, which was part of an act ratified in the State Assembly on December 31 1792 to establish a town to consist of one hundred lots near Fort Johnston. Lots 54,55,56 and 57 were designated on the plat as “cemetery”. The town of Smithville (Southport since 1887) was not incorporated until 1805, which makes some existing headstones officially older than the town.
According to A Chronology Volume 1(1520-1887) compiled by Bill Reaves in 1978, a Mrs. Clitherall wrote the following about the last days of General Benjamin Smith in January 1826, “after every effort had fail’d, the remains were carried to Smithville Burying-Ground”. This is a rare reference to what is widely considered a “new” name for the cemetery.
Each of the Old Smithville Burying Ground’s four lots measured 66 x 330 feet, which is a half-acre and the same size as all original lots fronting on Bay, Moore, Nash and West streets. After almost 220 years, those two acres are now the resting place for 1,093 individual gravesites.
The Southport Historical Society had its beginnings with Eleanor Smith in 1975
when she shared the idea with Susie Carson that she thought Southport should have a
historical society. They both agreed that the nation’s bicentennial year would be a great
time to start the society. After organizing in 1976 with 42 charter members, according to
Susie Carson, the new society “realized the most urgent task was to catalog the
information to be found on the stones still standing in the cemeteries in town and
Dorcus (Dot) Schmidt, another society volunteer, conducted the surveys in the early 1980’s. The documentation of the surveys was the first book published by the society in 1983. In 2006, the Southport Historical Society again saw the need to protect, restore and maintain the Old Smithville Burying Ground as its most urgent task. Our success has been reflected as far away as Charlotte where the daily newspaper suggested Southport and the burying ground as a heritage destination site.
The society also has made a commitment to the second oldest and largest cemetery in
Southport, the John Smith Cemetery, which was established by St. James A.M.E. Zion
Church during Reconstruction. Judy Gordon, a member of that church, has formed a
committee with members from the congregations of Brown’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion, First
Baptist Southport, Friendship Missionary Baptist and Mt. Cannel A.M.E. to organize
efforts to identify gravesites and regularly maintain the historic cemetery.
Charles Christianson, a historical society volunteer since 2006, continues to update and improve the The Old Burying Grounds. Here is information about the work he has done; Old_Burying_Grounds 2012 and Old_Burying_Grounds 2013
Charles Christianson completed the first survey map of the burying ground with location co-ordinates for each gravesite. Corresponding numbers and letters have been placed on the inside of the surrounding fence. The accompanying pages of names of the buried are alphabetized which is another first. A copy of the survey may be seen at the Old Jail Museum, the Maritime Museum, Harper Library, the Visitor’s Center, and below.
Alphabetic listing of all graves in the Old Smithville Burying Ground.