By Dwight Williamson
“People who die are not buried in a field, they are buried in the heart” — Anonymous.
There exists a somewhat forgotten yet historic cemetery in the town of Logan. Located on High Street, it is unintentionally hidden from view and rarely receives visitors. Like the ghostly former home of legendary Logan Sheriff Don Chafin located on Main Street, it stoically awaits the efforts of any one who cares about its past, and certainly its future. Amazingly, there are those citizens, many living within corporate limits of the town, who do not even know the whereabouts of either, much less the history surrounding them.
In the graveyard, which in courthouse records has been called by many names — including the City Cemetery, Aracoma Cemetery, Logan Cemetery and even “Our” Cemetery — disembodied spirits have long watched from their perches on the hill the triumphs and transgressions of the town of Logan since at least the early 1800s. Perhaps these kindred spirits watch with interest for good reason; after all, many of the deceased were responsible for the creation and evolution of the small Guyandotte village. Through the years their community has vastly changed, even in name — from first being called “The Islands”, then Logan Court House, then Lawnsville, then Aracoma and finally Logan. Some “residents” of the cemetery have no doubt witnessed the coming and going of five different Logan courthouses and the 1964 construction of the present one.
So it is with all due respect to the “citizens” of the graveyard that I present the following information:
First, no person or entity lays claim to the property. A vigorous search of the offices of County Clerk and Assessor in Logan reveals no title or deed to the cemetery. However, in the map room of the Assessor’s office the property is clearly mapped and is titled “City Cemetery.” For it to be mapped it means there was a survey — of which there is no plat on record. The courthouse fire of 1912 could have caused this dilemma, but there could be other reasons. Perhaps the map was never recorded.
There is, however, a remarkable map that has been copied which shows the original land grants that were handed out following the Revolutionary War to some veterans of that titanic struggle to gain America’s independence. The map shows what then were “the islands”, now just one island and the site of Logan High School. Several tracts were obtained by Anthony Lawson, said to be the first person to open a trading post in what is now Logan. One tract of 109 acres he obtained in 1842, and it appears the cemetery is contained within that tract. It makes perfect sense because it is in the center of this cemetery that his wife, Ann Lawson, is buried after being murdered.
Lawson opened his trading post near the present day location of Logan City Hall. It was from there he operated in the fur and ginseng trade. He took his bounty down the Guyandotte River upon occasion and sold and traded the goods. On a return trip from Philadelphia, Pa., in 1846 Lawson reportedly died of cholera at Guyandotte in Cabell County. There is no report of his burial place ever mentioned and it is likely not locally located due to the circumstances of the time. Undoubtedly, he too would have been in the town’s cemetery, and he is not.
However, the tragic saga of his wife is almost told in totality on her tombstone, still very legible today in the local cemetery on the hill in Logan. Surrounded by an iron fence, the inscription on her tombstone reads:
“Ann Lawson, wife of Anthony Lawson, of Logan County, Va., who was born in the parish of Longhorsby, in the county of Northumberland, England on the 17th day of March A.D. 1783 Murdered on the night of the 17th of December, 1847 by two of her own slaves.” There certainly was no newspaper in the area to report it then, but it has been handed down for years and even written that the two black men were hanged. There was no trial. There was no jury.
So, less than a year after the tragic loss of her mountaineering husband and eight days before Christmas, the mother of four sons — John, Lewis, James and Anthony — probably met up with her beloved spouse at the age of 64. When one considers that data shows the life expectancy of persons born in the year 1900 was to be 47, both of the Lawsons had lived a fairly long lifetime for the time frame in which they perished; Mr. Lawson being 67 when he died in 1846. Their sons would grow up to become leading citizens of the community.
The historical significance of Ann Lawson’s demise is that it shows that some 80 years before the advent of the Civil War, area residents, long before we became Logan County (1824 ) or even the state of West Virginia (1863), utilized slaves. Years later, the names of more founding fathers in Logan like Major William Stratton and Major James Nighbert, both of whom have parts of the town named for them, would settle here following their efforts for the Confederacy. With the Logan Wildcats of the Chapmanville area and the Wildcats of Devil Anse Hatfield in the military mix for the old Confederacy, and the North’s burning of the Logan Courthouse in 1862, it surely is safe to surmise where the hearts of most of the region belonged during the Civil War.
In this same cemetery that has sadly been allowed to depreciate, there are many other locals who have contributed greatly to the causes of their time. A few even have monuments to glorify their significance. One person of magnitude is Henry Clay Ragland, who could be a complete story himself. Ragland was much more than a proven historian and in 1896 wrote the history of Logan County which was referenced in 1927 by G.T. Swain in his publication bearing the same title. Ragland documented the first Indian battles of the area and described the early pioneers that formed the county, which was much larger than its present boundaries and even included all of Mingo County.
Ragland has been described as a “lawyer, scholar and thinker”. He purchased a printing press and had it brought to the village known then as Aracoma from Cincinnati, Ohio via the Ohio and Guyandotte Rivers and started his Logan County Banner in 1888. Immediately he went to work urging the industrialization of the county, pushing for railroads to haul the coal which he knew could be mined. Though the internet has taken its toll on all newspapers across the nation, The Banner continues today.
Like his friends, Majors Nighbert and Stratton, Ragland served the Confederacy in the Civil War, but was captured early and stayed in a Mary land prison throughout the war. He came from Virginia and married into the prominent Buskirk family. His family lies in the plot he secured in the graveyard. The Banner recorded reunions of the Confederate soldiers which were held at the Logan Courthouse which burned in 1912. Among those attending each time was Devil Anse Hatfield.
Ragland also served as the town’s mayor and several different times as a City Councilman. His connection to the infamous Hatfield clan may run deeper based on records this writer recently uncovered. While it has been known that Ragland was the proprietor of the Oakland Hotel in the town, it had not previously been reported that the property, which was part of a four-acre tract of land Ragland purchased from Major Stratton in 1884, was in 1892 owned by Devil Anse Hatfield. Oddly enough, this was the year the Hatfield-McCoy feud is said to have come to a close. The leader of his feuding clan, along with his wife Vicy Hatfield, deeded the Oakland Hotel to their son Johnson (Johnse), the lover of Rose Anna McCoy. Urias Buskirk, in an odd agreement with the Raglands, got the property January 26, 1887.
In the agreement, Buskirk was to “make repairs within two years from the sale” and “enclose the lot in which said hotel is located and to erect on said lot a barn as good as that now owned by J.B. Buskirk at Logan Court House.” There are several members of the Buskirk family buried in the City Cemetery.
Ragland died May 1, 1911 of a massive heart attack at the then ripe old age of 68 years. Four years earlier, the elder statesman wrote an interesting will which is too lengthy to quote in its entirety. However, it basically says he left many of his books — Mark Twain’s works, his Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Baptist Encyclopedia, and many others — to various family members as he had no living children.
“The balance of my miscellaneous library I leave to my friends J. B. Wilkinson and J. Cary Alderson and A.R. Miller” in trust for the Aracoma Baptist Sunday School. Ragland left the remainder of his property to his wife Louisa and directed that at her death: “I give to J.B. Wilkinson, J. Cary Alderson and A.R. Miller, as trustees of the Aracoma Baptist Church, the said house and lot as a parsonage for said church and in consideration heirs of the said church is to see that my lot in the Aracoma Cemetery is kept in good repair, as I now keep it, and if the said church fails to do so then the said house and lot must be sold and the proceeds then applied to the proper keeping up and repair of said lot.”
Ragland chose his viewing time at the church wake to be between the hours of 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and he directed that “the choir sings among other songs: ‘Thy Will Be Done’.”
Ragland’s plot contains his family and some members of his wife’s family and, other than damage to a monument many years ago, is about as well kept as can be expected. It is the remainder of the cemetery which is shameful. Calculations from the map are equivalent to about an acre of property. It appears half of the cemetery is covered and not viewable.
Two Logan residents who have resided in the town their entire lives remember the full cemetery. Kathy Guy, who grew up near the cemetery, and whose mother (Peggy Crittendon) still owns two residences there, said she sometimes played in the cemetery as a child, as did town resident Pete Manuel, who has been working on property nearby which was damaged from a recent house fire on Cole Street.
“I think there’s a civil War victim buried in the back of the cemetery,” Manuel recalled.
On Ragland’s monument, which he purchased from Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, is inscribed: Henry Clay Ragland, born in Goochland County, Va. May 7, 1844, died May 1, 1911 “Believing in equal rights to all men, both in church and state, he was a Baptist in religion and a democrat in politics.”
There is an attempt being made to clear the cemetery by using inmates from the local regional jail or possibly other non-violent offenders who should be made to benefit humanity. However, this writer found it simply amazing as to the difficulty and red tape it takes to do what is so necessary. That, however, is a story for another day.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.
*This was originally published in the Logan Banner on April 23, 2014 and is republished here with the author’s permission and our special thanks.