Clarksville’s Mount Olive Cemetery is one of six Tennessee sites added to National Register of Historic Places, according to a release by the Tennessee Historical Commission.
The cemetery is known as the largest and oldest private African-American cemetery in Clarksville.
Handmade grave markers, trees, vinca vines and dirt walkways characterize the physical features of the property.
Historian Phyllis Smith, who is also a member of the Mount Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society board, said the addition to the registry will greatly benefit Clarksville’s efforts to preserve history.
“This cemetery is full of history of people who fought for this country and helped make it what it is,” Smith said. “It also made Clarksville what it is. The people buried there deserve to be recognized and also deserve to be remembered.”
The 7.24 acres of Mount Olive Cemetery is between Cumberland Drive and Rollins Road behind the Cumberland Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist Church building.
At least 1,350 burials are in the cemetery with 90% of the burials unmarked.
The unmarked graves were found with a recent ground-penetrating radar survey that located the human remains.
The historic African-American burial site contains the tombstone of James Hunt who died in 1817, but not much is known about Hunt, according to Smith. He is the earliest burial in the cemetery.
The last known burial there was in 1958.
One tombstone reads “Martilla Frazier, a faithful servant [of] the Johnson’s Black Mammy.” Cemetery records show Frazier was born in 1793 and died in 1883 at 90 years old.
“I found her on an 1880 census,” Smith said. “She was a slave of Cave Johnson’s family.”
Smith said Johnson, a Democratic U.S. congressman from Tennessee and U.S. postmaster general appointed by President James K. Polk, owned Frazier, who elected to stay with the family rather than to be free following the Civil War.
“She was pushing age 70 during the war,” Smith said. “One of Cave Johnson’s sons built her a little cabin on their property.”
United States Colored Troops
Mount Olive Cemetery is the burial site of 30 military veterans, of which 28 are known United States Colored Troops.
“Some of them are without headstones,” Smith said. “But we discovered their burial sites from the pension records.”
The Mount Olive USCT veterans were recruited in Clarksville and represented the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 59th and 101st regiments of the USCT, according to Smith.
“The 16th and the 101st were the ones with the largest number of veterans buried at Mount Olive,” Smith said. “Toward the end of the war, their regimental headquarters was here in Clarksville.”
Chesterfield Dabney, born in Montgomery County in 1846, is buried at Mount Olive Cemetery. He enlisted Dec. 26, 1863 in the 16th Regiment USCT and served in the Union in the Civil War.
Dabney died Nov. 26, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, and his remains were moved to Mount Olive Cemetery in Clarksville for burial.
According to the National Registry, Mount Olive Cemetery is a testament to the success of Clarksville’s post-Civil War Black community.
“It is significant because it reflects the history of African Americans in the town as they moved from slavery to freedom, from economic dependence to self-sufficiency, from exclusion by whites to forming their own institutions, as they struggled to overcome white-imposed legal and social restrictions, and as they, all the while, supported the United States government with military service,” the National Registry said.