UNION — Two sisters’ genealogy study led to the uncovering of the graves of a Revolutionary War patriot and his wife.
A grave dedication ceremony held Saturday at Palmer Cemetery — located on Ashley Acres Road off S.C. 18 — honored the memory of Revolutionary War patriot John Palmer.
The dedication was a combined effort of the Daniel Morgan Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) and the Fairforest Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Palmer’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter, Olva Nichols Jones, spoke at the dedication, describing the events leading up to the ceremony. Jones — who lies in Alabama — said she and her sister, Marie Johnston, had been sorting out their genealogy in 2010 and decided to apply for membership into the DAR.
“A distant relative of ours, Joel Palmer, told me about his trip to Union, South Carolina, in 1979 to find the cemetery and the graves of John and Martha Williams Palmer,” Jones said. “He found them on his second trip and told me that it would be hard — if not impossible — to find. While we were waiting to be accepted as DAR members, I thought it would be nice if we could go to Union as Joel did and find the cemetery and graves that Joel had found earlier.”
On Sept. 29, 2010, Jones and Johnston made the trip to Union to find the graves of their great-great-great-great-grandparents.
“John was the lineage that we had to connect to become (DAR) members because he was our soldier of the Revolutionary War,” Jones said.
Jones described a daylong search for the cemetery, explaining that she asked lots of people in Union about the Palmer Cemetery and none were aware of its whereabouts. She finally went to the county courthouse and found a copy of John Palmer’s will. She asked around at the courthouse, and one employee said her husband knew the location of Palmer Cemetery. The woman gave Jones directions to her house where her husband waited to lead Jones — along with her sister and husband — to the cemetery. They made it to the cemetery site, but finding the graves was another matter.
“We waded through goldenrod, kudzu, overgrown grass and large rocks, which we first thought were graves, but we still couldn’t find it,” Jones recounted. “We were just about ready to give up on finding it. Marie found a penny, picked it up and said, ‘I found my lucky penny — heads up.’”
Jones stopped a man who was hauling a wrecked car from a nearby salvage business and asked him if he knew where the cemetery was, and he pointed them in the direction of a large tree with a small fence around it. She said even though the area around the cemetery had been cleared, the cemetery itself was completely overgrown with privet hedge, wild rose bushes, briers and other small bushes. As Jones and Johnston examined the mess closely, they spotted one grave marker and recognized the name — “John.”
Jones said she and her sister yelled and decided to clear the vines and brush from the graves. They borrowed tools from landowner Jimmy Greer, who Jones said was “one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet,” and cleared a pathway to the graves and placed an American flag there.
“On Oct. 1, 2010, we left Union for Alabama with a story to tell,” Jones said. “We could hardly believe that we had accomplished everything that we had gone there to do.”
Later that month, Jones received a letter from DAR asking her to verify names and dates due to some discrepancies. Jones described searches ranging from libraries in South Carolina and Alabama to the Alabama DAR archives to the Veterans Administration in St. Louis. By the time Jones received the final documents, she and her sister had already been accepted as DAR members and were officially admitted on April 9, 2011.
“There were documents for just about everything we needed to know,” Jones said. “We found that Joseph (son of John Palmer) did indeed die on June 13, 1881. We found that his middle name was not Marvin as we had thought but was McKissick. We found that his wife Permelia’s maiden name was not Mitchell, as we had been told, but was Brown. We found that she died in 1893, not 1900 as we had thought. They were married Aug. 20, 1847 in Hamilton, Alabama. There was a copy of his military discharge with the other documents.”
During her search, Jones visited www.findagrave.com, which is a database of millions of cemetery records. Jones said she left virtual messages on the website regarding the graves of her family members and received responses from others who used the website.
On Sept. 20, 2011, she received a message from John Robbins saying that his son, Jacob, and his Boy Scout Troop 42 were planning to clean the Palmer Cemetery as a community service project.
The project was completed in June 2012 after the scout troop had cleaned debris from the area, replaced the fence, planted crepe myrtle trees and installed a sign reading “Palmer Cemetery.”
Jones read an excerpt from an email she received from Robbins on July 1, 2012:
“The cemetery really looks nice. We’re proud of it and honored to have completed this project. It’s so fitting that we completed it so close to Independence Day. Again, it was an honor for us to do this project and honor John Palmer.”
“We say thank you to John, Jacob and all the Boy Scouts of Troop 42 of Union who had a part in either or both of these projects, and to all others who helped in any way,” Jones said.
Jones said she found out Saturday’s ceremony was going to take place after contacting the DAR Fairforest Chapter about getting a new marker for Palmer’s grave. Regent Margaret McCarley emailed Jones, stating that her chapter — along with the SAR Daniel Morgan Chapter — were planning to honor Palmer with a ceremony. Jones, Johnston and their nephew Mark Nichols — an SAR member from Mississippi — chose and paid for a new marker, while Mark Anthony — president of the South Carolina Society of the SAR — ordered it and had it placed at the grave.
Jones, Johnston and their sister Shirley Holland — also a DAR member — attended the ceremony as well as fellow descendants Freddie Gault, Fredrick Tucker, Warren Newell Little and Thomas Going Jr.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.