The Oldest Cemetery in Atlanta

Founded 1816

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

History of Utoy Cemetery

A Brief History of Utoy Settlement and Church

The Utoy Church and Cemetery exist now near what was once the ancient Indian village of Upatoi (later corrupted to ‘Utoy’). An Indian town of the same name once existed near Columbus, Georgia. What later became the Utoy Baptist Church was perhaps first established as a mission to the Utoy (or Upatoi) Indians of the Creek Indian Nation in the early Nineteenth Century, several years before white men ‘officially’ began to settle this area. Itinerant (and hardy) Baptist and Methodist missionaries, men such as John Wesley or Francis Asbury, are known to have come through the area occasionally, attempting to bring the Word of God to what were then perceived to be “the heathen savages”. This was during the time of a great revival in religion (known subsequently as the “Great Awakening”), and there was a desire among whites to expand the Gospel to the Indians. These natives had already for many decades been trading furs and other items with white settlers, along a line from Augusta to Macon, in accordance with the Treaties between the Creek and Cherokee Nations, and the United States Senate. Many of these native tribes were already fairly ‘civilized’, having adopted many of the ‘white man’s’ ways of life and dress. The Creek Indians (but not the Cherokee) had in fact supported the United States during the Revolutionary War, and also the War of 1812 against the British Empire.

Utoy (or Upatoi) was the Indian name of their settlement, which was along a trade route or permanent trail. It lay in an area of good farmland and plentiful water sources, with excellent hunting for deer and other game. The native people here were normally peaceful, and primarily farmed and hunted to bring food to their families.

The Christian missionaries brought the Word of God to the Indians. Many were converted to the ‘white man’s religion’, and began to learn the ‘civilized’ European way of life. In 1820, however, ‘Indian Fighter’ General Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States, reflecting a growing trend among Anglo-Americans of hostility, fear, and jealousy toward the native peoples. President Jackson wasted little time in deciding to remove forever the ‘troublesome’ Indians, to make room for more white settlers who were moving to states like Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, and who were constantly clamoring for new land to establish farms. Poor farming practices among the whites, inherited from medieval Europe, meant that previously-cleared acreage was soon exhausted and unproductive for farming. This necessitated the constant acquisition of new lands. In blatant violation of every previously existing treaty between the natives and the United States government, President Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to forcibly remove the natives from their homes and ancestral lands, to other, less desirable lands in the Kansas and Oklahoma territories, west of the Mississippi River.

A Grand Lodge, or meeting, was called at Council Bluffs, near Macon, Georgia, and the Indians were told they would have to move. The Cherokees immediately protested and filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court, however, refused to hear the case, as President Jackson had publicly declared that this was purely a “political” matter. Thus, the Creek Indians, including those who lived at the Utoy Village, were forcibly removed from their lands by veteran soldiers of the U.S. Army, who had just completed ten years of warfare against the Seminole Indians in Florida, where over 25% of the regular army had been lost as casualties. These soldiers thus had an ‘axe to grind’ against the natives—even toward those who had taken no part in previous conflicts, and had done no harm to them personally.

Some of these Indians, however, remained behind, for at least a few years after their brethren had departed for the West: the late esteemed Atlanta historian Franklin M. Garrett (also formerly helpful to our Association), quoted an earlier story in his magnum opus, Atlanta and Environs, to the effect that even in the late 1820s, settler and Utoy member William W. White would occasionally spot a stray Indian or two peeping from around the corner of his (White’s) smokehouse or barn. Garrett further relates the tradition that these same Indians would often help themselves to any tools or other farm implements which happened to be lying about Mr. White’s farm. This should not be taken, however, to evince any sinister motives on the part of the Creek Indians; the concept of private ownership of ‘personal’ possessions probably had not yet taken hold in their collective psyche or culture.

In addition, my own former eighth grade Georgia History teacher, Ted Key (twice Georgia’s “teacher of the year”, and an inductee of the Georgia Educator Hall of Fame) relates a story told to him personally many years ago, when he himself was a very young man, by a then-elderly Georgia lady, who personally remembered that back when she was a small girl (presumably back in the 1880s), occasional elderly Creek Indian men would make the arduous trek from Oklahoma to Georgia, on foot, to “die in the Grandfather Land” (as they put it). According to Mr. Key, his informant also told him that even as late as the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, white farmers and hunters would occasionally stumble upon the skeletons of these Creek Indians, in isolated spots of the forest, where they had simply lain down in the forests of Georgia (their ancestral homeland) to die. Reports also exist of some of these same wandering wraiths of elderly Native Americans occasionally startling a white settler family in Georgia, by knocking on their cabin doors, late of an evening, to beg a scrap of food, to assuage their starvation. Their plight must have been pitiful indeed. Most of the time (to their credit), the white families would indeed feed these starving elderly Indians, and then send them on their way.

Starting about 1818, the State of Georgia held a series of what were called “land lotteries” to distribute the lands stolen from the Indians. These lotteries lasted over a period of several years, until the final one in 1832. Significantly, Georgia was the only state in the Union to ever do such a thing. Former soldiers from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 were given double land lot grants in the territory taken from the Indians. The first counties formed out of the 1821 land lottery were Henry, Fayette, Monroe, Houston, and Dooly Counties. Gwinnett and Walton Counties had been created a few years earlier, in 1818. These counties were mostly named for heroes of the Revolution, men such as Patrick Henry, Button Gwinnett, George Walton, or the Marquis de la Fayette.

Barely a year later, in December 1822, Dekalb County was carved out of the northern portion of Henry County, and also included a fringe of what had been the large Gwinnett County to the northeast. A new town, Decatur, named for a naval hero of the War of 1812, was established as the seat of the new county of Dekalb. This new county had itself been named for the Baron DeKalb who had so ably assisted the American British colonies in their struggle for Independence. This county included the area that later became Fulton County (in 1853), and of course included the Utoy Settlement and Utoy Church. For many years, around this time, Utoy settlement actually had its own post office, and was thus a functioning town in most respects.

In addition to the Gilbert Family, which apparently had already resided in the area for several years, a large group of families migrated to the Utoy and Ben Hill areas of what was then Dekalb County in 1822. These families migrated en masse from Franklin County, having heard of the newly-available lands in the new county of Dekalb, and included the Baker, Fain, Oliver, Redwine, Smith, Willis, and Suttles families. The Hendon, Donehoo, and White families (and several others) arrived a few short years later, and joined the growing Utoy community.

This area was still a literal wilderness, and remained so for many decades, even after the growing community of white settlers had begun to carve farmsteads out of the vast and seemingly never-ending hardwood forest. The former Indian village of Utoy was quickly repopulated by white settlers, who were eager to take as much of this new land as they could manage to clear and hold. The new roads of these white settlers consisted initially of what had been the previous trading paths of the Creek and Cherokee Indians. The State of Georgia quickly commissioned several new roads through the new territory, including one all the way from Augusta on the Savannah River, over to the Chattahoochee River, where sat the former Indian village of Sandtown. This village, which had been a well-known local destination, was later renamed “Campbellton,” after the forced removal of the Creek Indians who had built it. Portions of this road, which ran from Augusta to Sandtown, still survive to this very day: Ponce De Leon Avenue and the old Sandtown Road (now Cascade Road) are present-day parts of it. Prominent local citizens, including several now buried at our Utoy Cemetery, were commissioned as “Road Commissioners” to supervise the construction of these new roads through what is now Dekalb and Fulton Counties.

In the 1830s, small farms emerged. Each family had 202 1/2 acres in each land lot. Revolutionary war veterans had 400 acres.

The newly arrived white settlers, being a God-fearing people, quickly established several churches in this area: Mt. Gilead Methodist and Utoy Baptist in 1824, and Philadelphia Presbyterian (in what was then Fayette County—now Clayton County) in 1825. Utoy Church was first formed in a log cabin about two miles west of its present-day location—almost certainly in the home of one of the early members, as was then common practice. By 1828, the church had moved to its present location, and eighteen acres were set aside for a church building and cemetery. This property was later purchased outright in 1830, from men named John Holley and James Townsend, both elders of Utoy Church. Given that Utoy was a Baptist church, and given that the church’s initial acreage did not include any streams, creeks, or springs in which immersion baptisms could take place, and adjoining parcel of land was purchased on behalf of the church by the above-mentioned William W. White in 1826—interestingly, one full year before he officially became a member of Utoy Church. This additional parcel of land had a natural spring within its bounds suitable for outdoor “water baptisms.”

An early church secretary for Utoy Baptist Church was Isaac N. Johnson, who was an early Sheriff of Dekalb County. Other politically important men in Dekalb (and later Fulton) County’s history also worshipped at this church, and some of them lie buried in the cemetery (mostly in unmarked graves, alas). The first recorded burial (also the oldest contemporary tombstone) dates from the year 1816. The second one followed three years later, in 1819. Both were infant children of a Gilbert family—probably the same one whose scions later worshipped and are buried at Utoy Church. These later Gilberts included Atlanta and Fulton County’s first two practicing physicians—brothers William (1807-1864) and Joshua Gilbert (1815-1889). The two infant Gilbert children, whose exact parentage is at present unknown, probably died during a local epidemic. Smallpox, dysentery, typhus, yellow and typhoid fevers were all-too common back then, and were greatly feared. Mortality rates—especially among infants, children, and pregnant women, were staggeringly high. Medicine was in its infancy.

The members of Utoy Church were soon admitted to the Baptist Conference of North Georgia, and a traveling pastor began a circuit, supporting the Baptist churches in the association. The first regular pastor of Utoy Baptist Church was Elder James Hale, who came to Utoy from Gwinnett County. William W. White again served Utoy Church by traveling to Gwinnett County by horse and wagon to pick up Utoy’s new pastor.

Until about 1837, there was no “primitive” in Utoy Baptist Church’s name. About that time, there was a serious division within the Baptist denomination, with those Baptists who supported missions and Sunday Schools splitting off, and calling themselves “missionary Baptists” (the forerunner of today’s ‘Southern Baptists’), and with those Baptists who felt that such things were “unscriptural” renaming themselves “Primitive” Baptists, in accordance with their desire to bring their doctrines and worship practices as close as possible to ancient or ‘primitive’ Christianity. After about 1837, therefore, Utoy Baptist Church began calling itself “Utoy Primitive Baptist Church.”

Most of the families of the church and community were self-sufficient, and barter was the trading factor of the day. One of the complaints noted by the Utoy Association (as it was called in the 1820s and 1830s) was the lack of desire by the settlers to pay cash to the minister. Most of these families, being very conservative in matters of religion, and being firm believers in the value of thrift and honest labor, owned no slaves, and were very much against slavery.

Also in 1837, a small settlement about three or four miles to the northeast of Utoy Church was founded. Railroads having been established as early as 1825 in Charleston, the State of Georgia decided to establish the “Georgia Railroad” through the new territory that was then Dekalb County. This new settlement was first called Terminus, because it was initially where the railroads ended. Later it was called Marthasville, after the daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin. The name “Marthasville” was eventually (1847) changed to “Atlanta”. Thus was the now world-class city of Atlanta born—as the once-humble end of a railroad line. As the railroads expanded, with more and more imports from England and France moving to the new populated areas, different areas of Georgia were also expanded and settled to meet the demands.

As a result of the Yazoo Land Fraud, which caused the ousting of several state legislators, the state capital and legislature were moved to Milledgeville in 1830s. This was accomplished by a referendum. The railroads were gradually extended Westward, to speed travel to the new states of Alabama and Mississippi (created from the former areas of Georgia).

During the 1830s and 1840s, tensions between the largely industrial North, and the largely agricultural South, slowly but surely grew and worsened. Northern merchants found little demand for their finished goods in the South. Southerners much preferred to export their cash crops overseas, and likewise purchase European cloth goods, more so than those produced in northern textile mills. Eventually, this led to the proposal in the ‘Yankee’ North of a tariff on imported goods. This was intended to force Southerners to buy American-made goods, rather than English and French products. As might be expected, this proposed tariff immediately roused the wrath of Southerners.

Although the “Compromise of 1850” relieved some pressure, the issues of Slavery and sectional rivalries remained heated topics of the age. Indeed, with each passing year, the controversy and heated rhetoric between North and South only grew worse. Our nation had not yet learned how to become “one nation, under God, indivisible.”

By the 1860s, the repeated Northern threats to radically and irrevocably alter the economy of the South through abolition of slavery, although they directly impacted only approximately ten percent of the population of the South, continued to rouse the ire of Southerners, rich and poor alike, to a fever pitch.

Like any chess game, where the doom of one opponent is clear and certain long before it actually comes to fruition, the final result of this bitter sectional conflict in mid-Nineteenth-Century America was as obvious and inevitable as the final scene of any ancient Greek tragedy. The American Civil War, long foreseen, finally began in earnest with Fort Sumter’s fatal bombardment in 1861. This tragic, wasteful and unnecessary war was, of course, the defining event in American history—more so even than our earlier War of Revolution. Though surely not to the satisfaction of many, this not so ‘civil’ Civil War nonetheless resolved the constitutional issues revolving around ‘States Rights’, and settled once and for all the nagging question of slavery.

During the War, Atlanta became a natural logistics hub, since three major railroads intersected at or near the city. The City of East Point became a secondary hub, connecting Alabama and Mississippi, through the Georgia Railroad, to Atlanta.

Utoy Church and the Battle of Utoy Creek

After the fall of Vicksburg in 1863, the City of Atlanta was fortified with a series of earthen forts and strong points, all protected by well-placed artillery. (Some of these forts still survive to this day, after a fashion.) In 1864, these fortifications became vitally important, as U.S. Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman and his three armies marched southward through North Georgia, on a campaign to take Atlanta. The Northern and Confederate armies continually maneuvered and outflanked each other through most of North Georgia’s hills and valleys, and after three months of campaigning in the Atlanta area, Unites States forces under Sherman finally encircled the City of Atlanta, and had the city in a noose, ready to be hung.

Confederate General John B. Hood attacked U.S. troops three times in July 1864, in rapid succession: at Peachtree Creek (20 July, 1864), at Atlanta/Decatur (22 July, 1864) and at Ezra Church (28 July, 1864). He was unable, however, to dislodge the larger force under Sherman.

On August 1, 1864, Sherman sent Major General Schofield and the Army of Ohio to Utoy Creek,), to break through the Confederate defenses protecting the railroads at East Point. Schofield was reinforced by an additional infantry corps, the Fourteenth Army Corps. A week-long operation ensued, involving some 30,000 union troops, against 8,000 entrenched and desperate Confederate troops, along the current Cascade Heights neighborhood, from John A. White Park to the Cascade Springs Nature Preserve to the west.

A desperate attack by the only regular U.S. Army brigade, and a forced crossing of North Utoy Creek, occurred on 3 August, 1864, along what is now Peyton Road, under well placed small arms and artillery fire from Brigadier General Armstrong’s Confederate Dismounted Cavalry Brigade.

The U.S. division of the Fourteenth Corps under Major General John M. Palmer was moved to cross the creek and to be placed against well-prepared Confederate positions along what is now Beecher Road. Desperate fighting then ensued, with many casualties.

The divisions of Baird and Johnston of the Fourteenth Corps made attacks against Beecher Road positions which were held by the Confederates of Major General Patton Anderson’s Division (of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana Troops) north of the Sandtown (now Cascade) Road.

On the Sixth of August, an all-out effort was made by the entire Union Army to support Schofield’s 23rd Army Corps’ and the 14th Corps’ attacks against Confederate defenses along Utoy Creek. Brigadier-General Jacob D. Cox and Brigadier-General Milo Hascall’s Divisions moved on a direct assault on what was thought to be dismounted cavalry. William B. Bates’ Confederate Division also moved in force with a battalion of artillery, along a continuous ridge south of Cascade Road, and the Federals there faced veteran entrenched Confederate infantry. A direct assault on the entrenched Confederates was made by Cox’s, Hascall’s, Baird’s, Johnston’s, and Davis’ Divisions. The Union Troops of the Fourteenth Corps received a rain of artillery fire against their assault. Fourteenth Corps soldier Private Samuel Gremshaw, of Johnston’s Division, King’s Brigade, was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts on that day.

Cox’s men were not so lucky. Riley, Crittenden and Bird’s Brigades moved against the Confederates of Bates’ Division, and were firmly repulsed. They moved farther to the right, and instead of finding themselves in the enemy’s flank, found themselves in a trap planned by Bates. Cox’s Division was trapped below the abates, and was only able to withdraw after dark had fallen, and after a total loss of 800 killed or wounded men that day. Hascall’s Division, farther to the west, faced Confederate dismounted cavalry, supported by artillery. Hascall’s men enjoyed initial success, but had to withdraw their attack, since a torrential rainstorm threatened to cut them off from their supports.

The Confederates established a field hospital for this area at the Utoy Primitive Baptist Church. The primary surgeon there was Dr. Joshua Gilbert (earlier mentioned as Atlanta’s first doctor). Dr. Gilbert was assisted by nurse Sally Murray Hendon, with the addition of other volunteers from the area. Doctor and Nurse treated both Confederate and captured Union soldiers, without regard for loyalty of sides. A Colonel Boykin, commanding the Thirtieth Georgia Infantry Division, of Brigadier-General H. R. Jackson’s Georgia Brigade, was treated here at Utoy Church, after having been wounded at the Battle of Utoy Creek, which took place about one mile northwest of the church, along Cascade Road. A week later, his division commander, Major-General William B. Bates, was also treated at Utoy Church (on 10 August 1864) from wounds received at the Battle of Utoy Creek. He was evacuated to Barnesville, Georgia (safely away from the danger zone) to recuperate.

Along with several unknown Confederate casualties of the Battle of Utoy Creek, Union casualties were also interred at Utoy Churchyard, and remained there until 1866, when they were moved by the U.S. Quartermaster Officer at Atlanta, to the National Cemetery in Marietta. Thirty-five casualties of Bates’ and Anderson’s Confederate divisions of Lieutenant-General Stephen D. Lee’s Corps, are buried at Utoy Churchyard.

The Battle of Utoy Creek was a victory for the Confederates (though a Pyrrhic Victory), and a terrible loss to the Union Army under Sherman. The plan of Sherman, poorly executed as it was by Schofield, forced Sherman into a deadly and unwinnable siege war. Total U.S. losses at Utoy Creek alone, among the two corps, were a little less than two thousand troops, in killed, wounded, or lost. The Confederates losses at Utoy Creek were thirty-five killed outright, and two hundred wounded or captured.

Thanks for taking the time to read this brief history of your ancestors’ church and cemetery. I hope it has been interesting, informative, and worth your while.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Improvements at Utoy Cemetery

As a resident of B.... Drive for the past thirty eight years, I was pleased to see the developments that you are attempting to implement. I frequently visited the cemetery during the early seventies when we first moved into the community. After much scolding by my mother who was somewhat afraid of my forays into the cemetery, I reluctantly gave up the practice during the late seventies.

My curiosity never wavered with the renewed efforts, I would like to volunteer my services in your restoration efforts. As a native of Atlanta, this project is near and dear to my heart, inasmuch as historical sites are sometimes overlooked and/or neglected in African-American communities.

I recently visited the cemetery and spoke with Mr. Dan Sale, who detailed some of your upcoming projects. Please email me the criteria for volunteering..

History lives and it is in my own backyard!!!


Nancy ......

The Positive thinker sees the invisible

feels the intangible,
and achieves the impossible."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Ivy Green

Greetings All:

A poem sent to the Utoy Cemetery Association by Dr. M. Disher who visited the Utoy Cemetery in November 2009. His great great grand father belonged to the 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, USA and was wounded at the Battle of Utoy Creek.

It is a famous English poem by Charles Dickens:


by: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

H, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o'er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!
And slyly he traileth along the ground,
And his leaves he gently waves,
As he joyously hugs and crawleth round
The rich mould of dead men's graves.
Creeping where grim death hath been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Whole ages have fled and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,
From its hale and hearty green.
The brave old plant, in its lonely days,
Shall fatten upon the past:
For the stateliest building man can raise
Is the Ivy's food at last.
Creeping on where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

L Perry Bennett, Jr.

Monday, February 1, 2010