Happening upon history: GF woman discovers cemetery in her backyard
Clara Gregg found more than a place to plant her vegetables when clearing weeds around her property in Green Forest. She discovered the Sneed-Taylor Cemetery, containing a tombstone and 30 grave markers, in her backyard.
"This part of the yard was fenced off at first, and the weeds had grown over so much that you could barely see the top of the tombstone," Gregg said. "We didn't realize it was a cemetery."
She said she bought the 30-acre property on County Road 905 in December 2014 and spent a year making it a home before moving in. Gregg said she and her granddaughter, who lives next door, tried putting a horse and later goats in the fenced-in area, not realizing it was a cemetery.
"The horse didn't want to stay in there, so we put goats in there. They wouldn't stay, either," she said. "I don't know why they wouldn't, other than the fact it was a cemetery. Maybe they were being told they need to go."
Gregg said she and her granddaughter began cleaning the area by hand and discovered the tombstone for George Washington Taylor Jr. At first, she said, they believed the tombstone was all that was there, but they found grave markers and curbs as they continued to clear brush.
"The tombstone is the only one that has anything written on it, and I think it's just a marker, not an actual grave," Gregg said. "My grandson-in-law thought he could feel where there had been writing on the other markers, but it's been over 100 years so it's faded."
She said there are about 30 grave markers in the cemetery. Most of them date back to the 1800s, Gregg said, with the most recent grave being added in 1917, as indicated by records she has found.
Gregg said she began digging into the history of the area to learn more about Taylor and the other people buried in the plot. However, she said, no one in Carroll County had any record of the cemetery.
"I've checked everywhere I can think of," Gregg said. "I went to the courthouse and the historical societies in Berryville and Alpena. No one had a record of this place."
She said she has made it her personal mission to learn more about the family buried in the cemetery and share the information with the county.
"I look at it this way: It's on my property, so I wanted to know more about it. The project has kept growing from there," Gregg said.
She said she has learned a great deal through her research. The property used to be the homestead of Peter L. Sneed, Gregg said, who is one of the family members interred in the cemetery. She has verified the names of six people buried in the plot so far: George Washington Taylor Jr.; his wife, Rachel Sneed; her father, Peter L. Sneed; Fiodora Taylor; Benjamin Taylor; and George Hiram Taylor.
"Some of the family history gets hard to decipher because you often have more than one family member with the same name," Gregg said. "I found two Rachel Sneeds in doing the research and learned that one was the aunt and one was her niece."
George Washington Taylor Jr. is listed as a member of Company A of Harrell's Cavalry in the Confederate Army on the tombstone, and Gregg said she found records indicating that his father-in-law, Peter L. Sneed, served in the same company.
"They belonged to the same unit, but I don't know if they served at the same time because I don't have dates," she said.
Gregg said she did find a historical record showing Sneed's contract to join the Confederate Army. He was listed as serving in Gordon's Cavalry and Harrell's Cavalry, she said. Sneed is listed as a widower, Gregg said, and did not have to join the Civil War because of his age but chose to do so anyway.
"I found documentation showing that Sneed got a memorial page in the 1860 U.S. Census, and it shows some kind of medal he was awarded," Gregg said. "That's one of the things I need to look up and find."
She said she has also come across accounts of how Peter L. Sneed and George Washington Taylor Jr. died. Peter L. Sneed was killed by bushwhackers according to the account, Gregg said. His daughter, Rachel Sneed, had come to visit him, she said, and four bushwhackers arrived at the homestead and took all the food, livestock, horses and weapons. Gregg said they then took Peter L. Sneed behind the smokehouse and executed him.
The family buried him where he fell, she said, which could be how the family burial plot was started.
"Until I find some family members that may have a family Bible with the information written inside, it;s hard to know for sure," Gregg said. "I've gotten the word out for anyone who knows about the family to please contact me."
She said George Washington Taylor Jr. survived the Civil War and made his living trapping and selling furs. He was getting ready to go sell his furs one day, Gregg said, and his wife warned him not to put the furs on the horse because they would spook it.
"Well, sure enough he didn't listen and threw the furs on when he got on the horse. The horse got spooked, and Taylor fell off and impaled himself on some splinters sticking out of a stump," she said. "They had cut some trees down the day before. That's how he died. It wasn't the war that did it."
Gregg said she is trying to get the cemetery documented so that the county will pitch in to maintain it and people can visit if they want.
"The courthouse said if I can verify the cemetery through the two historical societies in Alpena and Berryville and get it surveyed they would document it," she said. "One of the people I've got to see is a surveyor in the county who may have an old survey showing the cemetery."
Gregg said there is a law stating that counties must maintain access to cemeteries with six or more grave markers. It authorizes county judges to improve and maintain any roads across public or private lands to provide access to the cemetery, she said.
Gregg said she would also like to get a marker established for Peter L. Sneed's service during the Civil War like the one for George Washington Taylor Jr.
"The Confederate group put all of these markers all over. I want to verify that Peter was in the service to show that he's eligible for a marker," she said. "I don't know who did the markers, but I want to get one for him if I can."
Gregg has been keeping a notebook of all her findings and plans to keep researching the family and learning as much as she can.
"I hope drawing attention to this place brings relatives out of the bushes, so I can find out more. I want to get a record of the cemetery and get the Sneed-Taylor Cemetery established as a county cemetery," she said.
Gregg continued, "There is too much history here to ignore it."