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Ellison Family Graveyard


Sumter County, South Carolina

transcribed by

Anita Martin-Schwartz

Photographs by

Gloria Lyles

(If you right click on a picture and then choose view image, you will get a much larger picture to view.)

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This cemetery is located on Old Garner‘s Ferry Road. To find it, take Highway 261 North from Highway 378., Then take the road veering to left just before going downhill and after plantation white fence on the, left. (There are no road signs.) The cemetery is 2/10th of a mile  down on the right.

The cemetery stones face Hwy 261.  Hand-made bricks have been used to shore up the bottom-side. About 25 feet from  the site is a large oak tree with a  2x12x10 nailed to it. Painted on this plank are the words, "The Borough Plantation."  The sign faces the same as the stones.  The site is encompassed on three sides by planted pines.  Maybe the sign was posted there to let loggers know that this small piece of land is off limits.

ELLISON~ (four-sided spire-type stone) In Memoriam
William Jul 19, 1819-Jul 24,1904  -At rest
William J. Dec 8, 1845-Feb 9, 1894
Gabriella, w/o William Nov 18, 1832-Dec 24, 1920
William B. Jul 14, 1876-Jan 11, 1897

R.M.E. 1854 (child’s grave)

ELLISON, Ernest Sanders
 s/o William J. & C. Ellison, Nov 2, 1880-Aug 30, 1882

LABATUT, Preston T.
Aug 11, 1852-May 18, 1872 With glory crowned


 w/o Henry Ellison Dec 7, 1837-Feb 24, 1922
Whose life was an inspiration whose memory a blessing.

ELLISON, Amelia G.
 Jan 11, 1881-Aug 10, 1911
Savior I come to thee.

 Aug 20, 1883 age 67
He giveth his beloved sleep.

ELLISON, Mary Elizabeth
 Jun 11, 1824-Sept 15, 1852
 Thy race tho short is done -
Mary and thou art gone to rest in heaven
that bright and blissful land upon the Saviors breast,
no more shall torturing pain Mary, disturb or back thy frame
 no more shall tears of sorrow fall upon thy cheek again
rest Mary rest- for Christ himself  was once the
dark graves guest this heavenly one the
 prisoner changed into a place of rest.

ELLISON, Henry McKinzie
 infant s/o William & Mary T.
  died Jul 22, 1853 age 1 yr. 
Also, Robert MISHAW
s/o William & Mary T. Ellison
May 27, 1854 age 3 yrs 3 mos 9 days.

ELLISON, Mary Thomson,
Consort of William Ellison Jr.
 and d/o the late John MISHAW,
formerly of Charleston who departed this life
 on 2nd of Jun 1853 age 24 yrs 9 mos and 28 days
In the prime of life and vigor of youth she was visited
 with a painful & lingering disease & as a Christian
she bore with patience thru faith in her redeemer
until her spirit was called away unto him that gave it.

Broken red granite spire reads:
 My angel wife gone to rest
Mar 5, 1820 or 70?

ELLISON,  Matilda
died Jan 4, 1850
aged 86 yrs
Consort of William Ellison.

Erected to the memory of ..
ELLISON, William
Dec 5, 1861
in his 71st yr of his age
In God we trust.

Wife of William Ellison
Nov. 13 - 1882 to December 11, 19XX

There are also:
Large man-made rock/stone-no markings

Small broken slab-no markings 

William Ellison, Jr.

In 1800 the South Carolina legislature had set out in detail the procedures for manumission. To end the practice of freeing unruly slaves of "bad or depraved" character and those who "from age or infirmity" were incapacitated, the state required that an owner testify under oath to the good character of the slave he sought to free. Also required was evidence of the slave's "ability to gain a livelihood in an honest way." On June 8, 1816, William Ellison of Fairfield County appeared before a magistrate (with five local freeholders as supporting witnesses) to gain permission to free his slave, April, who was at the time 26 years of age. April was William Ellison, Jr. of Sumter County.

At birth, William Ellison, Jr. was given the name of "April." It was a popular practice among slaves of the period to name a child after the day or month of his or her birth. It is known that between the years 1800 and 1802 April was owned by a white slave-owner named William Ellison, son of Robert Ellison of Fairfield County in South Carolina. It is not documented as to who his owner was before that time. It can only be assumed that William Ellison, a planter of Fairfield district was either the father or the brother of William Ellison, Jr., freedman of Sumter County. April had his name changed to William Ellison by the courts, obviously in honor of William Ellison of Fairfield.

At the age of 10, William "April" Ellison was apprenticed and he was trained as a cotton gin builder and repairer. He spent six years training as a blacksmith and carpenter
and he also learned how to read, write, cipher and to do basic bookkeeping. Since there are no records showing the purchase of April (later William Ellison of Sumter) by William Ellison of Fairfield, it is unknown as to how long April was owned by William Ellison. It is known that William Ellison of Fairfield inherited a large estate from his father Robert, and that the slaves of the estate, named in the will were left to his siblings. It is possible that Robert Ellison gave several slaves to his son before his death, so they would not have needed to have been mentioned in his will. William owned several slaves according to the census records. Both Robert and William were of an age to have been able to be the father of April.

April was trained as a  machinist and he became a well known cotton gin maker. Upon receiving his freedom he decided to pursue his expertise in Sumter County, South Carolina where found an eager market for his trade. He is well known for perfecting the cotton gin invented by Eli Whitney.

In 1816, April, now known as William Ellison, Jr. arrived in Stateburg where he initially hired slave workers from their local owners. By 1820 he had purchased two adult males to work in his shop. On June 20, 1820, April appeared in the Sumter District courthouse in Sumterville. Described in court papers submitted by his attorney as a “freed yellow man of about 29 years of age,” he requested a name change because it “would yet greatly advance his interest as a tradesman.” A new name would also “save him and his children from degradation and contempt which the minds of some do and will attach to the name April.” Because “of the kindness” of his former master and as a “Mark of gratitude and respect for him” April asked that his name be changed to William Ellison. His request was granted.

The  Ellison family joined the Episcopalian Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg and on  August 6, 1824, William Ellis was the first black to install a family bench on the first floor of the church, among those of the other wealthy  families of Stateburg. The poor whites and the other black church members, free and slave, sat in the balcony of the church.

Gradually, Ellison built up a small empire, purchasing slaves in increasing numbers as the years passed. He became one of South Carolina's major cotton gin manufacturers and sold his machines as far away as Mississippi. He regularly advertised his cotton gins in newspapers across the state. His ads may be found in historic copies of the Black River Watchman, the Sumter Southern Whig, and the Camden Gazzette.

By 1830, he owned four slaves who assisted him in his business.   He then began to acquire land and even more slaves. In 1838 Ellison purchased 54.5 acres adjoining his original acreage from
former South Carolina Governor Stephen Decater Miller. Ellison and his family moved into a large home on the property. (The house had been known as Miller House but became known as Ellison House.) As his business grew, so did his wealth and  by 1840, Ellison owned 12 slaves. His sons, who lived in homes on the property, owned an additional nine slaves. By the early 1840s, he was one of the most prosperous men in the area. By the year 1850, he was the owner of 386 acres of land and 37 slaves. The workers on Ellison's plantation produced 35 bales of cotton that year. 

In 1852, Ellison purchased Keith Hill and Hickory Hill Plantations which increased his land holdings to over 1,000 acres. By 1860
William Ellison was South Carolina's largest Negro slaveowner and in the entire state, only five percent of the people owned as much real estate as did William Ellison. His wealth was 15 times greater than that of the state's average for whites. Ellison also owned more slaves than did 99% of the South's slaveholders.

When War Between the States broke out in 1861, William Ellison, Jr. was one of the staunchest supporters of the Confederacy. His grandson joined a Confederate Artillery Unit, and William turned his plantation over from cotton cash crop production to farming foodstuff for the Confederacy.

William Ellison, Jr.  died on 5 December 1861, at the age of 71 and per his wishes, his family continued to actively support the Confederacy throughout the war. Aside from producing
corn, fodder, bacon, corn shucks, and cotton for the Confederate Army, they contributed vast amounts of money, paid $5000 in taxes, and invested a good portion of their fortune into Confederate Bonds which were worthless at the end of the war.

 William Ellison, Jr. had died with an estate appraised at $43,500, consisting of 70 slaves. His will stated that his estate should pass into the joint hands of his daughter and his two surviving sons. He bequeathed $500 to a slave daughter he had sold. At his death he was one in the top 10% of the  wealthiest people in all of South Carolina, was in the top 5% of land ownership, and he was the third largest slave owner in the entire state.

John Wilson Buckner

Grandson of William Ellison

 John Wilson Buckner was born in Sumter County. Buckner joined the 1st South Carolina Artillery on March 27. 1863. He served in the company of Captains P.P. Galliard and Alexander Hamilton Boykin, local men who knew that Buckner was a Negro. Although it was illegal at the time for a Negro to formally join the Confederate forces, the Ellison family's prestige nullified the law in the minds of Buckner's comrades. Buckner was wounded at Fort Wagner on July 12, 1863, in the battle against the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. After recovering, he was a regular in Capt. P.O. Gaillard’s company and later became a scout in Capt. Boykin’s company, both South Carolina regiments. When John Wilson Bucker died in August, 1895, at his funeral, he was praised by his officers as being a faithful soldier.

The American Negro, Raymond Logan and Irving Cohen New York: Houghton and Mifflin, 1970
 Black Masters. A Family of Color in the Old South, Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roak New York: Norton, 1984
 The Forgotten People, Gary Mills (Baton Rouge, 1977)
U.S. Census Reports.

Old Sumter District

and Palmetto State Roots

Web Sites

© 2009 Cynthia Ridgeway Parker

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