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Doors to the Past

William P. Yates

"Buried Treasures"
Local history on display in Ona

Zack Pettit
Staff Writer

Huntington- A town like Ona, W.Va. doesn't have too much going on a lot of the time. Sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes it can be kind of boring. But if only more people would realize how much important history is tucked away behind the trees and under the hills, everyone could gain a better perspective on how important our local predecessors were to the advancement of the country.

One very accessible part of this history is the Yates, or Yatesmont Cemetery on the Burdette Farm in Cabell County. The cemetery holds the remains of former slave owner, William P. Yates, his family and his slaves, along with the grandparents of William Jennings Bryan.

The cemetery is hidden from view down a typical West Virginia gravel road. The two-story home of the Yates is still in excellent condition with old maple trees rooting everywhere in the front yard. An old barn sits in the background with doors closed, like she knows her winter rest has expired and must now get ready for another hot summer.

Yates was a native of Culpepper County, Va., a soldier in the War of 1812, a member of the first church in Cabell County, the Mud River Baptist Church, that still stands today and a slave owner.

Bryan was known as "The Great Commoner" and "The Boy Orator of Platte." He was a presidential candidate three, almost four times, a respected lawyer and the secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson.

The Burdette's, who still own the land, were relatives of the Yates' through the marriage of Williams Yates' daughter, Elizabeth, to James R. Burdette in 1828.

Don Chapman has lived close by the cemetery since he was a young boy, and he recalled all the times he used to come over to the farm and play.

"We used to pilfer through the slave houses and find old letters and things," Chapman said. He also admitted that if it weren't for the naiveté of his childhood, he would have held onto some of the things he found in those old slave houses.

One of the slave houses still stands on the Burdette Farm, its wood beams waterlogged and split and a demeanor showcasing the exhaustion the former inhabitants must have felt.

Other than the prolific men and women buried at the Yates Cemetery, there are also seven tombstones that do not bear a last name. These graves are the slaves owned by W.P. Yates. From Henry to George and Harriet to one stone simply marked "Infant," for slaves to be buried in the same lot as their owners was something of an anomaly.

"It says that Mr. Yates was probably pretty good to his slaves," Chapman said.

Candie Freeman, coordinator of the Cabell County Web site and genealogist, was also somewhat curious as to the close quarters of the slave and their owner.

"It's rare. They usually didn't bury the slaves at the same place," Freeman said.

Inside the gates of the cemetery, the vast majority of the tombstones were in excellent condition. W.P. Yates had a very commanding headstone, but there is a lesser known fact concerning his footstone.

"They took his original tombstone, cut it in half and made it his footstone," Freeman said. She also pointed out the current heir to the farm was actually unaware of the stone switching.

The amount of history in the greater Cabell County area is astounding, and moreover, it takes very little effort to reveal.


Note:  The link below takes you to the Cemetery page
for the Yates/Yatesmont Cemetery.

[ Cemetery ]

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