Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Remembering Slave Burial Sites: A Memorial Day Post

Remembering Slave Burial Sites: A Memorial Day Post

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - May 24, 2013

Not long ago, Fordham University student Sandra Arnold was visiting a great aunt in Tennessee. Her great aunt mentioned the graves of Arnold’s great-grandparents, one of them a former slave. When Arnold went to visit the graves, and found her great-grandparents’ graves as well as an area of unmarked slave burials, she later told NPR, “I guess I was expecting a pretty small family plot and it was much bigger than I expected. I tell people all the time that when I got there I remember thinking, wow, this was my family. This wasn’t Alex Haley. This wasn’t Roots, but this was actually my family that I’m looking at.”

She continued, “I was extremely grateful for my great aunt and other members of my community like her who have never forgotten. They’ve protected the location of a lot of these sites and the identity of the people lying in these graves, just through their own memory.”

Sandra Arnold and Fordham University, with help from Yale University, have set up the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans at The database relies on submissions from the public to document the location of burials, marked and unmarked.

* * *

Due to good state and church burial records, the efforts of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and the efforts of a descendant of the Burton family, we know the burial locations of some of the slaves and former slaves who lived in Utah Territory. I’ve submitted the following graveyards to the database. Four are in Utah; one is the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery at Winter Quarters.


Spanish Fork City Cemetery, Utah County, Utah
Alex Bankhead, Marinda Redd Bankhead, possibly others


Union Cemetery, Salt Lake County, Utah
Green Flake, Martha Flake, Hark (Lay) Wales, George Bankhead, Nancy Bankhead, Samuel Bankhead, probably others

Minolta DSC

Parowan Cemetery, Iron County, Utah
John Burton (“Faithful John”)


Mormon Pioneer (Winter Quarters) Cemetery, Douglas County, Nebraska
Jacob Bankhead


Dennis Family Cemetery, Piute County, Utah
Nancy “Mammy” Dennis


If you are going to be at any of those graveyards on Memorial Day, you may wish to spare a moment to remember these men and women who were a vital part of early pioneering efforts.

* * *

Submitting Information to the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans

If you are aware of any additional slave burials in Utah or neighboring states, including the slaves who went to California in 1851 with the San Bernardino Mission, please submit them to the database and do let me know as well (amyancestorfiles at gmail dot com), since I am continuing to collect information about the slaves and former slaves who lived even briefly in Utah Territory. I will submit grave locations to the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans as I find them.

If you live outside of the Intermountain West and are aware of slave burial locations, please also send that information to the database


The pictures in this post are from FindAGrave, or were sent to me by FindAGrave volunteers. In order: Anonymous, Cathie Owens, Vaunette Coache, Sharon Hanson Frey, and Max Turpin.



  1. Thank you for this good work! I am very moved.

    Comment by Grant — May 24, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  2. Wow. Thanks for this. Nothing quite like seeing the photos of the headstones.

    Comment by David Y. — May 24, 2013 @ 9:27 am

  3. Amy, This is great and really important. Thanks!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 24, 2013 @ 9:42 am

  4. Thank you, Amy. Your research and writing always shows that you remember people as individuals, persons in their own right, rather than as a homogenous group. That seems especially important in this case.

    I’ve visited the Dennis cemetery just south of Marysvale. It’s well-tended, despite there being no water for landscaping, and lying within inches of a sometimes busy highway.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 24, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  5. Thanks Amy.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2013 @ 11:58 am

  6. I wonder if my brother knows about this? He found a slave burial site near our property in Georgia when he was a teenager. He used that as an Eagle Scout project – cleaning it up and recording the names they could find on headstones. It was awesome because the surnames were the same as some neighbors down the road. They did find it was some of their ancestors and they never even knew the burial site was there!

    Comment by Chocolate on my Cranium — May 24, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

  7. Wow, Chocolate. Send him a link!

    Thanks, all. It is nice to see the gravestones; one of these days I’ll get around to writing about John Burton and his grave marker in the Parowan Cemetery. It’s a great detective story.

    Comment by Amy T — May 24, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  8. Thanks, Amy. This makes these people real to me.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — May 25, 2013 @ 12:15 am

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