Silas Coleman’s Grave, Irwin County

Silas Coleman Headstone Ex Slave Irwin County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

I’ve known of this “one-man cemetery” most of my life, and just photographed it last June. I initially thought it was perhaps an eccentric member of the Coleman family, who were large landowners in this part of Irwin County in the late 19th century. I had heard from a commenter that Mr. Coleman might have been a slave but I got busy and didn’t follow up.  When I was in the area last week, my friend Jackie Fussell Golden confirmed the site’s importance, sharing this information from a family history: Silas Coleman was born a slave in Tennessee on 2 January 1837, died 22 April 1921. He was the beloved slave and house servant of Elisha Coleman. One thing very evident about this black gentleman is that the  Coleman, Mann and McDaniel families had very warm feelings of love and affection for him.

The following history of Silas Coleman passed down to Mona McDaniel by her father, T. B. McDaniel, son of Fort Jasper McDaniel and Elmina Mann, and other family members, as well: After the Civil War it appears Coleman was in or had emigrated to Alabama. Since travel was so difficult for blacks during that time, Silas decided to stay and work with Elisha Coleman. When Elisha died, James Mann and Elisha’s daughter Mary lived with her mother. James died soon after 1880 and Silas helped his widow Mary Ann Coleman Mann with the rearing of her five young daughters: Sarah Elmina (McDaniel); Matilda Jane (Hogan); Idella (Luke); Lindsey Columbus (Mann); and Anna Bell (Mann). It is to be noted that their love and respect was such that Silas was allowed to chastise and even spank the girls if necessary.

Silas was said to be a very stern man and did not put up with foolishness. He could not read or write but controlled his money by having someone wrap it up in colored cloth by different denominations. Silas seems to have been a very caring and loving individual as he stayed with these families and helped them for over 60 years, from the time of the Civil War until he died in 1921.

Silas did live alone at one time but as he advanced in years, he moved into the house and lived with Morris and Maurine Mann. When he passed away he was “laid out” in their living room and the funeral was in the woods near the house, in the place that he had stated he wished to be. Lola McDaniel Harper, her mother Elmina, and sister Ruby attended his funeral. This love for him is evidenced by the beautiful monument erected and placed on his grave by Vianna Mann Fletcher.

Data provided by Mona McDaniel Temples and Joy Wilson McDaniel (Joy Wilson McDaniel is also the author of Irwinville Farms Project: The Making of a Community).

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12 Comments

Filed under --IRWIN COUNTY GA--

12 responses to “Silas Coleman’s Grave, Irwin County

  1. Jonathan phillips

    I live in Wray ga in n Irwin county can anyone give me directions to this site.

  2. Pamela Fletcher Joiner

    Vianna Mann Fletcher, who placed the marker on the grave of Silas Coleman, was my great-grandmother. Vianna’s mother (my great-great grandmother) was Anna Bell Mann, one of the five daughters whom Silas helped raise.
    Supposedly Bell never married, but gave birth to three children…quite the scandal in the late 1800s. I’ve often wondered if there was more of a connection than “former slave” between Silas and Bell.
    I’d like to know what others may have heard from their older relatives regarding the identity of my great-great grandfather. I have also heard that the father of Bell’s children was an Indian…

  3. Jesse Bookhardt

    Brian,
    You deserve credit for posting a tribute to Silas Coleman, ex-slave and a true son of South Georgia. When I was growing up in the Snipesville community of Jeff Davis County, there was an old black gentleman who was an ex-slave. Both blacks and whites called him Uncle George Peterson. He was at least a hundred years or more old when he passed away. There was an article in the Jeff Davis Ledger about him that I recall.
    He lived with the “Shug” Johnson family near the Ocmulgee River on the old Tallahassee stage and pioneer trail. Most people in that area were turpentine workers. My most vivid memory of Uncle George was made one summer day when I was quite small. My daddy and some of us kids were visiting Arlie Sinclair’s crossroad store when an old wagon pulled by a mule came to the store. The wagon was occupied by a couple of men and Uncle George. Uncle George remained on the wagon seat, while the two men got down from the wagon. He was stooped, had silver hair, and a slight beard of white. Many of his front teeth were missing. On his shirt and light brown pants, one could see the stains of tobacco juice that had dribbled down his chin. He clutched a homemade walking cane and spoke in spurts with a raspy but squeaky voice. The men, who I assumed were family members, eventually helped Uncle George down and they went into the store.
    I was impressed and the vision of the old slave sitting in that wagon has never left my mind. My folks on both my mom’s side and my dad’s had always told stories that their families had passed down to them about the Civil War. Even though I was a young child, it was not lost on me that here was a real character from that long ago time who had witnessed the most tumultuous period in our history as a nation.
    Today I don’t know where Uncle George is resting for many poor blacks were buried in unmarked graves. In the case of Mr. Coleman, he had the good fortune to have a dignified stone and is being recognized even today. Too bad that we can’t find the resting places of more ex-slaves. Most often these South Georgia citizens probably lie beneath sunken places in a white family’s plantation cemetery. The pioneer Ashley Cemetery of Jeff Davis County has several sunken unmarked burials of those who probably were slaves.
    These black citizens of the Wiregrass Plains contributed greatly to our southern economy, culture and to the history of the area. Thanks for recognizing Mr. Coleman who represents many others who have been little noted nor long remembered.

  4. Barbara O'Quinn

    Thank you for this photograph and story, Brian. I live “around the corner” and have been aware of Silas and his grave all my life. I really hated it when in the 1990’s Irwin County officially changed the name of the road from One Man Cemetery Road to Kennedy Road.

  5. tarobinsonsr

    Most excellent local history lesson, Brian. Thanks 🙂

  6. Jeannette Hooks Sands

    I was born and raised in New Orleans LA. & never fell for the segration thing as a child but my Mother did and tryed to lead me so one day when I refered to a black woman as a Lady & Mother said I was never to refer to
    blacks as Ladies etc etc. I kept my mouth shut but you can bet we discussed it when I was grown!

  7. Susan Hogan

    Brian…what an amazing coincidence occurred when reading about Mr. Coleman! One of the five young daughters was my husband’s great grandmother, Matilda Jane Mann Hogan. I have asked questions over the years about her, but never found anyone who knew anything about her. What providence that your post today included her! Now I have a starting point and possible connections. Thanks for all you do to keep our history alive!

  8. Adam O'Quinn

    Very cool. I’ve passed by Silas’ grave many times, often stopping to climb the ditch to pay my respects. It’s good to know “the rest of the story” now.

  9. Susan

    What a wonderful tribute. I can tell from reading this that Silas was very well loved and respected and the family recognized him as a fellow human being worthy of that respect, therefore they buried him as he wished with love. Thank you for sharing his story with us.

  10. What a great story thanks for sharing it.

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