My first visit to McMillan Cemetery located in the countryside near Alapaha was about twelve years ago, and I’ve been back several times since, most recently during the summer of 2019. According to historical documents, Daniel McMillan’s five slaves were buried near him in the cemetery. Their graves were marked with cypress cut 1″ thick, and 6″ wide, rounded at the top.
Slave burials usually took place at night when family and friends were no longer in the fields and when slaves from neighboring farms and plantations might be able to attend. Although some of their graves received stone markers, the majority went uncovered or were marked with wooden staffs, wooden slabs, stones, or other items.
Imagine one of those funerals, silence and darkness swallowing everything until long lines of slaves, men, women, and children, come marching toward the burial place, coming from all directions, from other plantations, north, south, east, and west, aiming toward the place where they will bury their loved one, in their hands fiery torches held high, their voices singing loud and clear, songs spilling from them into the night.
My sin is forgiven and my soul set free,
And I heared from heaven today,
My sin is forgiven, and my soul set free,
And I heared from heaven today.
Most couldn’t read or write, but they could sing.
The cypress markers are still there and in good condition. Though I didn’t hear the echoes of their music, I did find myself humming a funeral song.