When “that day comes,” Marianne Falls will either be the seventh or eighth generation in a line of family members descended from the Barnettes and Campbells to be buried in the cemetery behind Bethel Presbyterian Church in Clover.
Believe it or not, it’s something the 67-year-old Clover native and lifelong church member is looking forward to.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” she said about the opportunity to be laid to rest in a cemetery where deceased members of her family and church can be found in almost every other tomb. “Families don’t do that anymore.”
On Sunday afternoon, Falls and almost five dozen others toured the final resting place for 50 soldiers who fought – and some who died – in the Revolutionary War. Thanks to efforts by the York County Genealogical and Historical Society, their graves – segmented in a plot of land along S.C. 557 – are marked with American flags.
And Falls, descended from the “notorious” Scotch-Irish Barnettes and Campbells, beamed with pride as she pointed out graves and peered at the tombs of ancestors now steeped in history.
The historical society gathered together with church members and community residents, all interested in learning more about the grave markers, engravings and obelisks that adorned the graveyard of what church historian Cary Grant said is “the oldest church in York County.”
Fourteen years after a notable migration of Scotch-Irish settlers into North Carolina and upper South Carolina, the pastor of a church in Lancaster County organized Bethel’s congregation. Three men – one of them a colonel in the militia – were appointed to find a site for the church. Because they all lived far away from each other, they agreed to meet at a spring that was equal distance from their homes, Grant said.
It was there that Bethel Presbyterian Church was born and, soon to approach its 250th year in 2014, now stands in its fourth building with some 400 members. The church, Grant said, supports local and foreign missions, has birthed more than 30 members of the clergy and has even helped start a seminary in Monterrey, Mexico.
But in the 1700s, it was a notable “center for opposition” against British dominance, Grant said, and many of its members joined the revolution effort to quell the threat.
One of those people was Thomas Neel, a colonel in the militia who is thought to be one of the church’s founding members.
According to history, Neel, a prominent York County resident, was killed in 1779 at the Battle of Stono Ferry in Charleston. Two of his sons were also killed in the war a year after his youngest son was killed in a military campaign.
The way historians tell it, his wife, Jean, was killed and scalped by Shawnee Indians. Others say she loaded onto a wagon with her daughter and son-in-law and moved to Kentucky.
But Jim Neel, a 72-year-old ancestor of Thomas Neel’s brother, Andrew, doesn’t pretend to know all the answers.
With genealogy, he said, you never will.
“Genealogy is like a never-ending jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “You get a piece of it here and a piece of it there.”
Neel, a resident of Asheville, N.C., first became interested in tracing his family’s lineage after retiring. He networked with like-minded people online and soon began an effort to meld together the pieces of his own family’s puzzle.
So far, he’s learned that his family hails from York County and eventually migrated to Tennessee before moving farther west to Arkansas, New Mexico and California. Some ancestors became Mormons, Neel said, and were subsequently shunned by the mostly Presbyterian family.
Jason Harpe, executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Association in North Carolina, showed the crowd pictures of the cemetery’s tombstones and markers, matching them with different forms and styles of funerary art.
“Most folks I know just think it’s a place where people are buried,” Harpe said.
Ask Barbara Kurz, and she’ll say it’s so much more. While walking the cemetery, Kurz, secretary for the county’s historical society, identified markers for at least three ancestors.
Her great-great-great grandfather, Dr. William Maclean, built the second oldest historical monument in the nation, Kurz said.
His son, Dr. John Davidson, was a country doctor who one night visited the Bigger home and delivered Martha Bigger’s child. More than 20 years later, he married her and they eventually had six more children.
“There are not many men who deliver their own wife’s babies,” Kurz said. “Every family has quirky stories.”