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Spratt family hails hospital discovery

Bill Merritt of Carolinas Medical Center shows descendants of Thomas Spratt's family a coffin he built to bury remains of Spratt ancestors who were buried in Charlotte and will be reburied at the Steele Creek Presbyterian Church on Saturday.
Bill Merritt of Carolinas Medical Center shows descendants of Thomas Spratt's family a coffin he built to bury remains of Spratt ancestors who were buried in Charlotte and will be reburied at the Steele Creek Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Remains of the ancestors of Fort Mill and Charlotte residents unearthed when a hospital expansion turned into a historical expedition in May will be laid to rest Saturday.

The remains were discovered when a construction worker operating a track hoe dug up a Revolutionary War-era tombstone at an expansion site of Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy hospital in downtown Charlotte.

Subsequent digging revealed 13 graves now known to be part of the Spratt cemetery where Charlotte's first white settler, Thomas Spratt, was buried. An archaeology team was brought in to recover the remains which will be reburied in the Steele Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery on Saturday.

A memorial service for the settlers will start at 10 a.m. with descendants giving short recollections of when the Spratts first settled this area in 1755.

Thomas Spratt, known as "the Pioneer," is believed to be one of Mecklenburg County's the first settlers when he came to the area from Pennsylvania. Thomas "Kanawha" Spratt was the first white settler in the Fort Mill area. Family members have lived in the area since.

"These are the original families that settled in Charlotte," said Thomas Spratt III, a ninth-generation Spratt who still lives on land in Fort Mill that Thomas "Kanawha" Spratt received from the Catawba Indians.

Steele Creek Presbyterian Church is a fitting place for these people to be buried, he said.

"There are 40 Spratts that are buried there now, and there's also a number of Sprots that are buried there -- that was one of the offshoots of the name -- so it's appropriate," he said.

He said he couldn't be more pleased with Carolinas HealthCare System and particularly Bill Merritt, a senior project manager with the hospital's architectural department.

"I couldn't have asked for a nicer person, someone who truly cared about this and the family and how it was done," Thomas Spratt said.

This is the first time in his 25 years of working with construction that Merritt said his work ever uncovered a cemetery.

"It's just a bad situation to have to disturb a grave, but we thought there was no other option," he said. "We tried to do everything we could as well as we could."

Because not much was left of the original coffins except for some nails, archaeologists placed the remains they could find in small, air-tight containers.

Merritt thought they deserved more respect than that.

"(The containers) are very small, and it just didn't seem fitting or respectful," he said.

He took it upon himself to build four oak caskets designed to be replicas of what caskets of the era would have looked like. The smaller containers will be placed in these for reburial.

"With all the hard work that (the families) have done helping us to do the right thing and get these relocated, I just thought it would be a good gesture for me to do something back for them," Merritt said.

U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., also a descendent of settler Thomas Spratt, said he appreciates the way Carolinas HealthCare Systems handled the situation.

"They've been very, very sensitive and careful in the way that they have handled this whole matter," he said.

John Spratt said the original Spratt home was in the middle of where CMC-Mercy is today.

"When the hospital was built in 1912, they found these headstones, and they found the graves, and they just put them all in the hole and covered them up," he said. "So what Carolinas Medical has done is in stark contrast to what was done 80 to 90 years ago when they first found the headstones."

Ironically, the fact that the headstones were buried probably helped preserve them, he said.

Finding the remains has helped him learn more of his family's history and has helped him find relatives he didn't know he had.

"In trying to piece the history of the ancestry together, this is one more piece to fit in the right place so that you can understand better where they came from and where they went," John Spratt said.

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