The Bosley Cemetery Removal Project at The Dominican Campus of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, TN

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 30

Jared Barrett
TRC Environmental Corporation

Earlier in the month, State Archaeologist Michael Moore talked about the process of what you should do if you accidently discover a cemetery. This blog post highlights an example of when a cemetery was accidentally discovered and the steps taken in its eventual removal. In August 2016, during the construction of Siena Hall at Aquinas College on The Dominican Campus in Nashville, construction crews accidentally uncovered the remains of the Bosley Cemetery. The Dominican Campus, now owned by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation (St. Cecilia Congregation), had been the site of the Bosley Family home until its purchase by Joseph Warner in 1910. The sisters acquired the property in 1923. One of the most prominent headstones uncovered was that of Charles Bosley Sr. whose family was one of the earliest to settle Davidson County. On behalf of St. Cecilia Congregation, Aquinas College initially contacted the Davidson County Medical examiner who directed them to contact the Tennessee Division of Archaeology (TDOA). Historic archaeologist Ben Nance with the TDOA examined the find and identified two grave shafts and advised St. Cecilia Congregation to hire a private consulting firm to continue excavations and identify any remaining graves.

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View of all nine uncovered graves after the completion of mechanical stripping of the Bosley Cemetery.

Archaeologist Jared Barrett with TRC Environmental Corporation (TRC) was contacted to assist and continue the mechanical stripping of the immediate area of the two graves initially identified by the TDOA. Additional work at the cemetery identified a total of nine graves most of which contained broken tombstones and other monument stones within the grave shaft fill. We also identified the remains of a rock wall along the southern edge of the cemetery. This rock wall would have surrounded the cemetery. After our initial work at the cemetery, Eleanor Whitworth, a Bosley family descendant, informed the St. Cecilia Congregation that the Bosley family had been disinterred and reburied in Mt. Olivet Cemetery on February 18, 1911 on a lot purchased by Mrs. Gertrude Bosley Bowling Whitworth. Today there is a family marker at the Bosley family plot at Mt. Olivet that lists the names of several family members including Charles Bosley Sr. and his wife Eliza.

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Overall layout of the Bosley Cemetery.

Additional excavations were needed at the Bosley Cemetery due to the uncertainty of finding headstones and grave shafts and the question of whether or not the family members had been moved to Mt. Olivet. In November 2016, we conducted additional hand excavations in all nine graves to determine whether the graves contained human remains. Based on our excavations, we determined all nine graves were previously excavated during the removal carried out in 1911. Our hand excavations encountered limestone rubble, headstone pieces, machine made brick fragments, coffin hardware and wood throughout the fill of all nine grave shafts. Our additional work also confirmed that all nine graves still contained human remains. Once human remains were encountered during excavations of a grave shaft, work was halted and the grave shaft backfilled.

The St. Cecilia Congregation worked with Ms.Whitworth and weighed all options about the next steps regarding the treatment of the cemetery. After much discussion and due to the documented current condition of the nine graves, the St. Cecilia Congregation, along with Ms. Whitworth, decided that the best option would be to disinter the remaining graves at the Bosley Cemetery and rebury them on two grave plots located immediately adjacent to the Bosley Family plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

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Excavation in progress of graves at Bosley Cemetery, facing west.

The St. Cecilia Congregation and Whitworth went to the Davidson County Chancery Court and filed an order to terminate the use of the land of the Bosley Cemetery as a burial ground and to allow for the removal of the remains of the descendants to Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The order contained our approach and methods for the removal of the graves which helped satisfy the legal responsibilities with respect to the treatment of human remains, while providing a professional and respectful exhumation and reburial process. The order was granted on July 14th, 2017.

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Broken monument stones encountered in grave fill of Burials 6 and 7.

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Crushed metal coffin uncovered at base of Burial 7.

In August 2017, we returned to the Bosley Cemetery and began to remove the graves. According to the Bosley family bible, the following people were buried at the cemetery: Charles Bosley, Sr.; his wife Mrs. Eliza A. Bosley; Mary Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Henry Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Mary Eliza Bosley, child of Charles and Eliza Bosley; Infant daughter of Martha Ann and Charles Bosley, Jr.; Martha Ann (Carden) Bosley, wife of Charles Bosley, Jr.; Charles Bosley, Jr., son of Charles and Eliza Bosley; and Gertrude Bosley Bowling, granddaughter of Charles and Eliza Bosley and wife of Powhattan Bowlinig. The earliest burial in the cemetery dates to 1825 with the latest burial dating to 1873. We uncovered the remains of seven broken tombstones within the grave fill for all those listed in the bible except for the stones of Gertrude Bosley Bowling and Eliza Bosley. Based on the headstones recovered, items recovered from the burials, and human remains, we were able to determine the layout of the cemetery and who was buried in which grave. Most of the excavated graves had small amounts of human remains that were left behind during the initial grave removal in 1911. One grave had only been partially removed with the lower leg, mid section including their arms, ribs, and spine and lower jaw left behind. Another grave contained the crushed remains of a tin coffin at its base with small amounts of foot bones (phalanges and metatarsals) mixed within the fill.

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Overview of the broken headstones recovered from the grave shaft fill at the Bosley Cemetery.

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Overview of broken monument stones recovered from the grave shaft fill at the Bosley Cemetery

We also continued to find large amounts of broken monument stones and the rectangular bases of monuments dumped into the grave shaft fill. We also found limestone rubble and blocks from the stone wall that once surrounded the cemetery. It appears the people who removed the graves in 1911 took the monument stones and the stone from the wall and used it as backfill for the nine graves.  This made excavations difficult at times and we had to use heavy machinery to lift out the larger pieces of stones from the grave shafts.

Now that the graves have been removed, the plan is to reinter them at Mt. Olivet Cemetery within a layout that closely matches the original layout of the Bosley Cemetery. The uncovered headstones will be restored and will remain on The Dominican Campus. The restored headstones will be incorporated into a historic display on campus and will highlight the history of the Bosley family.

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