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Archaeological Investigations to Locate the

Densler Family Cemetery


along White Bluff Road
in the City of Savannah
Chatham County, Georgia

NEW SOUTH ASSOCIATES, INC.


Archaeological Investigations to Locate the Densler Family
Cemetery along White Bluff Road in the City of Savannah
Chatham County, Georgia

Report submitted to:


Hutton • 736 Cherry Street • Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402

Report prepared by:


New South Associates • 6150 East Ponce de Leon Avenue • Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083

Hugh B. Matternes – Principal Investigator

Hugh B. Matternes – Mortuary Archaeologist and Author

March 18, 2019 • Final Report


New South Associates Technical Report 2912
Intentionally Left Blank
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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ABSTRACT

Hutton plans to develop the parcel at 11305 White Bluff Road in the City of Savannah, Georgia.
The Savannah Cemeteries Department alerted Hutton of the potential for an unmarked family
cemetery on this property. To assist Hutton in locating and delineating any unmarked graves,
New South Associates, Inc. (New South) conducted archaeological investigations at three loci
that were identified as potential burial areas. Surface soils were removed with a mechanical
excavator to a depth of about 50-60 centimeters (20-24 inches) below ground surface and the
exposed excavation floors were then manually cleaned to improve feature clarity. Potential
grave locations were identified only in Locus 2. These included three adult-sized and one
possible infant burial. These four possible interments were east of the foundation of a former
house at this site and this location was consistent a 1972 newspaper account that identified
graves on the site. New South recommends that the least intrusive course of action would be to
avoid the potential grave sites during the development of the site. If avoidance is not possible,
then relocation should be considered and should follow the guidelines outlined in Official Code
of Georgia (OCGA) 36-72: Abandoned Cemeteries and Burial Grounds.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This project could not have been accomplished without the help of many people. Mr. John
Pereira served as our liaison and point of contact with Hutton. Mr. Jimmy Williams from A.D.
Williams Construction Company provided outstanding mechanical excavation work making it
possible to open and examine a large amount of ground within the limits of time and expense.
Coordination with the City Savannah included assistance from Julie McLean, P.E. and Deputy
Marshal Nestor Diaz from the Development Services Department. Background information and
on-site location guidance was provided by Mr. John Brannen from the City of Savannah
Cemeteries Department.

On the New South side, fieldwork was conducted by Dr. Hugh B. Matternes and assisted by Mr.
Justin Elmore, MSc. The report was reviewed by Dr. J.W. Joseph and Sarah Gale Read, M.A.
Illustrations were accomplished under the direction of Ms. Jennifer Wilson. Administrative
assistance was provided by Scott Keith, M.A., Sarah Gale Read, M.A, and Yulounda Ralls.
Everyone’s help was greatly appreciated!!
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................................... i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS........................................................................................................ ii
TABLE OF CONTENTS .......................................................................................................... iii
LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLE ............................................................................................ iv

I. INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................1

II. ENVIRONMENTAL CONTEXT ..........................................................................................5


THE PROJECT AREA ............................................................................................................5
SOILS......................................................................................................................................8

III. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ........................................................................................ 11

IV. METHODS ......................................................................................................................... 13


LOCUS EXCAVATION ....................................................................................................... 13
FEATURE RECORDING...................................................................................................... 14

V. RESULTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ........................................................................... 15


LOCUS 1 ............................................................................................................................... 15
LOCUS 2 ............................................................................................................................... 15
Feature 1............................................................................................................................. 17
Feature 2............................................................................................................................. 20
Feature 3............................................................................................................................. 20
Feature 4............................................................................................................................. 20
LOCUS 3 ............................................................................................................................... 20
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS .................................................................. 23

REFERENCES CITED ............................................................................................................. 25


iv

LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLE

Figure 1. Location of Project Area..............................................................................................2


Figure 2. Plan View of Project Area ...........................................................................................6
Figure 3. Views of the Project Area at the Time of Investigation ................................................7
Figure 4. Soil Profiles by Locus .................................................................................................9
Figure 5. Plan View Sketch of Locus 1 ..................................................................................... 16
Figure 6. Plan View Sketch of Locus 2 ..................................................................................... 18
Figure 7. Feature Images .......................................................................................................... 19
Figure 8. Plan View Sketch of Locus 3 ..................................................................................... 22

Table 1. Summary Statistics for Potential Grave Features ......................................................... 17


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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I. INTRODUCTION

On September 7, 2018 Hutton, a construction development company based in Chattanooga,


Tennessee, officially received notice from the City of Savannah that a previously recorded small
family burial ground was potentially present on a parcel Hutton was developing as business
property. The parcel has a street address of 11305 White Bluff Road, Savannah, Georgia (Figure
1). Between October 29 and November 1, 2018, Mortuary Archaeologists, Dr. Hugh B.
Matternes and Justin Elmore, MSc, conducted archaeological investigations to confirm the
presence of burials and, if so, to determine how many were present and their locations. This
report describes the results of these archaeological investigations.

On September 7, 2018 the City of Savannah Department of Cemeteries received a call from a
concerned citizen that construction along White Bluff Road was impacting a small cemetery
(Brannen 2018). Follow-up research by John Brannen of the Department of Cemeteries
determined that a burial ground referenced in Department records as the “Densler Cemetery”
was likely on or very close to the construction site. The former homeowner at the site, S.A.
Jessup, was deceased but Jessup’s daughter stated that markers had been present up to at least the
early part of the twenty-first century, when they were relocated to Gravel Hill Cemetery in
Bloomingdale, Georgia. Two markers, a broken arched tablet dedicated to John Densler (1800-
1835), along with a shattered ledger stone for Michael Densler (1759-1808) and Ann Densler
(1767-1833), were identified in Gravel Hill Cemetery (Knight 2009a, 2009b). Brannen was able
to confirm that no human remains had been found or recovered from the White Bluff Road site
and that the markers currently in Gravel Hill Cemetery were essentially cenotaphs. Since no
graves had been removed, no disinterment permits were ever issued by Chatham County. On
September 7, 2018, the City of Savannah Development Services Department issued a stop work
order for the property. All clearing and construction activities on the construction site have since
been terminated.

Brannen met with several informants at the construction site who included funeral personnel
from Gravel Hill Cemetery and former owners of a photograph studio on the adjacent property.
The passage of time and loss of former landmarks on the lot hindered potential grave site
identification. None of Brannen’s informants were able to pinpoint exactly where grave markers
had been present on the construction site, but three general locations were identified. These were
noted by Brannen and included in his report (Brannen 2018).
2

Figure 1.
Location of Project Area

Project Area

Source: USGS Topographic Map, Burroughs (2017), Georgia


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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Hutton engaged New South Associates, Inc. (New South) to identify where the Densler graves
sites were located in order to make management decisions regarding the development of the
property. New South staff (Matternes and Elmore) met with John Brannen, Julie McLean
(Development Services Department), and several other representatives from the City of
Savannah on October 29, 2018 at the construction site to discuss the project’s objectives. The
general locations of potential burials were identified on the ground and a 7.5-meter (25-ft.)
square was marked around a point for each locus. The City of Savannah considered these 7.5-
meter squares the minimum area to be investigated around each point. Archaeological
examinations of potential grave site locations commenced on October 30, 2018.
4

Intentionally Left Blank


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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II. ENVIRONMENTAL CONTEXT

THE PROJECT AREA

The project site was located on the west side of White Bluff Road in Savannah (Figure 2). This
tract represented a portion of the former Magnolia Plantation and was in the Sixth General
Militia District. The project area was within a parcel created by combining portions of lots
originally identified as 11303 and 11305 White Bluff Road, which were previously referred to in
plat map records as the School House Lot (11305 White Bluff Road) and as Lot 2 of the S.A.
Jessup Subdivision (11303 White Bluff Road) (Chatham County Clerk of Courts Map Book
1899:1:90; 1974:M:68). The plats did not indicate the presence of graves on either lot. The
original lots have since been reconfigured and portions within the development site are now
combined under street address 11305 White Bluff Road. The northern portion of the S.A. Jessup
Subdivision has been combined with properties along Wilshire Boulevard and was part of the
11303 White Bluff Road parcel. This property was adjacent to the northern boundary of the
project area and was occupied by a restaurant. The south margin of the project site abutted the
Timberland apartment complex. The western side of the lot formed part of a wooded buffer
between the area to be developed and Moss Gate Apartments to the west of the project site.

The project area was positioned about 760 meters (2,500 ft.) west of the Vernon River on lands
overlooking a broad marsh. The elevation was approximately 4.5 meters (15 ft.) above mean sea
level. The USDA reported that the water table for the associated soils was as shallow as one foot
below surface (Soil Survey Staff 2018). An unnamed canal or channelized creek was roughly
150 meters (500 ft.) north of the project site and likely contributed drier conditions.

Structures formerly on the property included a dwelling at 11303 White Bluff Road and a school
house/photography studio at 11305 White Bluff Road. These buildings had been removed prior
to the archaeological investigation. A section of concrete driveway beside the former school
house/studio extended about 23 meters (75 ft.) into the lot from White Bluff Road. Google map
images revealed that the grounds had been forested in the recent past, but most of the trees had
been cut and left in piles at the time of the archaeological work. The western portion of the lot
also held several debris piles from clearing the back portions of the property. An inspection of
timber and debris piles revealed no evidence of grave markers or other mortuary architecture.
Owing to recent disturbance, most of the ground surface was exposed earth (Figure 3). There
was a wide variety of domestic debris in the surface soils, but none of it dated to the nineteenth
century and there was no visible mortuary architecture on the lot.
6

Wendy’s Restaurant

Boundary Curb

Feature
4
Feature
1
Feature
Feature 2
3

Locus 2

Boundary Fence Locus 1


oad

Locus 3
luff R
eB
Whit

Concre
te Pad/D
riveway

0 3 6 Meters
North Timberland Apartments

Figure 2.
Plan View of Project Area
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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Figure 3.
Views of the Project Area at the Time of Investigation

A. View of Project Area,


Facing West

B. View of Project Area, Facing East

C. Mechanical Stripping and Shovel


Shaving in Locus 1, Facing East
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SOILS

The USDA soil survey noted that the project area was composed of Ocilla-Urban Land Complex
soils (Soil Survey Staff 2018). Soils in this series are poorly drained, moderately wet, and not
considered prime farmland. Ocilla soils formed in marine deposits in depressions between low
uplands. A typical profile consists of an H1 lens of loamy fine sand that extends to 71
centimeters (28 in.) below ground surface (bgs) followed by an H2 deposit of sandy clay loam
from 71-150 centimeters (28-59 in.) bgs and an H3 sandy clay loam from 150-170 centimeters
(59-67 in.) bgs. H-horizons indicate soils are dominated by organic materials that were
originally saturated but have been artificially drained.

Soil profiles in the project area were revealed in shovel tests excavated in each of the three loci
to determine appropriate depths for mechanical excavation (Figure 4). Loci 1 and 3 exhibited
different stratigraphy than Locus 2. In each locus, surface deposits (Soil 1) consisted of organic
dark gray (10YR 4/1) loamy sand to depths of 10-15 centimeters (4-6 in.) bgs. In Loci 1 and 3,
these soils overlay multiple thin layers of dark gray (10YR 4/1) and yellowish brown (10YR 5/6)
loamy sands (Soil 2) that terminated at 21-27 centimeters (8-10 in.) bgs. Soil 3 was a yellowish
brown (10YR 5/6) loamy sand. A dark gray to dark grayish brown (10YR 4/1 to 10YR 5/1)
loamy sand (Soil 4) underlay these strata and reached depths of around 36-40 cm (14-16 in.) bgs.
Soil 4 appeared to represent the base of truncated and buried A to B horizons. A more compact
yellowish brown (10YR 5/6) loamy sand (Soil 5) was observed to depths of around 65-70
centimeters (25-27 in.) bgs. Soils beneath Soil 5 were identified as semi-compacted yellow
(10YR 7/6) sandy clay loams (Soil 6).

The shovel test excavated in Locus 2 encountered a probable tree or nonmortuary-related historic
pit, which caused variations in the stratigraphy. Soil 2 extended to about 60 centimeters (24 in.)
bgs and probably represented natural or cultural fill. Soils 3 and 4 were not identified in the
shovel test. Although Soil 5 was encountered at a deeper depth in the test, subsequent
excavation of Locus 2 indicated a similar profile to that noted in Loci 1 and 3.

Soil 4 was interpreted as a truncated and buried soil horizon, and the soils above it had been
deposited after some form of disturbance. Compaction differences between Soils 4 and 5 also
implied that Soil 5 was probably the natural subsoil and the best stratum to expose for identifying
potential graves. The top of Soil 5 was about 40 centimeters (16 in.) bgs. Excavations later
demonstrated that maximum visibility occurred at around 50-60 centimeters (20-24 in.) bgs.
Machine stripping to this depth provided clear indications of potential graves, but was not be
deep enough to disturb any surviving grave contents.
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Figure 4.
Soil Profiles by Locus

Locus 1 Locus 2 Locus 3


0
1 1 1

2
2
3 2
3

4 4

40

5 5

5
6 6
6
80 cm

Soil 1: Dark Gray (10YR 4/1) Loamy Sand


Soil 2: Interbedded Dark Gray (10YR 4/1) and Yellowish
Brown (10YR 5/6) Loamy Sand
Soil 3: Yellowish Brown (10YR 5/6) Loamy Sand
Soil 4: Dark Gray (10YR 4/1) Grading to Dark Grayish
Brown (10YR 5/1) Loamy Sand
Soil 5: Yellowish Brown (10YR 5/6) Loamy Sand
Soil 6: Yellow (10YR 7/6) Sandy Clay Loam

0 20 Centimeters
10

Intentionally Left Blank


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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III. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

A detailed examination of the property and cemetery’s history was beyond the scope of this
project. The overview below was summarized from Brannen’s (2018) report and documents he
shared.

The Denslers arrived in the Savannah area in the 1730s as German colonists recruited by General
James Oglethorpe (Goddard and Goddard 1962). The Denslers were originally part of the
Ebenezer settlement but appear to have moved to the Savannah area by the late eighteenth
century. It is likely that the Densler family holdings along White Bluff Road date to this time.
An advertisement in the November 24, 1838 edition of the Savannah Republican indicated that
200 acres of the Densler estate along White Bluff Road, which included properties from Ann and
David Densler, were to be publicly auctioned (in Brannen 2018). The property, described as six
miles from Savannah, approximated the general location of the Densler burial area. It is not
known whether this included all of the Densler property. The 1875 Charles Platen map of
Savannah labeled the property near the project site as “Densler,” indicating that the local
community still perceived the grounds as Densler property.

In Some Early Epitaphs in Georgia, the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames (1924) indicated
three markers in this cemetery: David Densler (1792-1822), John A. Densler (1800-1835), and a
single monument for Michael (1760-1808) and Ann (1768-1836) Densler. A 1956 genealogical
record for the Densler Family Cemetery on file with the Family History Center in Salt Lake City,
Utah, listed four individuals with slightly different biographical data: Ann Densler (1766-1836),
David Densler (1792-Unknown), John Densler (1800-1835), and Michael Densler (1760-1808)
(in Brannen 2018). There are no listings indicating where the Family History Center obtained
this information.

In the 1970s, Cliff Sewell of The Savannah Morning News (1972) interviewed S.A. Jessup about
the Densler graves. Sewell noted that the marker for Michael and Ann Densler was a flat slab
resting on a platform of bricks. Not wishing to disturb the graves, the Jessups altered
construction of their house to avoid the site, with the marker residing outside their front bedroom
window. The news story also noted the presence of a large oak tree shading the burial area.
There was no mention of David and John Densler’s monuments being on the property. Photos
on file at the Georgia Historical Society indicated that the Michael and Ann Densler marker was
legible in 1990.
12

Intentionally Left Blank


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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IV. METHODS

Historical and informant data collected by the Savannah Department of Cemeteries identified
three loci where graves were potentially present in the project area. For each locus, a 7.5x7.5-
meter (25x25-ft.) area was suggested by the Department of Cemeteries and Development
Services Department as the minimum area to be examined. The City encouraged exposure and
examination of larger areas where possible. The goal of the fieldwork was to excavate an area
centered on each locus large enough to confidently identify and delineate any unmarked graves.

Building, landscaping, occupation, demolition and removal of structures and vegetation


significantly disturbed surface deposits at the project site, making it impossible to identify grave
sites at the surface. The most accurate means of determining the presence of a unmarked graves
was limited stripping of topsoil and overburden. Consultation with the City of Savannah
Development Services Department indicated that a land disturbance permit would not be
required for this work (Julie McLean, personal communication October 8, 2018). The method
entailed the removal of surface and disturbed soils to a depth where outlines of grave shafts were
clearly visible against the surrounding subsoil matrix. Grave shafts can be identified by changes
in soil color, density, moisture, soil type, and stain shape. Birkby and Bass (1978) noted that the
use of heavy earth-moving equipment, such as backhoes, track hoes, excavators, and mini-
excavators, fitted with flat-bladed buckets produced excavation floors capable of revealing these
features. Historic period burials typically involved placing deceased individuals in a hand-
excavated pit and refilling it with the excavation spoil. Corresponding archaeological features at
the Densler Family Cemetery, therefore, were expected to consist of human-sized rectangular
soil anomalies containing mottled soils that were distinct against the relatively homogenous
subsoil.

LOCUS EXCAVATION

As noted, three loci were identified that were judged the most likely to contain burials. The area
within and around each locus was excavated to a target depth of 40 centimeters (16 in.) bgs to
determine the presence of graves. Excavations typically continued to about 50-60 centimeters
(20-24 in.) bgs to improve the clarity of potential burial features. The excavation units and
results were recorded with sketch maps and a Trimble Geoexplorer 6000 Series GeoXT handheld
data collector. Photographs were taken of floors, potential graves, and non-mortuary features.
14

Excavation and backfilling were accomplished with a John Deere 50G Excavator equipped with
a 1.21 meter (4.0 ft.) wide flat-bladed bucket (see Figure 3c). Soil removal was closely
monitored to detect the presence of stains, artifacts, or human remains. The floors were then
skimmed with flat shovels to enhance soil clarity and examined by the mortuary archaeologist to
determine if grave features were present. Once excavation of a given locus was completed, the
unit was backfilled and the surface leveled before proceeding to the next locus. When possible,
New South attempted to complete excavations by close of each day with a goal of not leaving
any units open overnight.

FEATURE RECORDING

When detected, potential graves were fully exposed and cleared with hand trowels to improve
clarity and assess soil composition, the corners were marked with nails and flagging tape. The
feature was then mapped using the Trimble data collector and added to sketch maps. Features
were measured, photographed, sketched, and described. All potential graves were assigned a
feature number in sequence beginning with ‘1’. No human remains or grave furniture were
exposed and no additional excavations were conducted on potential grave features beyond
clearing them. Once work was completed on the features, they were covered with black plastic
sheeting to protect the exposed surface. Spikes measuring about 20 cm (8 in.) long were laid on
top of the plastic sheeting to aid future identification by metal detector. Backfill was first placed
on top of the features by hand to reduce disturbance and the remaining grounds were backfilled
to the original grade with the mechanical excavator. No artifacts or human remains were
observed or recovered during the course of the investigation.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
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V. RESULTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Three loci were examined for evidence of potential grave sites. No evidence of burials was
found in Locus 1 or Locus 3. Four potential grave sites however were detected in Locus 2.
These excavations are described in detail below.

LOCUS 1

Locus 1 was on the east side of the project site and measured roughly 8.6 meters (28 ft.) long
(grid north-south) and 11.5 meters (38 ft.) wide (grid east-west). It covered about 104 square
meters (1,110 sq. ft.) and was excavated to a depth of about 60 centimeters (24 in.) bgs.
Informants believed that markers or marker fragments had been located here (see Figure 2).

The unit’s excavated surface was shovel shaved revealing two utility trenches, several tree/post
molds, a shovel test pit, and a small square building footing set in a yellowish brown (10YR 5/6)
loamy sand (Soil 5) (Figure 5). The southeast corner of the excavated area contained a 2.4x2.8-
meter (7.9x9.2-ft.) rectangular feature containing wire nails, container and window glass, coal
and coal residue, wood charcoal, and a variety of small metal architectural artifacts. The feature
also contained numerous loose machine-made brick fragments that may have once lined the pit’s
walls and floor. All materials were recognized as late nineteenth- through twentieth century
artifacts that post-dated the Densler graves. The walls and floor of the feature were examined for
grave stains, but none were identified. The northeast corner of the excavation was on the edge of
a large (>1.8 m [72 in.] diameter) oak tree that had been removed during construction. Portions
of a shallow abandoned trench containing bits of shattered PVC pipe were also noted in this area,
but the trench did not appear to extend substantively into the excavation floor. The excavation
floor was very mottled from trees and there were numerous roots present. However, no evidence
of grave pits was observed.

LOCUS 2

In 1972, home owner S.A. Jessup noted that Densler graves were present on his property and that
his home’s position had been shifted to avoid impacting them (Sewell 1972). At the time of the
present investigation, both the markers and the house had been removed. The house’s location
was known from surveys completed by the City of Savannah. There was no spatial data
available to determine former gravestone’s locations.
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Figure 5.
Plan View Sketch of Locus 1

Large Tree Scar

Historic
Non-Grave Shovel Test Pit
Feature

= Locus Point Estimate


= Footer
0 2 Meters
= Tree/Bush Mold
North
= Utility Trench

Excavation Floor, Facing West


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
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Locus 2 consisted of an irregularly-shaped unit extending approximately 16 meters (52 ft.) south
from the northern construction boundary, which was marked by a silt fence (see Figures 2 and 6).
The unit measured between 17 and 13.7 meters (56-45 ft.) east-to-west. The yellowish brown
(10YR 5/6) loamy sand subsoil (Soil 5) was exposed at a depth of about 50 centimeters (19 in.)
bgs and revealed several natural and cultural features. Non-mortuary related features in the floor
included large tree or bush molds in the north wall and near the unit’s center (which contained
the previously noted shovel test pit), an irregularly-shaped sandy clay stain in the west wall, an
iron water pipe in the west wall (inside the house footprint), and several small (<45 cm/18 in.)
post/tree molds. The southwestern corner of the unit contained a mottled stain filled with roots
that reflected a recently pulled tree. This portion of the floor was carefully cleaned and
examined for evidence of underlying grave stains, but none were found.

Concrete footers and portions of a cinderblock wall uncovered in the northwest portion of Locus
2 represented the former Jessup house (see Figure 6). The footers were approximately 40
centimeters (16 in.) wide. The easternmost portion of the footer had been truncated and parts of
it probably made up a concrete deposit observed in a trench to the east. Four mottled rectangular
stains on the east side of the north-south portion of the footer, designated Features 1-4, were
interpreted as potential grave pits (Table 1).

Table 1. Summary Statistics for Potential Grave Features

Feature Length Width UTM Zone Northing Easting


1 1.9m / 6.2 ft. 0.9m / 3.0 ft. 17 3538271.54 487629.716
2 2.1m / 6.9 ft. 0.5m / 1.6 ft. 17 3538270.45 487627.757
3 0.9m / 3.0 ft. 0.3m / 1.0 ft. 17 3538269.73 487626.968
4 >1.0m / >3.2 ft. 1.1m /3.6 ft. 17 3538273.41 487628.729

FEATURE 1

Feature 1 was located about 60 centimeters (24 in.) east of the house foundation and between
Features 2 and 4 (Figure 7a). It consisted of a rectangular stain filled with brownish yellow
(10YR 6/8) and grayish brown (10YR 5/2) sandy loam that was distinct against a yellowish
brown (10YR 5/6) sandy loam subsoil matrix. Feature 1 measured 1.9 meters (6.2 ft.) long (east-
west) and about 0.9 meters (3.0 ft.) wide (north-south). This size would easily accommodate an
adult interment. The feature’s margins were extremely sharp. There were several large roots
projecting from the feature fill but no mortuary artifacts or human remains were visible in the
exposed feature.
18

Figure 6.
Plan View Sketch of Locus 2
Silt Fence

Water
Pipe

Feature 4

Feature 1

Oak Tree
Feature 2
Shovel
Test Pit = Locus Point Estimate
Feature 3 = Footer
= Tree/Bush Mold
= Demolition Trench
= Sandy Clay Stain

Large Tree
Scar North

0 2 Meters

Excavation Floor, Facing Northwest


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
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Figure 7.
Feature Images

A. Feature 1, Facing West B. Feature 2, Facing West

C. Feature 3, Facing West D. Feature 4, Facing West


20

FEATURE 2

Feature 2 was located 0.8 meters (2.6 ft.) east of the house foundation between Features 1 and 3
(Figure 7b). The feature’s edges were extremely sharp, revealing a rectangular soil anomaly of
mottled brownish yellow (10YR 6/8), grayish brown (10YR 5/2), dark greyish brown (10YR
4/2), and yellow (10YR 7/8) sandy loam. It measured 2.1 meters (6.9 ft.) long (east-west) and
about 50 centimeters (20 in.) wide (north-south). An adult could potentially be placed in a
feature this size. No mortuary architecture or human remains were visible in the exposed stain.

FEATURE 3

Feature 3 was located about 0.7 meters (2.3 ft.) southeast of the house foundation (Figure 7c). It
was the southernmost potential interment and lay about 20 centimeters (8.0 in.) southeast of
Feature 2. The feature exhibited a somewhat rectangular fill matrix of brownish yellow (10YR
6/8), grayish brown (10YR 5/2), and yellow (10YR 7/8) sandy loam. Feature 3 was positioned
along an east-northeast/west-southwest plane, its long axis measuring 0.9 meter (3.0 ft.) and the
short side about 30 centimeters (12 in.). These dimensions could indicate the burial of an infant
or small child. The feature’s margins were poorly defined and it is possible that it represented a
non-mortuary feature. Feature 3 has been conservatively treated as a potential grave. No
mortuary architecture or human remains were visible in the exposed stain.

FEATURE 4

Feature 4 was on the north side of the group of features (Figure 7d). It was about 1.0 meter (39
in.) from the house foundation and the same distance from Feature 1. The eastern half of the
feature had been impacted by the foundation trench but there were no indications (e.g., nails,
coffin wood, bone fragments, hardware) that the grave’s contents had been impacted or exposed
by the trench. Feature 4 appeared as a truncated rectangular stain exhibiting brownish yellow
(10YR 6/8), grayish brown (10YR 5/2), and dark greyish brown (10YR 4/2) sandy loam. The
feature’s long sides extended generally east-west and measured at least 1.0 meter (3.2 ft.) long
and 1.1 meters (3.6 ft.) wide. The margins were sharply defined and the feature’s partial
dimensions would be consistent with an adult grave.

LOCUS 3

Locus 3 was on the south side of the lot where informants indicated that grave marker fragments
had been observed (see Figure 2). Marker pieces were noted at the base of a tree either
immediately outside of the construction area or under another tree within the construction area.
Construction plans called for the tree within the site to remain but it toppled during a storm and
was subsequently removed. An inspection of the area revealed no evidence of marker fragments.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
21

Excavations centered on the edge of the construction area where the two trees were located. The
south edge of the excavation was roughly along a silt fence that was just inside the property
boundary. The excavation unit measured about 13.8x13 meters (45x42 ft.) and reached a depth
of about 50 centimeters (19 in.) bgs.

The unit’s surface was shovel scraped to exposing yellowish brown (10YR 5/6) loamy sand
subsoil (Soil 5) with numerous natural and cultural stains (Figure 8). These stains included a
trench Albany-slipped stoneware drain fragments, two intersecting trenches containing PVC and
terra cotta septic drain field lines, several tree/post mold stains, a shovel test pit, two irregularly-
shaped sandy clay stains, and six concrete footers with embedded metal pipes exposed about 10-
15 centimeters (4-6 in.) bgs. One footer was removed, revealing that it extended at least 0.9
meter (3.0 ft.) below ground surface. Roots from the fallen tree extended into the unit and
underlying levels that could not be exposed by the excavator were cleared by hand to determine
whether graves were present underneath them. Careful inspection revealed a number of natural
and cultural features in Locus 3’s excavation floor but no indications of grave pits.
22

Figure 8.
Plan View Sketch of Locus 3

= Locus Point Estimate


= Footer
= Tree/Bush Mold
= Utility Trench
= Sandy Clay Stain

North

0 2 Meters

Shovel
Test
Pit
Tree Stump

Silt Fence

Chain-Link Fence/Property Boundary

Excavation Floor, Facing South


ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
23

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Historical and informant information provided by the Savannah Cemeteries Department


indicated that a small unmarked family cemetery was potentially present on the lot under
development at 11305 White Bluff Road in Savannah. Three loci were identified as the potential
locations of these burials. Surface soils were removed to a depth of about 50-60 centimeters (20-
24 in.) in the three loci using a mechanical excavator to identify and delineate potential graves.
Four potential grave sites were identified in Locus 2 adjacent to a former house foundation at the
site. These four potential burials included three that were adult-sized and one possible infant.
No evidence of additional graves was found in the project area.

The simplest and most preservation-friendly action would be to avoid any additional impact to
the burial cluster. New South suggests that development plans should be reviewed to determine
whether the graves fall within the current construction footprint and if they do, whether it is
possible to modify the designs to avoid disturbing them. Further, because unmarked graves were
positively identified in the construction area, it is recommended that an archaeologist be present
during ground breaking to ensure that any other unmarked graves present on the grounds are
identified. Coordination with the City of Savannah Development Services Department is
recommended to ensure that avoidance actions conform with the City’s building, development,
and cemetery regulations.

If avoidance is not a viable solution, it is possible to relocate the graves following the guidelines
outlined in Georgia Code 36-72 (Abandoned Cemeteries Act). In brief, the applicant must apply
for a Land Use Change Permit (also referred to as a Burial Disturbance Permit) through Chatham
County Superior Court. Information to be submitted to obtain a permit must include the results
of a formal title search, an archaeological report identifying the burial location and the minimum
number of graves, a professionally prepared surveyor's map of the cemetery's boundaries, a
professional genealogist's report of descendants (including efforts made to contact them), a
relocation plan outlining the method of recovery, the number of graves, a cost estimate and a
detailed new location site plan. The permit application will be submitted, a public hearing may
be requested at the appropriate zoning commission meeting, and the permit's approval would be
subsequently determined. Should these actions provide to be the best course of action, New
South is prepared to assist Hutton in their plans to address the burial cluster.
24

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ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS TO LOCATE
THE DENSLER FAMILY CEMETERY IN THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
25

REFERENCES CITED

Bass, William M., and Walter H. Birkby


1978 Exhumation: The Method Could Make the Difference. FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin 47(7):6–11.

Brannen, John
2018 Untitled Report on the Densler Cemetery. Manuscript on file at the City of
Savannah Cemeteries Department, Savannah, Georgia.

Georgia Society of Colonial Dames (Compiler)


1924 Some Early Epitaphs in Georgia. The Seeman Printers, Durham, North Carolina.

Goddard, Thomas H., and John H. Goddard Jr.


1962 The Mills, Cope and Related Families of Georgia. Dunlap Publishing Company,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Knight, Virgil K.
2009a Memorial Page for Ann Densler (Sep 1767–18 Jul 1833). Find A Grave.com.
Electronic document, /https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/38917616?
search=true, accessed November 10, 2018.

2009b Memorial Page for John A. Densler (31 Oct 1800–22 Oct 1835). Find A
Grave.com. Electronic document, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial
/38917863/john-a.-densler, accessed November 10, 2018.

Sewell, Cliff
1972 Skinny Sketches. Savannah Morning News. Savannah, Georgia.

Soil Survey Staff


2018 Web Soil Survey. Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States
Department of Agriculture. Electronic document, http://websoilsurvey.
nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm, accessed October 12, 2018.
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