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Large cemetery uncovered in Henry County

History has revealed itself in Henry County, as a family worked to reconnect with its past. In the process, the county earned a mark of distinction for its ties to a bygone era.

Saturday, the resting places of 184 former slaves, once again saw the light of day at the Weems Plantation, located off the Hampton-Locust Grove Road in unincorporated Henry County.

The event was designed to welcome descendants of Sallie Weems, a former slave, who is buried at Weems Plantation. The family, said McDonough Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Vincent, had to get permission for a tour of the facility.

"From there, things grew and started to take on a beautiful life," Vincent said. "We learned that this cemetery is the largest known slave [burial] site in the state of Georgia."

Kris Cawley, a Realtor with The Cawley Group, in McDonough, owns the property on which the plantation sits. She said the Weems family, with members hailing from as near as Atlanta, and as far as Chicago and Detroit, initially contacted her last year about taking a tour of the facility.

Although she was unable to accommodate the request at the time, Cawley said two Weems descendants approached her again three months ago, about seeing it. The cemetery is located in the back of the plantation, near a subdivision.

The plantation was built Samuel Weems, in 1848. Vincent said her research shows that the Weems Plantation, at one point in its history, was more than 4,000 acres in size, but had fallen into disrepair.

"It actually looked like a forest," Vincent said. "No one really knew there was a cemetery there."

Dozens of people recently participated in a clean-up effort at the cemetery, which required cutting down some small trees, to facilitate better access to the area. Barbara Frazier, a volunteer who lives in Stockbridge, oversaw the endeavor, and said a lot of work had to be done, to restore the cemetery.

"When I went out to look at the cemetery, it was overgrown," Frazier said. "There were so many limbs on the ground and fallen logs across paths. The county sent a crew of community-service workers to clear debris and make it safe for people to go in and pay respects."

Frazier coordinated the recent clean-up, to welcome the Weems family. Attending the event were District II Commissioner Fred Auletta, Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey, historians, and a violinist, who performed during a short program at the cemetery.

Frazier said the cemetery represents "historic significance" for Henry County.

"I don't know when it's ever had the attention that it needs," Frazier said. "I marked almost 100 graves with orange flags, but there's more that need to be marked. The whole thing was very emotional. It was a wonderfully historic event for Henry County, and I was so happy to be a part of it."

Cawley said she was happy to oblige the Weems family, and credited Vincent and Frazier for putting on an "amazing" event to welcome the family to the area.

"You can just feel the history when you go through the home," Cawley said. "There's so much richness. There was not an exchange of money here. People just gave of their time, and did an amazing job. It couldn't have been a better experience."

A representative for the Weems family could not be reached for comment.

Vincent said she would like to see restoration efforts for the cemetery continue.

"We are hoping this will not end here, but that the county will take steps to make this a historic site," she said.