This cemetery was built on a Native American mound
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Windsor Ruins is possibly one of the best-known landmarks in Mississippi. The 23 Corinthian columns located near Port Gibson are the remains of what was once the largest antebellum home in the state.
According to the National Park Service, Windsor was constructed between 1859 and 1861 by wealthy plantation owner Smith Coffee Daniell II. The cost at the time, including furnishings, was $175,000, which is estimated to be close to $5 million in today’s dollars.
Daniell, however, only enjoyed the luxurious home for a short while. He died just weeks after its completion. The mansion survived the Civil War, but tragedy struck in February of 1890 when the home was destroyed by fire.
The columns of Daniell’s home aren’t the only things of significance left behind by his family. Nearby is the Freeland Cemetery — and it sits atop one of four Native American mounds in the area that are thought to be a thousand years old.
“Those mounds date back to around 1100 A.D. and were occupied until 1600 A.D., roughly,” said John Underwood, chief archaeologist for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “Three of the mounds are visible, but the fourth one, not so much.
“They’re platform mounds, so structures would have been built on top. That is where the elite residences of significant leaders or the equivalent of temples (were built), on top of those mounds.”
Construction began in the Coles Creek Period and continued through about 1600, which was during the Plaquemine Period.
“These are prehistoric cultures,” Underwood said. “These were the ancestors of what we call tribes. In that part of the state they would have loosely been considered the ancestors of the Choctaws.”
The prehistoric cultures faded and the mounds were abandoned, but sometime around the early 1800s, Mound C of the Windsor Mounds was repurposed as a cemetery. In 1978 the mounds were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but there is no access for the general public.
According to the website Carved in Stone, there are 45 known markers in the cemetery, and they tell a tale of the hardships of the times. Many markers are for children and even more for people who died before they were 30 years old.
Another telling trio of grave markers are those of the wives of Thomas Freeland. Freeland had three wives and none lived longer than 30 years.
Although locating a cemetery on a Native American mound might seem odd today, Underwood said at one time it was a relatively common practice. Mounds offer a view and protection from floods.
The Lessley Mound located near Woodville also has a cemetery on it, with other graves at the base. The mound gets its name from the Lessley family members who are buried there.
Another of the Windsor Mounds also served a more modern role in the 1790s.
“One territorial judge lived in a house on Mound A and we think had a barn on Mound B,” Underwood said.
One of the more famous examples of houses built on mounds is the Mont Helena Mound in Rolling Fork. The mound was named after the large Victorian neoclassical home that was constructed on top during the 1890s.