By DeAnn Komanecky
Prayers for those who died long ago filled the sanctuary and grounds of Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church on Saturday during services held for those buried in at least 250 unmarked graves outside the walls of the church’s cemetery.
Many of the graves belong to slaves, buried just south of the church cemetery that contains generations of the area’s descendants, the Salzburgers.
Other unmarked graves are also located outside the cemetery’s brick walls, on the side nearest the New Ebenezer Retreat Center. The graves may contain those of soldiers and civilians who died during the Revolutionary War.
The graves were identified by a team, led by Dan Elliott, with the LAMAR Institute. The work was done with the support of the Georgia Salzburger Society. The institute is a nonprofit archaeological research organization. The team used ground-penetrating radar to find the graves with no disturbance of the soil. The work was done in 2010 with the purpose of determining the cemetery’s lines.
A British-built Revolutionary War fort was also built in 1779 at Ebenezer and its octagonal shape has been previously marked by Elliott. According to unit rosters from the time, some 500 soldiers died of natural causes while at Ebenezer.
In Elliot’s report of the archaeological findings, he noted that the earliest marked grave in Jerusalem Cemetery is dated from 1813 and very few engraved markers exist prior to 1830. Elliot also reports that while burial records for New Ebenezer exist from 1736 through the 1800s, they are inconsistently documented.
Saturday’s services were led by the Jerusalem Church, and their sister church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Savannah. Holy Trinity is the only Black Lutheran Church in Savannah, member Ditric Leggett said.
Leggett said he spent time as a child coming to Ebenezer and to be back for this event was memorable.
“It’s like coming home for us (the congregation),” Leggett said.
Being a part of a cemetery dedication for so many slaves that were in Effingham County made Saturday a special day, for Eva Goldwire of Clyo.
“Our family name came from John Goldwire, a slave owner in Guyton,” she said. “It gives me chill bumps to be here.”
Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, told those attending any differences in life among those buried at Ebenezer are gone.
“In death they are the same. Whatever differences in life, they were miniscule and they are reconciled in Christ. We are all free,” Gordy said. “We are all loved, treasured and welcome at the banquet tab le of the kingdom of God.”