Historic grave marker found in secluded wooded area

Published 4:08 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

By Clark Curtis, For Washington Daily News

Earlier this year Brown Library historian Stephen Farrell was made aware of the discovery of several gravestones in a secluded wooded area along the north edge of the Oakdale Cemetery. “Local resident Riley Robertson had informed fellow local historian, Ray Midgett, that back in the 1980’s, his son Will had discovered the grave markers in the wooded area near their home in Smallwood,” said Farrell. “This of course really peaked my interest. We gathered a group which included myself, Ray, Riley, his son Will, and Maria Nichols to see what we had.”

Armed with hedge clippers, rakes, and flashlights they made their way into the thicket of trees, shrubs, vines and overgrown grass. And sure enough, there were several grave markers. But one in particular caught the attention of Farrell. “It read, “In memory of Portia Snoade consort of Samuel Smallwood born March 4, 1802. Died February 6, 1831.” said Farrell. “I was very familiar with the Snoade name, as the family goes back to the turn of the 18th century here in Washington, as far back as the Bonner family.”

Farrell immediately began his detective work to learn more about Portia Snoade. He found that the Snoades were original headrights, or landrights owners in North Carolina. A term used in the colonial period to describe the system of granting unclaimed land to a person who imported new settlers to the Carolina colony. The property they owned was between Jacks Creek and Runyon Creek and was historically named Windmill Point. “Colonel John Stoade and Beaufort County Sheriff, Thomas Bonner, were both born in 1690,” said Farrell. “Both Bonner and his brother, Major Henry Bonner, would go on to marry Snoades. Thus, Portia Snoade Bonner, Snoade being her middle name and mothers’ maiden name, was a direct descendent of the founder of Washington, James Bonner, the son of Thomas Bonner.”

Farrell also learned Portia would marry Samuel Smallwood, in 1825. The two built a home on land she had inherited from her father, Major Henry Bonner, that was part of the Bonner-Hill Plantation. The home was called the “Sycamores” because of all of the large trees that surrounded it. That area would go on to become the Smallwood subdivision as it is known today. “This find is significant in many ways,” said Farrell. “Portia was a matriarch of the Smallwood family and a direct descendent of the founder of our city. She was an intricate part of the history of Beaufort County, and it is important for us to preserve and honor that history and to make sure that it is not lost or forgotten in this small wooded area.”

Farrell said the plan moving forward is to gather a small group of volunteers and go back in and clean up the area and see what all is there and what they may have missed. “We don’t know what all we might find in this small secluded area,” said Farrell. “We did uncover the grave maker of a small child who passed away at the age of one. But there are many other grave markers that have fallen and are covered with undergrowth. I also discovered what I believe to be an underground burial crypt. Now is as good of a time as any to clean up the area as we are in a revival of celebrating the history of Washington and Beaufort County.”

Farrell encourages those who may know of similar sites that are hidden away or who are interested in helping with the cleanup effort to contact him directly at the Brown Library. “It is pivotal in understanding our past and showing respect for our ancestors,” said Farrell.