Meet the People

Burial 192c: A Working Woman

This woman died in her early thirties. In life, she stood 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds. Mitochondria DNA carefully removed from the pulp of her teeth shows she was of West African heritage. She is depicted here with braided hair, since in her day, this hairstyle was common for women of African descent.

During her life, she ate a fair amount of corn-based foods, but somewhat less than others of African descent also buried in the Cemetery. Her teeth were in fairly good shape, and she had few cavities. From the many horizontal growth lines on the surface of her teeth, we know she experienced some kind of nutritional stress at ages 2, 3, and 4. The extensive arthritis in her back indicates she worked very hard at challenging physical tasks throughout her life.

After she died, her loved ones laid her arms alongside her body and placed her hands across her waist. She may have been buried wearing a dress, but evidence of buttons or hooks is lacking. Her relatives then wrapped her body in a shroud and pinned it closed with swirled-headed pins. Because they used this style of pin, we know she died sometime before 1835. Then they placed her body in a simple hexagonal-shaped wooden coffin.

Mourners carried the coffin to a spot in the northern half of the Lower Area, placed it in a stone-lined grave shaft, and then covered it with large limestone slabs. Her final resting place was directly below that of a large robust man of African descent, Burial 192b. Was this man her father? Her husband?

Burial 192b: A Very Hard-working Man

This very robust man of African heritage stood 6 feet tall, weighed 159 pounds, and lived to be over 50 years old. During his life, he ate somewhat more corn-based foods than other people buried in the Cemetery.

His bones show he led one of the hardest lives of anyone buried in the Old Frankfort Cemetery. Over the course of his long life, he lost a fair number of teeth, and the remaining ones showed much wear. He suffered from malnutrition throughout his life. As a child, he experienced a number of childhood illnesses or times when food was scarce, witnessed by many horizontal growth lines on the surface of his teeth. As an adult, he suffered from adult rickets, which is linked to Vitamin D deficiency. In children, this condition makes legs and arms curved instead of straight. In adults, bones become puffy, sponge-like, and soft. Adult rickets results in widespread bone pain and muscle weakness.

Burial 192b’s life was one of very physical, very heavy labor. Features of his bones in his upper body suggest repeated lifting of heavy objects: arthritis in his shoulders, enlarged elbow joints, and strong muscle markings on his upper arms and forearms. Years of heavy physical labor involving rotation while lifting are reflected in his lower back: arthritis and collapsed disks, the latter represented by painful protrusions on his spine. These conditions suggest that his work could have involved loading heavy bales of hemp onto a riverboat.

His expanded knee and hip joints would have made it painful for him to walk. His right ankle had a boney scar, indicating he had twisted it very badly sometime in his life. This injury would have taken several months to heal. Even then, he may have walked with a limp; certainly he would have had some trouble walking. Lesions on his skull, pelvis, and lower right leg suggest he experienced unidentifiable infections sometime in his life. On his head were button tumors. Though unsightly, they are rarely painful.

At his death, this hard-working man’s family dressed him in a shirt with two small, four-hole shell buttons, and pants with 10 large five-hole bone buttons. They placed his arms along his sides, with his hands on his pelvis. Then they wrapped his worn-out body in a shroud, pinning it in place with machine-made straight pins. This style of pin indicates he died after 1835.

He was buried in the northern half of the Lower Area. His family placed his hexagonal wooden coffin in a simple grave shaft, then covered it with limestone slabs. He was buried directly above Burial 192c. Perhaps she was his daughter, who had died several years before.

Burial 146: A Short Life

Based on long-bone measurements, it seems likely that this infant was a girl of African descent. She measured 30 inches long and weighed 18.7 pounds when she died.

She experienced some kind of nutritional stress shortly after birth, and again when she was about four months old, based on the horizontal growth lines visible in her baby teeth. Dying before she reached her second birthday, her grieving parents placing her arms along her sides, and then wrapping her in a shroud held in place with machine-made pins. The style of pins and the use of late-cut machine-made nails in her rectangular wooden coffin show she died after 1835.

Despite her short life, her family went to a great deal of expense and effort to ensure her a comfortable eternal rest. Her body was laid in a coffin lined with velveteen held in place by a host of tiny brass tacks. Her coffin was one of only a few similarly cloth-lined coffins documented at the Old Frankfort Cemetery. In addition, she was buried in a stone vault. The bottom and sides of the grave shaft were lined with bricks and rocks, and it was sealed with large limestone rocks and fragments of a headstone, discarded, perhaps, because a quarryman had broken it before he was finished making it. This stone vault provided the excellent protection her family had intended for the tiny coffin. When her grave was discovered over 160 years later, it had not filled-up with soil.

She was buried in a cluster of other graves in the western quarter of the Upper Area. The range in age and sex of the people buried in this grave cluster suggests it could have been a family plot.

Meet the People

Learn more about the people in Old Frankfort Cemetery: Frankfort’s Forgotten Cemetery (Apple Books version available here)