Nicholson Cemetery



The Nicholson Cemetery, Fayetteville, Texas

A Footprints of Fayette article by Lilliemae Brightwell

For some reason, the Nicholson Cemetery, an African American cemetery in Fayetteville, Texas, was overlooked in all previous inventories of county cemeteries.  The Fayette Heritage Archives has no documentation of the cemetery by Joe Cole, Norman Krischke, nor Kathy Carter and Helen Muras, the persons who traversed the county looking for cemeteries from the 1950s to the 1980s.  

R. D. Nicholson, who was previously featured in a Footprints of Fayette story, “Double Curbs”, and his mother, Martha Nicholson, lived east of Fayetteville just past the baseball park next to land owned by Steven F. and Gina A. Koch on one side and Anita Baca and children on the other side.  The property is known today as a four-acre tract cemetery with an additional 0.5 acre school tract.  Both are referenced in the Fayette County Deed Records, Volume Y Page 1 for a total of 4.87 acres.

The 1870 census lists America Nicholson as 46 years of age, born in Kenya; Ed Nicholson, age 52; Henriette Breeding, age 23, Martha Breeding, age 4; and Atha Breeding, age 8, all born in Tennessee, living in dwelling number 402 in Fayetteville. Henriette was a daughter of America and Ed. Jane Nicholson, age17, was listed on the same page in the 1870 census with a Brown family, who was living nearby in dwelling number 403.  She either was a daughter of America and Ed or the wife of Dow Nicholson, one of their older sons.

In 1872, a deed was recorded for the conveyance of the above-mentioned 4.87 acres of land from John Budd, listed as a slave owner, to America and Edmund Nicholson. It is interesting that Budd was listed as a slave owner in 1872, several years after Emancipation. Also, there was no legal requirement for a deed to be recorded at that time.  What a wonderful gift from a former slave owner to two freed slaves.  The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln, gave the slaves their freedom, but that news was late coming to Texas.  The proclamation is celebrated in Texas today as Juneteenth. 

With the land gifted to them, Ed and America could hunt for wildlife, have a garden, raise pigs for meat and have a cow for milk.  They could build their home from hewn wooden logs, make their own clothing and shoes, plant crops and grind their own corn, all with very little money.  However, the exact location of their original home on that property is unknown.   

It is believed that the home later occupied by Martha and R.D. Nicholson was formerly a school house for black children that was built by the Nicholson family for the grandchildren and children of other black families in the surrounding area. 

The Fayette County Colored School Records for 1893 list the following students under parent John Nichelson (sic): Edmund, age 10; Henrietta, age 12; and Swabsher, age 8.  Under the parent name, Dow Nicholson, the following children are listed: Alberta, age 12, Lizzie, age 8; Lou, age 10; Martha, age 9; and Nikie, age 14.   It is probable that John and Dow were also sons of Ed and America Nicholson, but were already out of the home by the time of the 1870 census. The Schulenburg Sticker lists a Carrie Nicholson’s death on November 17, 1903 in Fayetteville.  She was 34 years and 2 months old.  She possibly was the wife of John Nicholson.

The old home of Martha, who was the daughter of Dow and Jane Nicholson, and her adopted son, R.D., was in the front part of their property facing Highway 159. The family cemetery, which is presently covered with trees and brush, is located behind the site of the old home, which no longer exists. Sadly, plastic detergent bottles used for washing clothing are the only things that have survived at the site, proving that plastic lasts longer than anything else. The overgrown and abandoned appearance of the property was probably one of the reasons for the cemetery never being discovered.  Also, an accessible entry to the cemetery on the old Nicholson property has not been available for quite some time, so that may be another reason why the cemetery was previously overlooked.

Tax records list the entire property as cemetery and school land, even though a private dwelling (the old school house) eventually occupied the property, which was advantageous for tax purposes.

Martha Nicholson died at the age of 81 in February,1967 in La Grange at the Ada Moore Rest Home that exclusively housed African Americans; she is buried in the Mt. Pilgrim Cemetery, which was also known as the McCullough Cemetery, located on Hwy 159 next to the Cedars of Lebanon church east of Fayetteville. The church was previously known at the Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. Dorothy Gates Lewis of Fayetteville remembers visiting Martha’s grave years ago.  The Mt. Pilgrim Cemetery would have been used when wet, muddy and rainy weather did not allow burial in the Nicholson family cemetery.

Debbie Pflughaupt remembers playing as a child with Billie Baca in the Nicholson Cemetery, which is next to the Raymond Baca, Jr. property.  There were broken monuments and many graves evident at that time.  They looked through the windows of the old vacant Nicholson home and observed a lot of remaining household items. After Ray and Anita Baca married, his mother, Tonie, would park under Martha Nicholson’s pine tree and visit with her often.  At that time, Martha lived with a very old man, who apparently was her good friend. This is corroborated by the 1940 census that enumerated Martha Nicholson, age 54; R. D. Nicholson, age 6, adopted son; and Andrew Anderson, age 73, as living together.

North of the old Nicholson property is 1.859 acres of land adjacent to Thompson Street that was also conveyed in 1872 by John Budd to Bishop Christopher Byrne, D.D. of the Galveston Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.  Since there were never any burials on that property, the Koch family was able to purchase it from the Galveston Diocese.

R.D. Nicholson first married Clarice (last name unknown); two daughters were born to this union. The Texas Marriage Index, 1966-2002, shows that R.D, age 56, later married Laura A. Jones, age 21, on July 17, 1989.  They shared 25 beautiful years together as husband and wife before R.D. passed away.    

According to Leonard Ortise on April 21, 2015, the following known persons are buried in the Nicholson family cemetery: his baby brother who died when Leonard was a youngster; Elizabeth Ortise, his mother; Henry Charles and Masie Steverson, his father and step-mother; and Josephine Perry, a mid-wife.  The Steversons were the grandparents of Harriet Johnson of Fayetteville, whose mother, Lillie Vee Steverson Johnson, is buried in the Mt. Pilgrim Cemetery with Martha Nicholson.  More than likely, there are other burials in unmarked graves in the Nicholson Cemetery other than those remembered by Mr. Ortise, but there are no burial records or other persons still living who can validate their identity or location of their graves. Sadly, this is a common dilemma in many old abandoned cemeteries.

“Celebration of Life Honoring R. D. Nicholson” Memorial Folder
Fayette County deed and tax records
Interviews with Dorothy Gates, Stephen and Gina Koch, Leonard Ortise and Debbie Pflughaupt
U.S. 1870 and 1940 Census Records

Documented Burials, No Known Markers

Henrietta Burton, born September 15, 1876, died February 3, 1948, daughter of Dow and Jane (Beck) [Black] Nicholson, death certificate lists place of burial only as Fayetteville [assumed to be at Nicholson Cemetery]

Jane Nicholson, born ca 1845, died April 30, 1932, daughter of Wash Black, married Dow Nicholson, death date and burial place from death certificate and approximate birth year from census

Odie Louise Nicholson, born October 10, 1920, died November 27, 1920, daughter of John and Katie (Simons) Nicholson, death certificate lists place of burial only as Fayetteville [assumed to be at Nicholson Cemetery]

Bertha Mitchell, born March 9, 1889, died May 31, 1947, daughter of Dow and Jane (Black) Nicholson, death certificate lists place of burial only as Fayetteville [assumed to be at Nicholson Cemetery]

Josephine Perry, born June 1, 1872, died April 3, 1949, daughter of Dow and Jane (Black) Nicholson, info from death certificate

Rosie Lee Steverson, born August 20, 1939, died August 24, 1939, daughter of Charles and Macie (Anderson) Steverson, info from death certificate

Related Link

Double Curbs in Fayetteville, Texas