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May is Remember a Rural Cemetery Month

From left, Thomas Butcher and his mother and father, Janet and Tom Butcher of Michigan, pose at the gravestone of Payton Butcher at the Kincheloe-VanDiver-Butcher Cemetery within the Poor Farm Cemetery — but pre-dating the Poor Farm Cemetery — at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. The Butchers, researching their family ancestry, were in Wood County last month. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — A Michigan man is studying the roots of his family that go back to among the earliest settlers in Wood County.

Thomas Butcher is related to John Barnett, who was one of the first settlers of the county which was then part of Virginia.

Butcher and his parents, Tom and Janet Butcher from Troy, Mich., on March 26-27 visited cemeteries where ancestors on his father’s side are buried and met with Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society.

May is Remember a Rural Cemetery Month in Wood County, created in 2013 with Enoch’s full support.

The Michigan wing of Barnett’s descendants started when Ben Butcher, Thomas Butcher’s second great-grandfather, left for Indiana in the early 20th century, Thomas Butcher said.

The gravestone of John Barnett at the Barnett Cemetery near the 4-H grounds in Wood County. Barnett, an early settler of Wood County, died in 1852. May is Remember a Rural Cemetery Month in Wood County. (Photo Provided)

Among the most significant revelations learned from the trip to Wood County was the number of ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, Butcher said.

“It’s pretty amazing, those who fought for what they believed in,” he said.

Butcher said he developed a connection with the ancestors from the research at the cemeteries. Their decisions impacted his life today, he said.

“I’m here today because of all that happened,” Butcher said. “That’s an incredible thing.”

Events happening over several hundred years seem like a long time, but it’s not, he said.

Mary Mount Barnett, the second wife of John Barnett, died in 1861 and is buried at the Barnett Cemetery near the 4-H grounds. Hers and her husband’s stones are down and broken. (Photo Provided)

“In the grand scheme of things, it was very recent,” Butcher said.

Among the cemeteries they visited were the Tavenner Cemetery where Capt. James Neal, of whom Butcher is related, was once buried, the Compton Cemetery south of Mineral Wells where a Barnett son is buried, the Kincheloe-VanDiver-Butcher Cemetery where Samuel Butcher is buried and the Barnett Cemetery where John and his second wife Mary are buried.

Some were maintained, such as Mt. Olivet Cemetery and Riverview Cemetery, he said. Some were not and were affected by the span of time.

John Barnett was among the first settlers along the (Little) Kanawha River in Wood County, coming here between 1795 and 1797, according to “Pioneers in Wood County” by John A. House. The Barnett, Creel and Kincheloe families came to Wood County from Prince William County, Va., either together or around the same time, House wrote.

The story is Barnett’s family got into political trouble in 1782 in Prussia and left for America, but the parents died enroute, so the captain of the ship bound the children into indentured servitude. The boy, John, went to Gen. John Barnett in Pennsylvania and became his adopted son who took his name, John. John married the daughter of his adopted father, Mary Barnett, around 1789. She died and Barnett in 1793 married Mary Blount, who is buried in Wood County.

John later established a home in Harrison County, Va., now Wood County.

Their daughter, Susannah, married Thomas P. Dawkins; their daughter Eleanor married John Addison Butcher; their son Thomas P. Butcher married Elizabeth Neal; and their son, Benjamin, who left Wood County, was born in 1873. Elizabeth Neal is a great-granddaughter of Capt. James Neal, considered the first settler of Wood County, then the frontier of the new United States.

The Butchers are descendants from the Benjamin line.

Enoch enjoyed helping the Butchers.

“I was pleased to meet them,” he said.

The Historical and Preservation Society is heavily involved in the preservation of rural cemeteries.

Due to the effects of time and nature, many cemeteries are covered with vegetation. The location of many cemeteries is unknown, their existence lost over the stretch of time if no one visits them.

Too often, without regular maintenance, vegetation will return and return much faster and heavier than before because the soil is reopened to sunlight, he said. That makes it important that someone is arranged to maintain a cemetery once it’s been cleared, Enoch said.

“It’s unreal how quickly nature will reclaim a cemetery,” Enoch said.

Interest in maintaining the cemeteries has grown since the inception of Remember a Rural Cemetery Month, Enoch said.

“We do have more people now working on cemeteries,” Enoch said.

Residents interested in volunteering can contact Evan Frees, Cemetery Committee chairman, at 304-489-2745.

The society also has provided grants for the upkeep of cemeteries, Enoch said. Donations can be made to the fund by sending a check to the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102, and marking on the check it is for the cemetery fund, he said.

The grants do not cover labor to maintain the cemetery, Enoch said.

“We are making small grants for labor and materials,” he said.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com

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