The Faison Family Cemetery at Mount Pleasant

There is no doubt that the historic and unusual old Faison Family Cemetery in Sampson County, just south of Highway 24 and one mile west of Turkey, is the most historic in this area. It is laid out in the shape of a wheel, and in the center are buried James Faison IV, a soldier of the American Revolution and his wife, Mary Hollingsworth; his son, William A. Faison (1791-1857) and his wife, Susan Moseley (1799-1860).

Old Faison Family Cemetery

Faison Family Cemetery

These four are buried in what appears to be marble vaults, but actually they are table tombs above the graves. There are over 50 members of the Faison family buried there and all graves are marked. The sense of history and reverence about this place is powerful. This cemetery land was part of a land grant to James Faison III (1727-1784) in 1771. He was a son of James Faison II (born 1706) of York County, VA, who was the son of James Faison Sr. (1680-1734), a son of Henry Faison II (1656-1697), a son of Henry Fayson (died 1693), a French Huguenot who migrated to Virginia in 1652. James Faison III married Henrietta Kilby and moved in 1768 from Northampton County, NC to a plantation on Six Runs and Turkey Swamp. They had 4 children.

The youngest, James Faison IV (1753-1812), was a soldier of the American Revolution. He married Mary Hollingsworth, a daughter of Henry and Mary Hollingsworth. They settled near Turkey on a large plantation which was later called “Mount Pleasant” where they raised 6 children. In 1814 their youngest, William (Billie) Alexander Faison, married Susan Moseley of Mosely Hall (now La Grange, NC) and Mount Pleasant became their home.

Over time, Billie became the largest landowner in Sampson County, where it was estimated that at one time he owned over 30,000 acres of land. He was also the largest slave owner, as the 1850 census reflected 285 slaves that year and later estimates have gone as high as 500. His slaves referred to him “Master Billie” and he earned their respect with kindness.

It is said that Billie started life as the son of a captain in the Revolutionary War; that he was one of 6 children and that his inheritance consisted solely of 200 acres of land and 2 slaves. How then, did he reach such eminence that so many poor people were dependent on him for their daily bread? From what source was his massive fortune acquired? Did it have anything to do with the fact that his brother-in-law, William Moseley, had become the first governor of Florida? Tradition is that Billie was a genius in procuring the cooperation of others and not only in agriculture did he make his fortune but also in the widespread turpentine industry. In a time when the state was dotted with tar kilns and Wilmington was its commercial capital, North Carolina became the world’s leading source for naval stores and turpentine products. It is said that Billie Faison, in collaboration with others, cornered the international naval store trade there, winning sizable profits and wealth by this feat.

With such a background, it is not surprising that the plantation homes of his sons should be the most expensive in a number of counties around. The home of William Faison II, “Pleasant Retreat,” was located about 4 miles northeast of Turkey and resembled in elegance the finest old homes of Charleston, SC. The third floor included a domed and paneled ballroom covering the entire top story. Another son, Abner Faison, built a similar mansion on a plantation known as “Woodlawn.” With its elegant circular columns and arrested landscaped park, it constituted one of the most imposing antebellum mansions to be found in southeastern part of the state, equaling Orton plantation in its charming and beautiful appointments. Both Pleasant Retreat and Woodlawn were lost to fires after the war.

William Faison

William “Billie” A. Faison (1791-1857)

In its heyday Mount Pleasant was more than an extensive plantation; it was a self-sustaining village, a thriving community. To house, feed, and support more than 300 people daily required a large operation working in unison. On all plantations, a variety of agricultural structures surrounded the main house. Most had some basic structures in common and others varied widely, depending on what crops and animals they raised. Common crops included corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and tobacco. In addition, cattle, chickens, ducks, goats, hogs, and sheep were raised for their derived products and/or meat. Animals were often kept in fattening pens with a simple shed for shelter, with the main barn or barns being utilized for crop storage or processing only. Stables were an essential type of barn on the plantation, used to house both horses and mules. These were usually separate, one for each type of animal. The mule stable was the most important on the vast majority of estates, since the mules did most of the work, pulling the plows and carts. Privies would have been located some distance away from the main house and kitchen yard. Although it’s not possible for us to know for sure, Mount Pleasant probably offered a variety of such outbuildings, including barns, stables, chicken houses, smokehouses, a washhouse, kitchens, and a pantry, where large barrels of salt, sugar, cornmeal, and flour were stored. In addition, other likely structures would include a carriage house, a blacksmith shop, a saw mill, an ice house, a milk house (dairy), covered wells, various storage buildings, and numerous slave cabins. A grist mill was located on a nearby creek.Special items such as salt, sugar, coffee, tea, spices and silk could normally be purchased and brought from Wilmington.

Billie and Susan had the following children: Eliza Ann Faison who married Patrick Murphy; Sallie Maria Faison who married Joseph Rhodes; Matthew James Faison, who married Annie J. Pearsall; William A. Faison who married Harriett Williams; Lt. Colonel Franklin J. Faison, CSA, who married Susan Bryan; Abner Moseley Faison, who married his cousin, Susan Caroline Faison; Susan Arabella Faison, who married a cousin, Lt. Colonel Elias Faison Shaw, CSA and second Thomas Kenan Bryan; Edward Livingston Faison who married Cornelia Happer; and Mary Amelia Faison who first married John G. McDougald and second, the Reverend Benjamin F. Marable, D.D.

The Faisons were Episcopalians but with no actual church in the area, they would attend services held in the homes of others in Clinton. For most rural families, their distances from churches necessitated alternative locations for cemeteries, which took the form of family cemeteries on the plantation grounds. The Billie Faison family established a family cemetery at Mount Pleasant, and over time it came to be celebrated as one of the finest in the land.

Susan Mosely Faison

Susan Mosely Faison (1799-1860)

“The cemetery at Mount Pleasant, the William (Billie) Faison plantation, was said to be the most beautiful private cemetery in the South. It was designed by our grandmother, Susan Moseley Faison, and laid out by a Mr. Lamb, a landscape gardener of Wilmington. The Faison brothers bought a trained Negro gardener who did nothing but care for the cemetery. As soon as he was free he left, but for many years the family, who were very proud of this family cemetery, had it cared for. Now it is neglected and grown up. It is very large and none of us are physically or financially able to have it cared for.

There are some very handsome stones in the cemetery. In the center are four beautiful Sarcophagi over the graves of James Faison, his wife Mary Hollingsworth, William (Billie) Faison and his wife, Susan Moseley. There is a shaft over the grave of Lt. Colonel Frank Faison, our uncle who was killed in the War Between the States. The design of this cemetery was a wheel (see drawing). The center or hub where the first ancestors lie was formed by a hedge of Cape Jasmine.

The lots of the children of William Faison radiated from this hub. The spokes were formed by blooming Japonica. Around the lots was a hedge of Arbor Vitae. Each lot had an opening into the driveway or rim of the wheel. This opening was made by an arch of Arbor Vitae. The outer edge of the wheel was formed by Cedar trees that were never cut on the outside and so limbed from the ground. They were trimmed on the inside, just high enough to allow a carriage or wagon to pass. There was a driveway from the house to the cemetery treated in the same way. I cannot tell you how lovely this drive was. Just as I was grown, a disease and they died out in a few years. This is the cemetery as I remember it when I was a girl.

When any member of the family died, my father was notified. The grave was dug and preparations were made to entertain the relatives and friends of family. A lamb was killed and cooked. Our old cook, Aunt Mary, made hundreds of beaten biscuits.

The relatives came with baskets of cakes, breads, and pies, to help out. After the funeral, dinner was served picnic style. My recollection is that everyone was so glad to see each other that they had a good time.”

Though we’re unsure as to when the Faison cemetery was originally designed and laid out, it was probably well before the death of Billie Faison in 1858. His wife, Susan, died in 1860. They are found in the center of the circle, along with Billie’s parents, James and Mary Faison. One son buried there, LTC Franklin J. Faison, CSA, was killed June 22, 1862 while leading his regiment at the Battle of Cold Harbor. Another, son-in-law LTC Elias Faison Shaw, CSA, was slain in the waning days of the war. He was shot and killed while leading his cavalry unit at the Battle of Five Forks, VA on March 31, 1865. It is said that his body was brought home by a faithful family slave.

The Faisons all had fine plantations before the War Between the States, but after the war the descendants began to disperse. Most of the remaining family members buried in the Faison Family Cemetery died before 1900. Not all were children of Billie and Susan Faison but all were otherwise related. Some are cousins, some are aunts and uncles. The Matthew Faison members were later moved to the Clinton Cemetery, and the Edward L. Faison family was also buried in Clinton. Much later the families of Thomas I. Faison and Solomon Faison were reinterred on this site. The last person to be buried there was James Franklin Faison, a grandson of Billie and Susan who died in 1947.

Near the Faison Cemetery in the same field is located a black Faison Cemetery where hundreds of the slaves and their descendants are buried.

The original Mount Pleasant home was burned by the Union Army in March 1865. It was replaced by a larger home that was passed on to Billie and Susan’s youngest son, Captain Edward Livingston Faison, CSA. He married Cornelia Happer, a native of Norfolk, VA, and they had two children: Florence, who married Marion Butler from nearby Clinton, and Edward L. Faison, Jr., who married his first cousin, Willie Bumgardner.

Edward L. Faison died in 1905, Edward Jr. in 1907, and Cornelia in 1911, and the house and plantation passed on to Florence Faison Butler. The house was later remodeled and was the first home in Sampson County to have running water, electricity, and plumbing. It was located in a ten-acre grove of fine oaks, magnolias, and cedars, near the intersection of today’s Hwy 24 and Rowan Road.

Marion Butler only served one term (1894-1900) as a US Senator, but he and Florence chose to stay and live in Washington, DC where he practiced law and remained active in politics. However, the family spent most of their summers at Mount Pleasant. Senator Butler had a fine herd of cattle, many hogs, horses, and mules, and all of the latest farm tools. He also had a fine orchard, vineyards, and a pecan grove. An overseer took care of the farming operations.

In olden days everyone attending a family funeral at Mount Pleasant was invited to stay for a dinner at the Faison home. Even after the War Between the States, Capt. Edward L. Faison and then the Butlers carried on the lifestyle which they had known before the war.

The Butlers always had a fine carriage and many horses. In fact, Mount Pleasant was one of the show places in Sampson County.

Mount Pleasant burned in a spectacular fire in 1935, and gradually the servant’s houses and numerous other buildings were either demolished or burned. The plantation was later sold and now there is no trace left of this fine old plantation house and grove which had been in the Faison family since Colonial days.

In 1976 a sweet potato processing plant was built on the site of Mount Pleasant but the Faison Cemetery remained accessible to the public.

For years the late local historian Claude Moore, himself a Faison descendant, organized the annual Moore-Thomson-Hicks-Faison Family Reunion. It was always held at historic Beulah Baptist Church on Ten Mile Swamp. They raised funds and restored the cemetery. The early plantings had disappeared and only one cedar tree remained. The stones were repaired and cleaned and a chain link fence was erected around the plot.

Sadly, when Claude Moore died in 1994, the family reunion and support for the cemetery died, too. Other family members of his generation passed away and their children have moved to distant places. Regardless of its condition, the Faison Family Cemetery will remain a constant reminder of life in the Old South and of days gone by.

But there is some good news of late. Del Monte Foods, Inc. purchased the plant and grounds a little over two years ago. Company officials have visited the Faison Cemetery and realize that it is a place of respect and reverence. Being more than a good neighbor, Del Monte has replaced the fence surrounding the cemetery and seeks to find acreage to a steward that would insure that it remains protected and respected for years to come.

Confederate statues may come and go, but the Faison Family Cemetery will remain as a constant reminder of life in the Old South and of days gone by.

*Sources: The Sampson County Heritage Book, The Faison Family by Virginius Faison Williams, the Huckleberry Historian, numerous articles written by Claude H. Moore, personal knowledge

Old Cedar

Of the many cedar trees that once surrounded the cemetery, only one remains. “The outer edge of the wheel was formed by Cedar trees that were never cut on the outside and so limbed from the ground. They were trimmed on the inside, just high enough to allow a carriage or wagon to pass”. Even after 150 years, saw marks are visible where the limb was cut.