The Old Kerr Family Cemetery In Lower Sampson County, NC

The Kerr Family Cemetery is a little cemetery whose history is at the crux of understanding how and when the Kerr Family came to North Carolina.

Figure 1. (Panorama) Photo of Old Kerr Family Cemetery (taken in 2015 by the author)

The cemetery is located in lower Sampson County, near where Kerr, NC once stood. It is also near the old Kerr house. It is located approximately 1.5 miles south of intersection of Wildcat and Dr. Kerr (SR 1105) Road near Harrells, NC, the cemetery is now located on private property. The access road is protected by a locked metal gate. The cemetery is located approximately 100 yards down the access road from the gate.

There are two markers to help people find the cemetery – there’s also a marker in the Black River Presbyterian Church cemetery that identifies those buried there. There’s also a sign (Figure 2) marking the access road which is on the east side of Dr. Kerr Road if you are traveling south.

The cemetery itself is surrounded by a fence. This fence extends quite a bit past where the grave stones are located, leaving what appears to be open space. This suggests there are other unmarked graves here.

Figure 2. Kerr Family Cemetery Sign (photo by Chris Ware)

Figure 3. Consolidated Kerr Family Cemetery Headstone at Black River Presbyterian Church

People Buried in this Cemetery:
There’s some confusion as to who was buried in the cemetery, as all graves don’t have markers. The cemetery is still in use. There are very old graves here – but there are also recent graves as well.

Grave markers for the following people are presently located there:

  • Daniel Kerr, Jr. (died 3 Dec 1820, age 62)
  • Elizabeth Kerr, “Relict of Daniel Kerr, a native of Arran, Scotland” (died 11 Sep 1846, age 86)
  • James Kerr, son of Daniel and Elizabeth Kerr (died 4 Oct 1872)
  • Jane Ellen Stevens Kerr, wife of James Kerr (born 23 Nov 1823, died 2 Apr 1909) “devoted to duty in Church and Home”.
  • Charles Stevens Kerr (born 15 Feb 1903, died 2 Jan 1970)
  • Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Kerr Ware (born 16 May 1923, died 28 Mar 2000)
  • Paul Christopher Ware (son of Mary E. (Betty) Kerr and Jack W. Ware – born 20 May 1949, died 30 Nov 2005)
  • Jack Wehrmann Ware (husband of Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Kerr – born 18 Nov 1920 – died 4 Mar 2015)

The following people are believed to also be buried in this cemetery, although there are no grave markers for their graves:

  • Daniel Kerr, Sr. (died after 30 Jul 1799)
  • Catherine McDuffie Kerr (died before 30 Jul 1799)
  • John Kerr (death approximately 1774-1775)
  • James (Jamie) Kerr (death approximately 1774-1775)

John and James Kerr died of “ship’s fever” soon after arrival in North Carolina from Scotland.

There’s also some evidence that suggests the headstones for the graves of Charles Stevens Kerr, MD, his wife, and his son Charles might have originally been in this cemetery and later moved to their present location at the Black River Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

Figure 4. Charles Stevens Kerr’s Family Gravestones (and the consolidated Kerr Family Cemetery cenotaph stone) at Black River Presbyterian Church Cemetery

The Story of the Cemetery:
Daniel KERR, Sr., two of his brothers (John and James), and possibly his sister Flora, emigrated to the US from Arran, Scotland. Daniel’s wife and their 4 children (Daniel, Jr., Polly, John, and James (aka: Jamie) accompanied her husband. They decided to go to the Black River area of North Carolina because Catherine McDUFFIE (Daniel’s wife) had a brother already living there.

The un-named ship they traveled on was destined to go from Scotland to Wilmington. During the voyage, a storm forced it to divert to Norfolk, Virginia after about 8 weeks at sea, after which it then continued on to North Carolina. Date and ship name are currently unknown – but thought to be 1774. Family legend states that about the time that Daniel Kerr purchased his land, two of their boys [John and Jamie] died from “ship’s fever”. They weren’t buried at Black River Chapel because the river was high at the time, and the family could not get the bodies across. They were buried in what is “now” the old Kerr cemetery. There are no grave stones marking these burials.

Old family notes say that the cemetery was near a spring and near the north end of their farm.

Reference Maps:

Source List
GPS location for Kerr Family Cemetery Sign/Access Road is N34 degrees 38.206’ W78degrees16.206’.

McEachern, Leora Hiatt. Pender County North Carolina Gravestone Records: Including some adjacent New Hanover County and lower Sampson County Gravestone Records. Vol.V, Wilmington, NC: Leora Hiatt McEachern, 1974.

US Dept of Interior National Park Service. “SP0173_James Kerr House.” In the National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form, 1-45, Washington, D C 1986.