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The Burial Ground at Serenity Farm

Unearthing a forgotten past

Based on a skull, Baltimore County Police forensic artist Evelyn Grant sketched the occupant of Burial 13, now called Lazarus.

At Serenity Farm in Benedict, you’ll find 100 acres devoted to Farming 4 Hunger (see this week’s feature story). It’s also a place for farm tours and events, hayrides and petting zoo, shearing sheep and tobacco barns.
    Maryland’s history is rooted there, too.
    The recently discovered Burial Ground at Serenity Farm unlocks secrets and pieces together from crumbling bones lives lost in the past.
    Twenty years ago, a human skull and a long bone fragment were unearthed, only to be put aside with other artifacts found on the farm throughout the years.
    The derecho of 2012 showed more.
    The toppling of a large oak tree revealed a long-lost burial ground.
    After that skull was identified as African American, Maryland State Highway chief archaeologist Julie Schablitsky got approval from the African American Heritage Society of Charles County — the blessing of Trinity Parish Reverend Nancy James — to excavate and study the bones.
    “We scraped back some surface and five grave shafts popped up,” Schablitsky said.
    “The adult remains — almost entire skeletons — helped us determine approximate age, ancestry and general health. The coffin nails gave us the time period — between 1790 and 1810,” she said.
    The remains revealed men and women muscular from hard labor.
    In total, 23 graves — and the remains of 13 individuals — were discovered. The infants, children, women and men buried at Serenity Farm were likely enslaved by the Smith Family.
    The burials were probably Christian, the archaeologists concluded. Christians — like some West African cultures — bury their dead with their heads facing the west.
    The most intact of the skulls was Burial 13. Five waistcoat buttons in that grave suggest social status above that of farm laborer, indicating someone who worked in the plantation house.
    Excavating began in July 2013 and by September 2013, all the remains were re-interred in the exact spot they were found with a religious ceremony and granite markers.
    “We studied them very quickly but efficiently,” said Schablisky. “It was very important to get them back into the ground along with the buttons, the nails and even the dirt that was dug up. It went back into the same holes.”