Editor’s note: This arti­cle is a com­pan­ion piece to anoth­er arti­cle writ­ten by Harry, The Colored Paupers, which pro­vides brief glimpses into the peo­ple interred in the grave­yard. In the inter­est of his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy, we have cho­sen to leave anachro­nisms such as the words “col­ored” and “pau­per,” as well as oth­er poten­tial­ly awk­ward or painful language.


In 1879 the Clark County Court pur­chased a 9‑acre tract of land on Muddy Creek Turnpike (now Old Muddy Creek Road) for “the use and ben­e­fit of the Poor of Clark County.”  The north­ern por­tion of this land was used to bury the county’s “col­ored paupers.” 

The Colored Paupers Graveyard is locat­ed at the north­ern end of Reeves Memorial Park and across the road from Daniel Grove Cemetery. All three are African American ceme­ter­ies.  Today, the long-for­got­ten “pau­pers” bur­ial ground is com­plete­ly over­grown with trees, brush, and weeds — and is the site of sev­er­al ille­gal dumps. No grave­stones or mark­ers have been found.

The pur­pose of this study is to doc­u­ment the his­to­ry of this ceme­tery and to find the names of the men, women, and chil­dren buried there.  Death cer­tifi­cates were used to iden­ti­fy 84 buri­als that took place from 1911 through 1928.

The Colored Paupers Graveyard is no longer owned by the coun­ty.  It is now in the hands of a pri­vate own­er.  Kentucky state law requires own­ers to keep ceme­ter­ies “free of growth of weeds, free from accu­mu­lat­ed debris, dis­placed tomb­stones, or oth­er signs and indi­ca­tion of van­dal­ism or gross neglect.”  As of this date, the coun­ty has not suc­ceed­ed in get­ting this out-of-state own­er to com­ply with the law.


County Plat filed August 13, 1919
Figure 1 — County Plat filed August 13, 1919 (click to enlarge)

In 1870 the coun­ty court formed a com­mit­tee to find “a suit­able par­cel of land adja­cent to the town of Winchester for a bur­ial place for pau­pers both black and white of Clark County.”  In 1872 the coun­ty paid $100 to pur­chase four lots in the Winchester Cemetery to be used “as a negro pau­per bur­ial ground.”

By 1879 those lots must have been filled, as the coun­ty that year exe­cut­ed a deed to pur­chase 9‑acres of land from W. H. Garner and wife for “the use and ben­e­fit of the Poor of Clark County.”  This tract was sit­u­at­ed on Muddy Creek Turnpike near the city lim­its and adja­cent to the L&N Railroad. 

The “Pauper Grave Yard” is shown below on a 1919 plat found in the coun­ty clerk’s office.  The coun­ty then owned all the land shown on the plat, includ­ing the Pauper Grave Yard.  The bur­ial ground went by sev­er­al oth­er names, but was most com­mon­ly referred to as the “Colored Paupers Graveyard.”  No record has been found of any white per­sons buried there.

Since the prop­er­ty was pur­chased for the bur­ial of pau­pers, one pre­sumes that buri­als there began in 1879 or soon after.  If records were kept of buri­als, they have since been lost.  The ear­li­est record pos­si­bly refer­ring to this ceme­tery is dat­ed October 1903, when the fis­cal court award­ed a con­tract for pro­vid­ing “pau­per coffins” to Winn Furniture Company.  Then in October 1907, the court instruct­ed the coun­ty judge to build or repair “the fence that sur­rounds the County Cemetery locat­ed on the Muddy Creek Pike.” 

When these grounds on Muddy Creek Road were pur­chased, the coun­ty also oper­at­ed a poor­house on Ironworks Road (now the site of the County Fairgrounds and the County Farm).  Both blacks and whites were tak­en in at the poor­house, and all res­i­dents who died there were buried on the prop­er­ty.  Blacks who died in Winchester or else­where in the coun­ty were buried at the Colored Paupers Graveyard.  Evidence from death cer­tifi­cates indi­cates that buri­als there end­ed by 1928.  After that time, all pau­pers would be buried at the County Farm on Ironworks Road. 

The boundary of the Colored Paupers Graveyard is outlined in red
Figure 2 — The bound­ary of the Colored Paupers Graveyard is out­lined in red (click to enlarge)

In 1939 Luther Reeves pur­chased the prop­er­ty shown on the plat as lot num­bers 1 through 4 (Figure 1).  On this land, he opened a ceme­tery, Reeves Memorial Park, for blacks in com­pe­ti­tion with Daniel Grove, locat­ed across the road.  One year lat­er, Reeves paid $50 for the Colored Paupers Graveyard, which the coun­ty had stopped using. The 1940 deed includ­ed the fol­low­ing stipulation: 

“It is under­stood that this land was used by Clark County as a bur­ial ground or ceme­tery at one time and the sec­ond par­ty agrees that the graves now on said prop­er­ty shall not be disturbed.”

There is no evi­dence that Reeves ever used this land for burials. 

The Colored Paupers Graveyard on Old Muddy Creek Road has been com­plete­ly for­got­ten as a bur­ial ground.  Now in pri­vate own­er­ship, it is total­ly over­grown with weeds and brush.

Method of Identifying Burials

No grave mark­ers have been found in the Colored Paupers Graveyard.  Since bur­ial records were either not kept or sub­se­quent­ly lost, anoth­er method had to be used to iden­ti­fy the names of peo­ple buried there.  Kentucky death cer­tifi­cates proved use­ful for that purpose. 

Overgrown condition of the cemetery
Figure 3 — Overgrown con­di­tion of the ceme­tery (click to enlarge)

Kentucky began requir­ing death cer­tifi­cates to be record­ed for all deaths begin­ning in the year 1911.  Standardized forms were filled out at the coun­ty lev­el then col­lect­ed and archived by the state.  The forms have a box to enter the “Place of Burial.”

Kentucky death cer­tifi­cates from 1911 to 1965 are avail­able on Ancestry.com.  These records were searched one year at a time to find all Clark County deaths.  Each cer­tifi­cate that list­ed Negro, Black, or Colored for “Race” was checked for the “Place of Burial.”  Unfortunately, this method miss­es all the buri­als that occurred before 1911, for which there are no records. 

The bur­ial place name was usu­al­ly giv­en as the “Colored Paupers Graveyard” or “Colored Paupers Cemetery.”  Other syn­onyms were used in a few instances.  These names includ­ed Winchester Paupers Graveyard, Winchester Colored Cemetery, Colored Graveyard, Potters Field, Winchester Potters Field, and Negro Potters Field.

One of the illegal tire dumps in the cemetery
Figure 4 — One of the ille­gal tire dumps in the ceme­tery (click to enlarge)

The only oth­er place where col­ored pau­pers were buried was at the coun­ty poor­house.  On death cer­tifi­cates, buri­als there were usu­al­ly list­ed as the County Farm, but some­times called the Clark County Farm, Clark County Cemetery, Clark County Graveyard, or sim­ply the County Cemetery or County Graveyard.

Burials in the Colored Paupers Graveyard

NameYearAgeOccupationCause of deathBurial Code
Floyd Gheens191140labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Newton Hood*191158labor­ertuber­cu­lo­sis0
Hanna Lou Keys19115 mo. “always del­i­cate, no physician”0
Charles Lane1911  still­born0
Murry baby1911  still­born0
Alexander Vivion1911~50farm labor­erparal­y­sis0
Selda Haggard*1911~73farm­handold age2
Henry Bennison1912 R.R. labor­erpneu­mo­nia0
Henry Broadhurst*1912~56farm handkid­ney disease0
Alfred Brooks1912 R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-throat cut0
Lane baby1912  still­born0
Joseph Morris191228pub­lic worktuber­cu­lo­sis0
Lena Johnson1912~40house­keep­erhomi­cide-knife stab4
John Davis1913 R.R. labor­ertetanus0
Didley Dee1913 R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-stab wound0
Thomas Edgington*1913~50R.R. labor­ermenin­gi­tis0
Will Gains1913~40labor­eralco­holism0
Charley Jackson1913 R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-shot in head0
Charlie Jackson1913 R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Sam Jones1913  tuber­cu­lo­sis0
William “Euchre” Jones191335R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Sam Keys19132 mo. acute indi­ges­tion0
James Messenger1913 labor­eracute indi­ges­tion0
William Moody191325R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
M. M. Mosely1913  homi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Asa Nichols191332labor­erepilep­sy0
Jim Preston1913 labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Joe Shepherd1913 labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot0
William Smith1913~30R.R. labor­erpneu­mo­nia0
Clay Wilson1913 labor­eracci­dent-tun­nel cave in0
Sarah Goodloe Rutledge19134 mo. ina­ni­tion4
Ed Brooks191432R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
George Cofer191430R.R. labor­eracci­dent-bro­ken back0
Sunny Jones191430 acci­dent-hit by C&O train0
Will Keese191442farm labor­erperi­toni­tis0
William Turner191427R.R. labor­erfroze to death0
unknown1914~25 drowned0
Courtland Waller191429 alco­holism0
William Johnson*191454labor­erheart fail­ure1
Will Miller1914~22labor­ernat­ur­al causes1
Jim Neale1914 labor­erpneu­mo­nia5
Joe Smith191424labor­erBright’s dis­ease1
Emma Virginia Botts19151 “sum­mer complaint”0
Davis Chick1915~37R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Clark baby1915  still­born0
Charles E. Clone191510 days bron­chi­tis0
Martha Dodge191537house­keep­ingneuras­the­nia0
William Hill1915~30 pneu­mo­nia0
William Jones1915~35R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
Mae Alice Fields19161 con­vul­sions0
Hawkins baby19167 days acute indi­ges­tion0
Arthur Johnson1916~35R.R. labor­eracci­dent-dyna­mite explosion0
Parkins baby1916  still­born0
Skinner baby19161 mo. chron­ic constipation0
unknown1916~30 acci­dent-hit by L&N train0
Willie Green1917~25R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-gun­shot wound0
George K. Harvey19173 days pre­ma­ture birth0
Andy Mitchell191739labor­erpneu­mo­nia0
unknown191725–30 froze to death0
Phil Wilkinson*1917~65 expo­sure0
Will Sneed*1917~55R.R. cookheart dis­ease5
R. C. “Arcey” Banks191817R.R. labor­erpneu­mo­nia0
Fannie Messenger1918~45house­keep­ingtuber­cu­lo­sis0
Dane Wilson1918~38labor­ertyphoid fever0
John Williams1919~35 unknown0
Charles Hudson1919~35labor­erpneu­mo­nia3
Henry Johnson*1919~65 neuras­the­nia3
Bud Candy*1920~60 pneu­mo­nia0
Robert Guy*192066labor­ersup­pu­ra­tive arthritis0
William Guy1920~40labor­erheart dis­ease0
Charley Nelson*192066coal mer­chantsui­cide-poi­son6
Paul Evans1921~35 homi­cide-gun­shot wound0
John Williams*1921~96farm labor­ergan­grene0
L. E. Williams1921  heart dis­ease0
Dave Moore1923~40farm­handhomi­cide-knife wound4
Roy Moreland1923~25R.R. labor­erhomi­cide-shot in head4
Henry Bonner Jr.19242 days pre­ma­ture birth0
Carrie F. Washington19245 days under­fed0
Julius Austen1924~55labor­erheart trou­ble1
Henry Bonner192552labor­ertuber­cu­lo­sis0
McCaffrey baby1925  still­born0
Will Bush192639R.R. helperrup­tured ulcer1
Lawson Vowel1927~55R.R. labor­eracci­dent-hit by train1
Sarah Elizabeth Bybee192813 days gas­troin­testi­nal disorder1

* Formerly enslaved persons

Burial codes

0 — Colored Paupers Graveyard
1 — Potters Field
2 — Colored Graveyard
3 — Winchester Paupers Graveyard
4 — Winchester Colored Cemetery
5 — Winchester Potters Field
6 — Negro Potters Field


The 84 deaths from 1911 to 1928 includ­ed 65 men, 3 women and 16 chil­dren.  There were 18 homi­cides, 6 died by acci­dent, 2 froze to death, 1 died from expo­sure, and 2 from alcoholism. 

Railroad work­ers account­ed for 22 of those deaths.  Of these, 10 were homi­cides, 3 were acci­dents and 1 froze to death—dangerous work.  During that time peri­od, the L&N Railroad began con­struc­tion of a new line from Winchester to Irvine.  Work was com­plet­ed by 1914 except for bridges over Upper Howard’s Creek and Red River.  The line was final­ly put into ser­vice in 1916.  And it has not escaped notice that the rail­road formed the east bound­ary of the Colored Paupers Graveyard.

It should be rec­og­nized that the 84 buri­als only cov­er the last 18 years the ceme­tery was in use.  The ceme­tery was active for 50 years, so it is like­ly that the major­i­ty of buri­als have still not been identified.

Death certificate for Willie Green
Figure 5 — Death cer­tifi­cate for Willie Green (click to enlarge)

Little is known about the indi­vid­u­als buried in the Colored Paupers Graveyard.  Some were born into slav­ery.  Most lived des­per­ate lives of extreme pover­ty.  Some suf­fered from alco­holism or drug abuse.  We know that at life’s end, they did not have the resources or fam­i­ly to pay for a bur­ial cof­fin.  Sadly, for many that life would end in vio­lence.  Regardless of their unfor­tu­nate plights, these poor souls deserve to be treat­ed bet­ter in death.  Society did lit­tle for them when they were liv­ing, and now their final rest­ing place has become a for­got­ten wilderness.

We con­clude this study with two sig­nif­i­cant points to con­sid­er.  The fate of the Colored Paupers Graveyard mir­rors that of African American ceme­ter­ies all across this coun­try:  They are an endan­gered species.  In Kentucky, before state and fed­er­al laws were passed to pro­tect ceme­ter­ies, pri­vate ceme­tery com­pa­nies often went out of busi­ness leav­ing their ceme­ter­ies aban­doned, which were then soon over­tak­en by the elements. 

Finally, it should be point­ed out that the Colored Paupers Graveyard is in a spe­cial cat­e­go­ry in that it was ini­tial­ly owned and oper­at­ed by local gov­ern­ment.  After it was no longer need­ed, the coun­ty, attempt­ing to shed its respon­si­bil­i­ty, took the unusu­al step of sell­ing this pub­lic bur­ial ground to a pri­vate own­er.  That own­er sold it to a sec­ond who, short­ly after, went out of busi­ness.  An heir now owns the ceme­tery, but liv­ing out of state they have not main­tained the property.

Cemeteries are said to be sacred spaces, and our soci­ety rec­og­nizes some oblig­a­tion to pre­serve and care for them.  Kentucky law­mak­ers have set min­i­mal stan­dards to pro­tect ceme­ter­ies.  In the case of the Colored Paupers Graveyard, it appears those laws have not been enforced.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.