When the well-equipped task force arrived on a recent Saturday morning, the tangle of scrubby bushes, trees, briars and tall grass atop a little hill was scarcely recognizable as a cemetery from the nearby dirt road.
When the 20 volunteers left, monuments of the Nichols family’s past had re-emerged into the noon rain. A Bulloch County Historical Society representative was able to revise his count of graves in the Nichols Cemetery from 29 to 39, and Dylan Green had completed all the steps but some paperwork toward becoming an Eagle Scout.
As required by Boy Scouts of America regulations, Green needed to complete his Eagle service project before his 18th birthday, now a week away. He planned the cemetery cleanup, organized the workforce and will write a report on the results.
“I feel good about it,” Green said. “I feel like I did something where I preserved history, I did something nice for the family and the Historical Society.”
This was not the first cemetery cleanup undertaken by Boy Scout Troop 342, sponsored by Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church. Member Scouts, including Green, undertook at least two previous cleanups, including one of the Croatan Indian Memorial Cemetery between Register and Claxton. But the Nichols Cemetery was by all accounts the most challenging.
The task force came ready. The church’s van towed Troop 342’s enclosed equipment trailer. Eight Boy Scouts, two other young men and nine adults — among them Green’s mom, Sandra Brandon; his stepdad, Doyal Brandon; and his dad, Eddie Green — deployed with rakes, bush loppers, a chainsaw, a push mower, string trimmers, even brooms for removing debris from the gravestones.
At times, muscle seemed to be the most useful tool, as the boys teamed up tug-of-war style to pull saplings and vines out of the thicket. Soon the monuments, including tall but fragile obelisk-style tombstones popular in the decades after the Civil War, stood freed from vegetation.
Green expressed thanks to all who helped.
“I couldn’t have got it done without them, all those extra hands, and we got it done faster than I thought we would,” he said.
Making of an Eagle
To become an Eagle Scout, a Boy Scout must earn 21 merit badges, including 11 in specifically required topics, plus 10 electives. Green has accumulated more than that. He hadn’t counted recently but thinks he has about 30.
Green joined Troop 342 when he was 11. As a teen, he has done something rare by experiencing the entire “Triple Crown” of BSA High Adventure camps. He undertook missions at the Sea Base camp in the Florida Keys, Philmont Ranch in New Mexico and the Northern Tier camp in Minnesota. In fact, Green went to Sea Base twice, first several years ago and again last month. Several of Troop 342’s older teens and four adult leaders went sailing and snorkeling for six days on a three-masted schooner.
Green, who previously served one year as Troop 342’s senior patrol leader after a turn as assistant patrol leader, was trek leader for both Sea Base excursions.
“He’s got all of his merit badges done, so this is the last step before he becomes an Eagle,” said the Troop 342 scoutmaster, local attorney Lovett Bennett Jr. “He’s a good kid, doing a great job.”
Bennett was away at the Boy Scouts National Jamboree in West Virginia during the cleanup. But he knows the work that Green put into it. In their projects, Eagle Scout candidates are required to do service for the community, coordinate the work of others and document the results.
“It’s to teach them how to organize it, how to do it and then afterwards to sort of give a thoughtful reflection on ‘What did we do?’ and ‘Is there anything we could have done differently?’” Bennett said. Scouts assist one another with Eagle projects. Lester Acosta, a Troop 342 member who completed his project in the spring, was part of the task force helping Green. An honor court to award Acosta and Green their Eagle Scout medals and badges will likely be held at Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church in August or September, Bennett said.
Green will begin his senior year Thursday at Statesboro High School. After graduation, he plans to major in film directing at Full Sail University in Florida.
Green and Bennett coordinated the project with the Bulloch County Historical Society’s cemetery committee. Boy Scouts have been giving committee members Rodney Harville and Brent Tharp a lot of help recently in their goal of cleaning up and documenting the county’s historic cemeteries.
After the Nichols Cemetery cleanup on July 20, a task force organized by Cameron Holsclaw, an Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 241 in Bluffton, S.C., came Wednesday and cleaned the Williams-Wright Cemetery in the Ivanhoe community. Another Eagle candidate, Ben Lattner from Troop 340 at Statesboro First Baptist Church, is planning to work on the Young-Blitch cemetery, Harville said.
Harville came to the Nichols Cemetery cleanup thinking there were 29 graves in it. But he left knowing there were 39 marked graves. Of these, only five had been documented photographically on the website www.findagrave.com. The cleanup should allow the Historical Society to add the rest.
“We have recorded some 15 cemeteries and over 900 tombstones, and that’s taking pictures of them and putting them on the Internet,” Harville said.
Also a deacon at Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, Harville has become a contact person for Scouts seeking these projects.
“They do a good job of preparing for the project and then take any action necessary to follow through,” he said.
The Nichols family
One Nichols family member took part in the cleanup effort. Dean Nichols III used a chainsaw to cut down small trees that had hidden graves of his ancestors in a corner of the plot. He said he was there on behalf of his nephew, Bit Nichols, who had talked to the volunteers in arranging the cleanup but had to be at work that morning.
Dean Nichols lived away from the area for 17 years but moved back last year to a nearby house where he grew up. He acknowledged that several years had passed since the graveyard was last cleaned and expressed appreciation for the volunteers.
“I think it’s really important for a person not to forget where they came from,” Nichols said. “I’ve been away for a good while and had a family of my own, so I wasn’t around to really see all this . . . But it’s very important to stay in contact with your roots.”
Nichols family members have owned land around the cemetery since at least the early 1800s. For generations, they were active in the nearby Upper Lotts Creek Primitive Baptist Church. The cemetery dates back, according to family members, to the generation immediately after the Revolutionary War.
A special marker clearly identifies one grave as that of a Civil War veteran. Daniel Newman served in the Georgia Militia’s Coast Guard Battalion.
From gravestones visible during the cleanup, the largest number of burials appeared to have taken place from the 1860s through 1900, with the cemetery remaining in use into the 1920s. Birthdates as early as 1818 are clearly legible, but a number of stones are broken or illegible. Other family names including Crumpton, Hendrix and Williamson are represented, but most reportedly reflect marriages to Nicholses.
Another descendent, Troy Nichols, drove from Jesup to see the cleared cemetery before the day was out.
He is a lifelong Wayne County resident, and his most recent ancestors buried in the cemetery are his great-great-grandparents, Theophilus Nichols (1808–1881) and Rebecca Crumpton Nichols (1818–1869). Their son — his great-grandfather — George Washington Nichols, served in the Confederate Army and authored the popular Civil War memoir “A Soldier’s Story of His Regiment (61st Georgia)” but isn’t buried in this cemetery. Each year, Troy Nichols hosts the George Washington Nichols reunion at his place in Wayne County.
He and some other family members had visited the cemetery in Bulloch County several months ago, so he had a “before” image in mind.
“They did a great job,” Nichols said. “In fact, I’m planning on letting some of the other family members know about it. I have talked to people all the way to California who are interested in that cemetery.”