Family Searches For Graves Of Slave Ancestors In Northern Utah

Oct 11, 2018, 7:14 PM | Updated: 9:17 pm

WELLSVILLE, Utah – The descendants of some Utah pioneers who were brought to the state as slaves honored their ancestors by finding and marking their graves in Cache County.

On the southeast corner of the Wellsville City Cemetery is a patch of grass that looks mostly empty. It’s where Judee Williams and her family believe some of their slave ancestors were buried.

“We know that they were buried in a segregated part of the cemetery,” Williams said. “These poor babies. They’ve laid there without their names for so long. We’re going to give them their name.”

Williams said her great, great grandfather, Nathan Bankhead, helped settle the town, but eventually left for California after being freed. He did, however, have three children who died young, and a fellow slave, Louis Bankhead. Williams believed all four were buried near each other.

Wellsville City put a small monument in the area in May 2017. However, Williams felt it was important to find the actual graves and put down something more specific.

“This has haunted me for a year,” Williams said. “I just haven’t been able to let it go.”

Not knowing what she would find, she came to Wellsville from her home in Northern California, and hired an underground radar company to do a search of the area. Williams’ cousin, Marsha Boyd, brought her family up from Salt Lake City for the event.

Judee Williams consults with a radar technician, from Ground Penetrating Radar Systems, inc.

“It would be nice to be able to come up here and say, ‘yeah, this is where we started, this is where we were,'” Boyd said. “I have been told most of my life that no, we didn’t come as slaves – that we were free people – and we weren’t. We came as slaves, and the history needs to be taught right.”

After several passes from the lawnmower-shaped radar machine, a technician was able to locate four graves close together; one large, and three small.

“I feel good. I think we did it,” Williams said, starting to tear up.

“I feel like I have found something that I never knew,” Boyd later added. “Something that was missing in my life, and I’m really happy about that.”

The family’s next step was to decide on markers for the graves, something they hope to have in place in time for their family reunion next Pioneer Day – July 24, 2019.

“This has been a long journey,” Williams said. “(It’s) been over a year that I’ve been trying to find our babies, and I’m so glad we did.”

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Family Searches For Graves Of Slave Ancestors In Northern Utah