On Knotts Island, keeping up with a community cemetery

Jimmy and Barbara Cason are seen at the Knotts Island Community Cemetery this past spring. They hope to inspire interest in the historic cemetery and support for its upkeep. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

KNOTTS ISLAND, N.C. — Here, in a tightly knit place that is part of – but also isolated by water from – Currituck County, generations of islanders have been laid to rest in a community cemetery that is cared for largely through volunteer efforts.

Jimmy Cason, a retired Virginia Beach police officer who helps care for the cemetery with the help of his wife, Barbara, recently gave a tour of the place, pointed out a marker that dates back to the end of the 19th Century. 

“This is Emily Spratt,” he said, making a sort of introduction to a historic stone. “She was buried in 1892. Her father owned this property.”

She was the first person buried here. Her father, the late Jackson Spratt, who was a postmaster on the island, started the cemetery, according to information Jim Waterfield supplied at KnottsIslandOnline.com. The site has additional information compiled by locals.

The cemetery, located on Woodleigh Road between Knotts Island United Methodist Church and the elementary school, effectively took over for another location. [Knotts Island is a rural place, so there also are a number of private family cemeteries on the island, too.]

For decades, a caretaker has helped oversee upkeep here, calling on heirs of the deceased and islanders to help fund maintenance and work keeping the grass cut and, as the Casons hope, to help address issues such as broken markers. 

Jimmy Cason took on the role from Martha Burns, who served the community cemetery for nearly three decades, and she had followed other locals who cared for the cemetery, too.

Cason said he hopes people will consider contributing to the cemetery fund and keeping an eye out for cleanups, which usually are publicized on Facebook, such as in the Knotts Island group.

Help is always needed. Cleanups by volunteers sometimes target specific areas that are overgrown or need attention.

“We do whatever we can do,” Barbara Cason said.

“Twenty people came down last time,” Jimmy Cason said, speaking before another cleanup took place on Saturday, May 19.

“It’s a labor of love,” Jimmy Cason said. “This is a community cemetery. For all practical purposes, nobody owns it anymore.”

He said work in the cemetery isn’t just upkeep. Its spending time with islanders.

A visit might start with some work, but it might not end that way. He said he hopes people will reconnect with their roots, noting that people who visit can spend a lot of time meeting some familiar names.

“Theres a lot of history buried in that cemetery,” Cason said. “I wish it was all recorded.”

A corner of the cemetery in Knotts Island before a May effort by volunteers. [Courtesy]
And after. [Courtesy]

Contributions can be made by mail to the Knotts Island Cemetery Fund, 129 Wards Road, Knotts Island, N.C., 27950.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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