Couch Cemetery

January 5, 2021 Off By Mira Pickus

This blog post is a little belated as its events got caught up in the exams and college application rush, but here it is!

In early December, My dad and I were able to go with Judd Edeburn, former resource manager of the Duke Forest, and Nicki Cagle, from the Nicholas School of the Environment, to see the old Couch cemetery located near the Duke Farm. Mr. Edeburn and Ms. Cagle led us from the Duke Farm over logs and across little streams to the cemetery. (I felt very cool because Mr. Edeburn had gotten us special access to go see the cemetery as it isn’t off any of the Duke Forest public trails).

It was just plain neat to be on the land I had been reading about and to see the gravestones of the various Couchs that have come up in documents like Rachel Frankel’s thesis. Also, both Mr. Edeburn and Ms. Cagle are super knowledgeable about the land. After spending decades walking around Duke Forest, Mr. Edeburn knows it like the back of his hand. Ms. Cagle is both an expert on Duke Forest ecology and Couch genealogy. She stopped every so often to record a rare plant species and we both had fun identifying plants such as pipsissewa along the way! Then once we arrived at the cemetery, Mr. Edeburn and Ms. Cagle pointed out where the Couch houses would have stood many years ago.

Gravestone of Thomas Couch. Can you make out his name?

The site itself was covered with autumn leaves. Now all of the gravestones are quite faded, so one could barely make out the names and epitaphs. Behind the main gravestones, there also appear to be many graves marked only by miscellaneous stones — possibly the graves of the enslaved peoples who once worked the Couch land. No one has ever done archaeological work on the site, but there are two lines of regularly spaced mounds that appear to be marked with the same kind of stones. Those unidentified graves remain a mystery of the land.

Thanks so much to both Mr. Edeburn and Ms. Cagle for their expertise, wisdom, and willingness to take my dad and I trekking through the woods on a December Saturday.

My next steps include reaching out to a prospective interviewee —descendant of the Couchs and of the Occaneechi — that Ms. Cagle has connected me to, getting in touch with Ms. Cagle and Mark Chilton (Register of Deeds for Orange County) about some genealogical research which might allow Ms. Cagle to identify a descendant of the enslaved peoples who lived on the Couch land, and continuing to keep in touch with other prospective interviewees.

More soon!