Cemetery of Enslaved Kinslers Reunites Family of Secession Ordinance Signer

Property owner Mary Burnside visits with Kinsler descendant Bobby Kinsler in the slave cemetery during the family’s first reunion in 2017

Some fifty years ago the late Dick Burnside was bush-hogging a field on his Kinsler Road property in upper Richland County and realized that his blades were hitting something significant. When he got down off the tractor, he realized what he had hit. It was a cemetery with many small stone columns driven into the ground marking the graves of people who had been enslaved on his property in the 18th and 19th century by its prior owner, the family of John Herman Kinsler. Burnside felt an obligation to repair the stones he had hit, mark them clearly so that they would not be hit again and to begin a lifetime of caring for this beautiful historic spot on Cedar Creek, not knowing if anyone would ever be able to tell him just who exactly these people were.

In the early 2000s, Brenda Kinsler of Washington, D.C. and Charlie Smith of Charleston, S.C., met online researching the Kinsler family. It did not take long before they realized that their family shared a much larger and more interesting story than the ones they were after, a story that might have the power to reunite the descendants of John Herman Kinsler, both his African American descendants and his Swiss German descendants. This larger story might also offer guidance to other families interested in reconciliation and a truthful account of their own family’s pre-emancipation history.

Kinsler and Smith visited a few related properties in the area of the cemetery on their first trip to upper Richland together. Kinsler had hoped to find the cemetery of her enslaved ancestors. Smith doubted that the location would even be known by anyone alive today, but at Kinsler’s urging, they pulled up to Burnside’s house and knocked on the door to see if he knew of any old cemeteries on his property that might have been used for enslaved Africans. His face lit up and he said “Give me a minute and I’ll get my truck and show you right now.” It was a toss-up who was more excited at that moment, Kinsler and Smith, who had information and no cemetery, or Mr. Burnside who had a cemetery and no information. That chance meeting has since changed the entire dynamic of a family born into the South Carolina slave-holding culture and it gave the man who had tended that sacred space an answer to the question of just who these people were who were buried on his land. They were not only enslaved Africans, they were lineal descendants of John Herman Kinsler, signer of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession, State Senator, State Legislator, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and Chairman of the Board of the South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina.

On July 25, 2019 family members gathered at the cemetery to remember not only those whose lives were spent in servitude on the property, but the family also acknowledged the preservation of the cemetery by Mr. Burnside, who died in 2018, and his wife Mary, who has arranged for the placement of a plaque during the ceremony. The Kinsler Family Reunion will take place in Charleston July 26-28, 2019 following the ceremony in Columbia. For more information contact Brenda Kinsler above.

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