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Willstown Mission Cemetery Site

Fort Payne, Alabama

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Historic Willstown Cemetery Historic Willstown Cemetery Historic Willstown Cemetery Historic Willstown Cemetery

The Wills Towne Mission site was established in 1823 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for its fifth mission/school for the Cherokees. The Boston-based organization had established its initial mission at Brainerd near present Chattanooga, in 1819. Among the influential Cherokees who persuaded the officials at Brainerd to establish a mission/school here were John Ross and his brother Andrew, and George Lowery.

A ten acre plot of land was purchased by the board for the mission/school which was located on the main road from Ross' Landing to Willstown. Separate log structures 18 by 20 feet were constructed for use as classrooms by the boys and girls. Other buildings included a two story log house for the missionaries, six cabins for the students required boarding, a smokehouse, two corn cribs, a spring house, and a gristmill. Water came from a cave a few hundred yards away, and a clever wooden trough provided fresh water for the and their teachers. The missionaries' house was located two houses down this street. A large stone larder still survives. The property was the reported site of the Council Tree where Cherokees from around the area gathered to hold council meetings. The old tree died in the 1950's and was replaced in 1983.

The cemetery may predate the mission/school. A local legend claims that many Cherokee, including John Watts, the Chickamauga warrior, are buried here, but this has not been substantiated. The cemetery was also used as a flower garden by the missionaries, and it was here that Ard Hoyt was buried in February of 1828 after suffering from an unknown illness. His funeral drew a large number of Cherokees, friends and admirers. Born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1790, the Cherokees called him "father" Hoyt. Some members of his family, including sons Darius and Milo, continued to work as teachers and missionaries for the Cherokees.

The Willstown Mission Cemetery Site has been certified by the National Park Service as an official component of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The congressionally designated trail commemorates the tragic history of the removal of the Cherokee people from their ancestral homelands to territory in the West.

A historic marker was erected at the mission site by the Cherokee Chapter of the Colonial Dames in 1999, and unveiled by descendants of the Vance Commins Larmore family, who homesteaded the mission.

There are over 50 obvious graves at the cemetery, but the archaeologists suspect there are many more and only 9 are marked. Military Paymaster records at the National Archives have been found showing disbursements made to individuals for shrouds and coffins for 41 Cherokee Indians who died in camp at Fort Payne between June and September 1838. Could they have been buried at this cemetery?


Historic Willstown Cemetery
3707 Godfrey Avenue
Fort Payne, Alabama

Discovering Historic Willstown Cemetery