Editor’s Note — In recent months, “Our Back Yard” has featured several of the cemeteries located on Scott County’s recreational lands, including the two Walker cemeteries on Brimstone Recreation-managed properties along Indian Fork Creek, and the Katie Blevins Cemetery in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. This is a continuation of that series, profiling the Rob Sexton Cemetery in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
In terms of elevation, the Rob Sexton Cemetery has the distinction of being perhaps the highest graveyard — at least of any significant size — in Scott County. It’s located along the spine of the ridge that separates Bull Creek from Brimstone Creek in the Cumberland Mountains, at the base of Round Mountain. (In fact, it is sometimes called the Round Mountain Cemetery.)
Just over a year ago, in May 2020, a funeral procession bounced over the rocky and rutted roads leading from Brimstone Creek into the mountains for a graveside service for Ruth Bowling. For the most part, though, this once well-kept cemetery is on the verge of being forgotten. It’s not frequently maintained, and you can’t get there in a two-wheel-drive vehicle — at least, you wouldn’t want to take the family sedan up there; you can easily make it in a pickup or SUV without engaging four-wheel-drive, so long as you realize before your tires leave the pavement that it’s going to be a bumpy trip.
For the most part, the only people who visit Rob Sexton Cemetery these days are the off-road riders whose ATVs rumble through the mountains.
There are several ways to get to Rob Sexton Cemetery. Ironically enough, the two easiest ways up take you by much larger cemeteries that are located much closer to civilization.
From the Brimstone side, take the old coal haul road at Slick Rock past the Slick Rock Cemetery (also known as the Sexton Cemetery) onto the North Cumberland WMA. At the top of the ridge, turn right onto Trail 1 (the Four Lane) and continue for a short distance to a trail intersection at the base of Round Mountain. There, turn left onto Trail 18 (Sand Rock Trail) and it’s just a stone’s throw before you turn right onto an unnamed gravel road that leads to the cemetery.
From the Bull Creek side, take Trail 17 (Bull Creek Settlement Trail) onto the WMA from Bull Creek United Baptist Church and climb through old strip mines that are full of mud and ruts until you reach Trail 18 (Jerry Trail). Turn left onto Trail 18 and continue to the intersection with Trail 16. The cemetery will be located straight ahead from the intersection.
The Rob Sexton Cemetery has its beginnings with one of the just over a dozen Revolutionary War veterans who moved to what would become Scott County after the Americans defeated the British and the United States was formed.
Sgt. Timothy Sexton, one of those Revolutionary War veterans, was the first person buried at what would become known as Rob Sexton Cemetery when he died in 1832.
Born in New Jersey in 1750, Timothy Sexton enlisted in the Revolutionary War in 1777. He served three years in the 3rd New Jersey Battalion, Fifth Company, and spent the winter at Valley Forge with Gen. George Washington.
Following the war, Sexton moved to South Carolina and married Esther Sisel. They moved to Knox County, then to the west side of New River, then finally to Brimstone Creek in 1819. At the time, the territory was located in Morgan County. It would become part of Scott County in 1849, some 17 years after Sexton’s death.
Timothy and Esther Sisel Sexton had five sons. One of their sons, William Sexton, married Rhoda Griffith, who was the daughter of another Revolutionary War veteran, Joseph Griffith. Like the Sexton family, Griffith settled in the Brimstone area after the war. All of the Griffiths living in Scott County today are said to be descended from him.
Here’s an interesting side note to the story: There’s a reason the Slick Rock Cemetery, located in the valley below Round Mountain, and which you drive past to get to Rob Sexton Cemetery, is also known as Sexton Cemetery. While Timothy Sexton was the first person to be buried in the Rob Sexton Cemetery in 1832, his son, William, was the first person to be buried in Slick Rock Cemetery in 1850.
So both the Slick Rock Cemetery (aka Sexton Cemetery) and the Rob Sexton Cemetery (aka Round Mountain Cemetery) have roots with the same Sexton family, descended from the Revolutionary War veteran who moved his family here in the early 19th century.
William Sexton’s wife, Rhoda, the daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Griffith, is buried alongside her husband at the Slick Rock Cemetery.
The Rob Sexton Cemetery, meanwhile, had a slow start. After Timothy Sexton was buried there in 1832, there wasn’t another person buried there for 18 years. When his widow, Esther, died in January 1850, she was buried alongside her husband. That same year, their oldest son, Timothy Sexton Jr., died at the age of 66 and was buried near his parents. The small family cemetery was growing.
The Sexton family, meanwhile, was growing. While two of Timothy and Esther’s sons left Scott County and continued further west, the other three spent the rest of their lives here and put down roots. And as the family grew, so did its record of service to country.
Two of Timothy Sexton Jr.’s daughters, Margaret and Leanner, married brothers from the Phillips family. One of them, Leanner’s husband, Emanuel, was one of Scott County’s first circuit court clerks and served in the Union army during the Civil War. He donated 25 acres of land for the county seat when Scott County was formed in 1849, leading to the formation of the Town of Huntsville. He died during the war after contracting smallpox, and is buried in the Knoxville National Cemetery.
Lucy, another of Timothy Sexton Jr.’s daughters, married Andrew Griffith, who served in Company G of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry during the Civil War. And her sister, Elizabeth, married Joseph A. Griffith, who served in the Union army and died after being wounded at Fredericksburg in 1862.
Hiram Sexton, a grandson who was the son of William and Rhoda Griffith Sexton, died in the Confederate prison at Bell Isle in Richmond, Va. in 1865, after being captured in the Battle of Rogersville.
A granddaughter, Rebecca Sexton, daughter of Moses Sexton, married Jehu Phillips, the first trustee of Scott County. He also served in the Union army during the Civil War. And their oldest son, Fountain Phillips — Timothy Sexton’s great-grandson — served in the Union army during the Civil War, as well.
In noting all of these Civil War veterans who married Timothy Sexton’s granddaughters, it should be noted that Jehu Phillips was a first cousin to Emanuel and Elijah Phillips, the brothers who married Timothy Sexton Jr.’s daughters.
There were other Civil War veterans in the family, as well — such as Aaron Sexton, a grandson who served in the Union army, Julian Sexton, another grandson who served as a corporal in the Union army, and Christopher Columbus Sexton, a great-grandson, who served in the Union army.
A fourth grave was added at the Rob Sexton Cemetery in 1860, when Nancy Ellis Sexton, Timothy Sexton Jr.’s widow, died and was buried near her husband.
In 1872, Rebecca Griffith Sexton died and was buried at the cemetery. She was the wife of Emanuel Sexton, the son of Timothy Sexton Jr. and Nancy Ellis Sexton. It had been 40 years since the patriarch of the family, Timothy Sexton Sr., had died. Still the cemetery was small.
In 1881, Lucinda Hughett Sexton was buried at the cemetery. She was the wife of Robert Sexton, the son of Emanuel and Rebecca Griffith Sexton. Her husband was the person for whom the cemetery would eventually be named. He died in 1906 and is buried there, as well.
Nancy Sexton, a granddaughter of Timothy Sexton Jr., may have been buried at the cemetery in 1882.
Levi Sexton, a son of Moses Sexton and one of Timothy Sexton’s grandsons, was buried at the cemetery when he died in 1892 at the age of 45.
At that point, 50 years after Timothy Sexton’s death, the cemetery was still very much a family cemetery; only members of his family had been buried there.
In 1906, a baby — the infant son of Tim Sexton, a great-grandson of Timothy Sexton, and his wife, Lassie Hutson — was buried at the cemetery and was the first child buried there.
In 1908, the first person outside the Sexton family was buried at Rob Sexton Cemetery, as it began to become more of a community cemetery. Delany Byrge, who died at the age of 20, was buried there.
Most of the Sextons who would be buried next to Timothy Sexton Sr. had already been interred by that point. In 1916, Laura Chambers Sexton, the 33-year-old wife of Jasper Sexton, Timothy Sexton’s great-great-grandson, was buried there. In 1926, Jasper’s second wife, Nellie Jeffers Sexton, was buried in the cemetery after she died at the age of 30. She was the last Sexton who would be buried there.
A second child, one-year-old Mertie Gibson, the daughter of Lee and Gertrude Gibson, was buried at the cemetery in 1914. A steel fence was erected around her headstone, which was very similar to the other headstones in the cemetery from the same time period. Her father died the day after Christmas in 1980 and was buried inside the enclosed area beside his daughter.
In the 1920s, several Griffiths who were descendants of the Sexton family were buried in the cemetery. In 1931, Thomas Cole buried two of his young children at the cemetery. Ralph Cole was just a month old when he died in May 1931. Less than three months later, his two-year-old brother, Fred, died. Tom Cole is also buried at the cemetery, after dying in 1943.
Several other members of the Griffith family were buried at the cemetery in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, after which the cemetery was seldom used. Between 1967 and 1996, the only person buried at the cemetery was Lee Gibson, who was buried next to his infant daughter in 1980.
In 1996, Albert Bowling was buried at the cemetery when he died at the age of 52. He was a descendant of Timothy Sexton and the Griffiths who are buried at the cemetery. On May 28, 2020, his widow, Ruth Frye Bowling, became the most recent person buried at the cemetery. The only other recent burial at the cemetery was Claude Bowling, who was buried there in September 2019. He was the brother of Albert Bowling and also a descendant of Timothy Sexton.