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Gabriel Boyce Cemetery By: Lisa K. Gendron
Several members of the Jefferson County Heritage and Historical Society have been working to restore the Gabriel Boyce cemetery in Festus, MO.
The following biography from Goodspeed's 1888 History of Jefferson Co. Missouri gives the story of Mr. Boyce's life:
Gabriel Boyce was born near Lexington, Ky., September 1, 1824. His parents were slaves, and were owned by Mr. John Boyce, who brought them, in company with fifteen others, to St. Francois County, Mo. Gabriel lived with his "master" until the death of the latter, when he was inherited by a son, William Boyce, whom he served for several years, who sold him to Thomas Donnell, on Plattin Creek; he was the property of Mr. Donnell at the time of the emancipation proclamation. After he was free Mr. Boyce reported for service in the Union Army, but was rejected. The following six years he worked a piece of land on shares, which was a portion of the "Plattin Rock" farm of W. S. Jewett. In September, 1848, he married Helen Minerva (born March 7, 1826) one of the number of colored people owned at that time by Mr. W. S. Howe. This marriage resulted in the birth of seven children, whose names are Harriet, born December 24, 1848; Anderson, born April 12, 1850; Abraham, born March 5, 1853; Charlotte, born June 21, 1855; Nathan, born November 21, 1857; Gabriel, born June 17, 1860; and Clarissa Ann, born October 6, 1864, the latter deceased. January 20, 1874, Mrs. Boyce died. Mr. Boyce began life for himself with only a young horse and $100 in money. By close economy and industry he was able to purchase a tract of land consisting of 216 acres, where he now resides, of Mr. Kennett. This he paid for in less than four years and had some money at interest also. He has built a commodious dwelling on his farm, and improved his property generally. October 24, 1876, he married Miss Catherine Smith, who was born of slave parents in Frederickstown, Madison Co., Mo., August 3, 1853; her education was acquired while attending school nine months, in St. Francois County. By this marriage five children were born, viz.: Henry, born May 19, 1877; John, born June 6, 1878; Phoebe, born December 15, 1879 and died September 19, 1880; Charles, born February 24, 1880; Justine, born December 10, 1882. Mr. Boyce is a member of the Masonic fraternity, and also of the "Tabernacle," an organization composed strictly of colored people. He and his wife are consistent members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
All other records give his first wife's name as Ellen instead of Helen
Nathan's birthdate is given as Nov. 31, 1859 on his tombstone which differs from the above account. The death date on his stone is listed as Nov 7 1895. However his burial permit is found in the November 7, 1894 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Marriage Record of Gabriel Boyce and Ellen Minverva Cole on 6 Feb 1868, Jefferson County, Missouri
family is found in the 1870 Jefferson Co MO census
Gabriel Boyce 47 Mulatto, Farmer, Born Kentucky, Real Estate 1000, Personal Estate 2930
Ellen Boyce 44 Mulatto, Born Missouri
Anderson Boyce 20
Abram Boyce 17
Amanda Boyce 16
Charlotta Boyce 15
Nathan Boyce 13
James Boyce 13
Wesley Boyce 11
Gabriel Boyce 9
Clarrissa Boyce 7
Louis Key 19 works on farm
Marriage Record of Gabriel Boyce and Christine Smith on Oct. 23, 1876, St. Francois Co, Missouri
This drawing, from the 1876 Jefferson Co. MO Atlas, shows the beautiful Boyce home in Festus.
Although this hasn't been fully verified, we believe this photo is of the Boyce house in the 1930s. This house still stands today.
Gabriel Boyce and his son Nathan belonged to an early "colored only" Masonic chapter in Festus - Crystal City known as a Tabernacle. This chapter later had a building near the intersection of Harrison Road and South Adams in Festus until it was disbanded in the 1950's. The cornerstone from that building was rescued from the Festus Public Works, and is now located on the corner of the present day Joachim Shekinah Masonic Lodge No. 256. It was previously thought that the only Colored Masonic lodge in the 1800ís was located in Farmington Missouri.
CC Lodge No ?
Mrs. Kelly Genova, and a group of her Festus Middle School students, obtained permission to visit the cemetery in early 2021, and invited Bernard Laiben, president, and Lisa Gendron, treasurer of the JCHHS to join in on the student's visit. After seeing the neglected state of the cemetery, members of the historical society decided to step in and do some clean up and repair. Mr. Tim Ogle has spent several days cutting brush and trees, while Marvin Hook and Lisa Gendron helped Tim repair some of the stones. Work is still ongoing, but a previously unrecorded stone for Mr. Boyce's son has been unearthed, along with some previously unrecorded footstones. The most notable repair was re-erecting the stone for Gabriel Boyce. The following photos show some of the work being done by society members.
The following burials are found in this cemetery. Other known tombstones have not been re-discovered.....yet!
Courier Journal, Lifestyle, May 8, 1987 - By Steve Jennings
Former Slave Was First Festus Landowner
Blacks can take special pride in the Festus Centennial celebration, since, as far as anyone can tell, Festus first principal landowner was black, a former slave from Kentucky named Gabriel Boyce. An old surveyor's map of the Festus and Crystal City area shows very little except crossing property lines, the course of Plattin Creek, and one name: G. Boyce. Boyce's land, bought from a white farmer after he won his freedom, covered much of the south end of both towns. Its southern and eastern borders are formed by the Plattin as it twists its way through what is now the PPG glass plant property in the south end of Crystal City. Boyce eventually sold off or bestowed to in-laws and children much of his holdings. That may account for the location of the Twin Cities' black area, in the south ends of both cities.
Catherine Boyce Holland of St. Louis is the landowner's granddaughter. She dug for years for the information which confirms Gabriel's place in the history of Festus. Like most slaves, Gabriel had no last name. He took the surname Boyce from John Boyce, who owned Gabriel's parents. Holland's research indicates that Gabriel Boyce was born Sept. 1, 1824, in Lexington, Ky., and that he and his parents were among the possessions John Boyce took with him to St. Francois County, Mo. William Boyce inherited Gabriel when John Boyce died, but by the time of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Gabriel was the property of a Plattin Creek farmer, Thomas Donnell. By that time Gabriel had a sizeable family. At age 24 he had wed another slave, Helen Minerva, and they had the first five of seven children before he struck out on his own.
Records indicate Gabriel had $100 and a horse when he started out as a free man. Presumably sometime during the 1870s he made his first payment on land in the area that would become Festus in 1887. He bought 216 acres from Ferdinand Kennett, the planters who owned the farm and estate known as Kennett's Castle or Selma Hall.
Helen Minerva, her oldest child 26 and her youngest 10, died at age 48 on January 20, a874. Her husband, who by then had built a home on South Adams, was 50. On October 24, 1876, he married Catherine Smith. He had five children by Catherine, until she died in 1882. Gabriel then married Edie Donnell. Holland's research included no names or dates but she said the union produced four more children.
"Some of the papers say the forerunners of the Boyce family came over as indentured slaves from France and England," Holland said. "They started here in Virginia and then went to Lexington and then to Festus." Among her findings was Gabriel's price. Donnell purchased him for $500.
Before he died in the late 1890's, Boyce accumulated 316 acres. The farm extended west to South Adams and east to Bald Rock Alley in Crystal City. Boyce joined the Masonic Fraternity as well as a black organization known as the Tabernacle. A trustee at the old Methodist Episcopal Church, he sold the fledgling congregation land for the church at South Adams and Harrison Lane for $1. Mamie Charleston Lewis, 94, and a friend of Boyce's earlier descendants, said the church also was called St. John's Methodist and later merged with First United Methodist in Festus. The church is now used for Pentecostal services.
Boyce also sold the First Christian Society of Colored People and "Boyce Cemetery" on South Adams. He asked $1 for the acreage. Boyce himself and several of his family members are buried there. Catherine Holland maintains the cemetery. Tombstones there bear the names of Bisch, Baines, Bates, Smith, Swink and others. Holland, who said she might put her findings in a book form, plans to visit the Festus Centennial celebration to swap information with persons who might know more about her family.