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Lost gravesite holds key piece of Bailey history

Founding family member’s resting place unknown

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A Bailey couple is searching for a gravesite dating back to the 1800s they say has historical significance to the community.

James and Margaret Bailey are retired educators and members of the Wilson County Genealogical Society. Both grew up in southern Nash County and moved back three years ago following their retirement. Since then, they have actively worked to uncover local history by researching various archives and talking with older residents who may remember the oral history of the region.

“The source for this story comes from several elderly people in the community, but there’s no written references to it. So every time we went to a library or talked to a state historian to ask about it, we never could find any documentation for it,” James Bailey said.

“We’re just at a loss. We would really like for someone, if there’s anyone that can come forward that knows anything about this marker,” added Margaret Bailey.

For at least a year, the couple has unsuccessfully tried to locate the site of a grave marker thought to be that of William Joseph Bailey, a member of the family responsible for the town’s current name as well as the settlement that predated its incorporation in 1908, Baileys Township. Engraved on the marker is “Wm. Bailey. Feb. 13, 1863.”

“We don’t know if that’s a death date, a birth date. Some have said that could be a child because there’s only one date on it,” Margaret Bailey said.

“It could be covered with pine straw, the stone turned over. We’re not sure,” her husband noted.

Finding the site could prove beneficial for the town, James Bailey said. Their goal is have a state highway marker erected at the site to draw attention and tourism to Bailey. According to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, highway historical markers designate places, events or people of statewide historical significance.

While researching the site, the couple came across a 1988 Rocky Mount Telegram report that gave rudimentary directions to the site, which is located at a Civil War mustering ground two miles outside of the town limits. The site is described as “a short nub of stone at the edge of a clump of trees in the middle of the field.”

The late Jack Farmer, Bailey’s former mayor, said at the time that possibly 1 percent of the town’s residents knew about the gravesite. More than 30 years later, the Baileys fear those odds have decreased.

“It’s the same story that we’ve heard repeated, and there’s a photograph,” James Bailey said.

“He probably gives good references at the time, but now, 30 years later, those references are not easily discerned,” Margaret Bailey added.

Still, the couple continues the search, and are getting some help from older residents, though they could use more. James “Popeye” Wilson came out to help James Bailey search for the site on Saturday off of Old Middlesex Road. Wilson, now in his 80s, remembered seeing the site as a child.

“What they done, they leveled the field off. I ain’t been back in here. I didn’t have no business, really,” Wilson said. “At the time, the land, it wasn’t nothing like this. Wasn’t this many trees the last time I went through here.”

During their search, the two encountered Taylor Nethercutt, who lives a couple of miles away from the mustering ground and walks the area several times a week. After the Baileys explained their quest, he too joined in on the search and led the pair to what seemed to be an old burial ground, though not the one Bailey has been seeking.

The Baileys would like to talk to anyone who may know the whereabouts of the old historical site. They can be contacted by email at baileym@uncw.edu or by phone at 910-859-6820.

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