Missing Saunders Marker

We have three separate accounts of the June 25th, 1864, burial in this graveyard of Confederate soldier Thaddeus W. Saunders, but there is no marker there now, nor is there any record of one when the markers were documented by the WPA in 1936.

  • The first account is an obituary available at geneologytrails.com. (Scroll down a few inches to find Saunders.)  Readers must put up with nineteenth  century sarcasm and anti-Catholic rhetoric which gives some understanding of the best forgiven and forgotten resentment and resistance faced by early Catholic priests in Columbia.
  • The second account is from a book, Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia: Leaves of its History, Pages 283-288) by Rev. J. J. O’Connell. The book was published in 1879. Father O’Connell was pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church 1848-1868. O’Connell deemed Saunders, “as brave a man as ever lived.” Page 283.
  • The third account is from Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community 1740-1990 by John Hammond Moore. Mr. Moore was a talented and well-respected historian and author of 25 books. Read his interesting obituary. From his account, we get only the facts with no slant.

An abbreviated version of the story documented in those three sources is that Mr. Saunders was convicted of burglarizing a Columbia house of prostitution operated by “Dutch Rosa” who died shortly after the incident, possibly because of having been overcome by chloroform used to subdue her during the robbery.

An appeal of the conviction was denied, and, after some delay, Saunders was hanged. During the interim between his arrest and execution, he was ministered to by Father J. J. O’Connell, instructed in the Catholic faith, and received into the Church. According to Fr. O’Connell, Saunders faced his death with courage, affirming “that he had no desire for executive pardon and preferred death to life, that he might never more offend God.” O’Connell Page 285.

After the execution, Saunders was buried at St. Peter’s Catholic Church by Rev. O’Connell. Given prevalent anti-Catholic sentiment in the community and perhaps some superstition, a rumor was spread that Rev. O’Connell had resuscitated Saunders and that he was not actually buried but had escaped. That rumor resulted in an order to exhume the decaying body. According to historian Moore, “With Wade Hampton in attendance, the grisly job was done, and it was established, beyond any doubt, that the man who killed Rosa was dead.” – Moore Page 196

Now, back to the issue of the missing grave marker. Father O’Connell didn’t say much about where in the graveyard Mr. Saunders was buried but he did write that the grave was “in the first spot hailed by the rising sun” and that the graveyard was “surrounding the church on three sides.

Those two bits of information suggest that the grave was on the south side of the church near the front facing east on Assembly Street and makes reasonable the possibility that the early 1900’s removal of the original church building to make room for, and the construction of, the current church building resulted in the removal of the Saunders marker and probably others as well.

I guess we will never know.

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