By Chaya Jones, Viking Fusion Reporter and Kenadie Turner, Viking Fusion Reporter
Edited by Nolan Scoretz, Viking Fusion News Producer
MOUNT BERRY, Ga.- The Shelton Family Settlement at Berry College received its historic plaque after being on campus since 1874.
The Shelton Family Settlement is a historic plot of land residing on Possum Trot at Berry College. The settlement includes a chapel, classrooms and a graveyard. The history of the settlement and the family that lived here have roots that run as far back as 1871 and as wide as Waco and Franklin Texas.
According to Angela James, Karen Stewart-Ross and Robin Fahmi, all members of the Shelton Family, the origin of the settlement begins with Hardy and Mary Shelton. They were both enslaved and brought to Rome, Georgia in 1871. By 1874, Hardy found and purchased plot 59 from J.R. Towers. Stewart-Ross explains how the land that was purchased did grow over the years that they owned it.
“The amount of land that they had would grow between five and six hundred acres of land,” Stewart-Ross said.
The Shelton family took care of this land and laid down biological roots as well as physical roots. Hardy and Mary would have 12 children all together, raising 11 of them at the settlement. These included Laura, Lucy, Henry/Henrietta and many more. While living on the land, they encountered several obstacles throughout the years. Between the years of 1910-1923, Stewart-Ross explains some trouble that the family faced while they tried to maintain the land.
“They fought to maintain the land, and, unfortunately, they weren’t able to hold on to that land,” Stewart-Ross said.
Despite being on Berry’s campus since the 19th century, the settlement didn’t receive any plaque or recognition until August of 2022. It took the Shelton family significantly longer to receive this plaque compared to other black settlements here. According to the Sheltons, receiving the plaque gave them the opportunity to finally be recognized and seen as the historic family that they are.
Some of the history of this settlement has been passed down orally. The family members have kept in contact and have been able to provide a very detailed lineage as well as information regarding the origins and continuations of the Shelton Family Settlement. James explains the significance of the information that has been maintained.
“With the enslaved or formerly enslaved, they were reduced to, you know, they didn’t even know the basics of necessarily where they came from, they just didn’t know,” James said.
James iterated the difference in having a tangible, printed plaque, when their entire history had been passed down orally without any other options. Despite the challenges, the Sheltons were able to preserve a comprehensive history of their family.
The Shelton family kept in close contact and developed strong familial bonds since the 19th century. Parts of the family have moved to other regions, but the Sheltons still make an active effort to stay connected. Robin Fahmi mentions that some Sheltons ended up in Franklin, Texas, including Lucy Cathey. Cathey, who had moved to Texas, was a healer, like Mary, one of the original settlement founders.
Despite the lack of recognition, the Sheltons have consistently vouched for their family’s rich history and significance on Berry’s property. Their family continues to grow and stay connected as their history continues to unfold both here at Berry and within the hearts of the family.