By Brandon Hembree
Just before Richland Creek on Sycamore Road lies a modest family cemetery with nine obvious graves, maybe more. It is enclosed by an old, time-worn chain link fence, just on the edge of the Richland Creek Landfill. It is so small that it really does not even show up on satellite images. The grave markers and inscriptions are flat, very low to the ground, and hard to see unless standing over them. Just four years ago, so overgrown, it would have been easily missed while driving by at even the slowest speed. Today it is more easily visible and its history is being rediscovered and reenergized thanks to a young Eagle Scout that gained his rank by bringing it to the attention of the Boy Scouts.
The Kile-Benson Family Cemetery, despite its size, might be one of the most historically significant cemeteries in Sugar Hill and this part of Gwinnett County. Buried in the cemetery are Mahulda Kile Benson, Malissa Amazonia Benson, Willis Benson, Arminda Benson Garner, Drucilla Lawrence Kile, Thomas Kile, at least two infants, and likely Enoch Benson. This family would have been neighbors to John and Elizabeth Calaway, buried in their own smaller and no less historically significant family cemetery hidden in the woods near Lanier Middle School.
Enoch Benson, a patriarch for the two families, is believed to be buried in the cemetery under an unmarked capstone made of simple, roughly-worn rock. His son, Willis, married into the Kile family. Enoch served at the Battle of Yorktown under the command of General George Washington before leaving Virginia and making his way to South Carolina and ultimately Georgia. Claiming a Revolutionary War pension in 1833 through the court system in Gwinnett County, the documents contain an impressive history of service that includes being stationed at places like Fredericksburg and Williamsburg. He took a brief break of three months before Williamsburg by hiring his brother, Zachariah, to finish out his tour of duty. Enoch would end up in Georgia primarily because of his son, Willis, and would live to be around 85 years of age before dying in Gwinnett County.
Thomas Kile, Sr. is also buried in the cemetery. His daughter, Mahulda, married Willis Benson. The connection between the two families, though uncertain, likely originates in Virginia. Thomas’ past is also historically significant. Originally living in Jackson County, Georgia, Thomas and his wife Drucilla moved to what is now Sugar Hill around 1818. They had been married for about nine years and would have been moving to what, at that time, would have been considered the frontier. The Chattahoochee River would have been the border between their civilization and the wilderness. Thomas and Drucilla show up in Gwinnett County census records for 1820, 1830, 1840, and 1850. Together, they would have at least twelve children before her death in 1858. Thomas’ military service, although perhaps controversial, is as significant as Enoch’s for the role he played in shaping American history. In 1838, as part of serving in the Gwinnett County Militia, Hamilton’s Company, he would be called into service to help with the Cherokee Indian Migration or the Trail of Tears. Forcible removals began in May, 1838 when General Winfield Scott, setting up headquarters at New Echota in Georgia, received a final order from President Martin Van Buren to relocate the remaining Cherokees in the state. Thomas would finish his service and stay in what is now Sugar Hill as a farmer until his death in 1862 at the age of 83.
Both the Kile-Benson Family Cemetery and the Calaway Family Cemetery are worth a visit. It is interesting to imagine the life these Gwinnett County pioneers lived and their many experiences on the frontier border of the Chattahoochee River. Many of the Kile-Benson family’s descendants still live in Gwinnett County and the already significant historical legacy of both Enoch and Thomas continues to shape our Sugar Hill community even in modern times.