Shelby Sentinels Learn Lessons On Local History

As several students from area high schools recently learned, history is all around us, even in places you might never suspect.

That was the lesson learned November 5th, when students participating in the Shelby Sentinel Ambassador Program took a field trip to some out-of-the-way locations in Harpersville and Vincent.

Fred Olive, President of the Shelby County Historical Society, Inc., joined forces with fellow board members David Nolen and Albert “Peter” Datcher, Jr., in an effort to expose the Sentinels to parts of Shelby County that don’t often receive the attention they deserve.

The day started out with a bus trip to Vincent, during which time David spoke to the group about the history of the county. As the group traveled by bus down County Road 25, David pointed out the areas of historical significance.

Many people who are familiar with south Shelby County know that the drive down County Road 25 is like stepping back into time. The rural landscape holds many historical treasures, although they aren’t often visible from the road, or they are slowly being lost to time.

Peter Datcher speaks with members of the Shelby Sentinel Class of 2017.
Peter Datcher speaks with members of the Shelby Sentinel Class of 2017 while touring the Bailey Cemetery in Vincent.

The first stop on the tour was the Bailey Cemetery in Vincent. Tucked back in the woods, the cemetery was restored by the Vincent Historical Society, and is the burial place for early settlers such as the William Bailey, the first owner of the land.

The cemetery is also the resting place for other early settlers, Indians, and slaves.

The group then traveled to Baker Grove Cemetery, which is the resting place for many of Peter’s ancestors.

Descended from slaves that worked the area plantations, Peter still maintains the strong ties his family has with the land.

Albert Baker, Peter’s great-grandfather, became a free man in the 1870’s. Albert was deeded 100 acres in 1879, possibly from the owner of the plantation where he grew up.

The original homestead, which sits not far from Peter’s house, is now a family museum, and serves as a testament to the generations of hard work that went in to running one of the largest black-owned farms in Shelby County.

Among the collection are photographs, journals and bedside birth records. Nearly every bit of space is devoted to telling the story of Peter’s family and of the community.

Baker Grove Cemetery is the resting place on many of Peter Datcher's ancestors.
Baker Grove Cemetery is the resting place of many of Peter Datcher’s ancestors.

Datcher shared his history with the Shelby Sentinels, all of whom walked away with a better understanding of the trials and tribulations woven through the everyday life of slaves.

The Sentinel Program has only been in existence for a few years. It was established by members of the 2015 class of Leadership Shelby County.

The program is open to 11th grade students in the Shelby County School System, and selection is based on essays written by the students, as well as referrals from teachers and people in the community.

The Sentinels serve as ambassadors for the Shelby County Historical Society. Classes are assigned projects that will require each student to delve further into the history of the county.

Each Sentinel in this year’s class has been assigned the task of creating three individual blog posts based on the information they learned during the field trip in November. Those blogs will then be uploaded to the museum’s blog page at http://www.shelbycountymuseum.com.

For more information about the Shelby Sentinel Program, contact Jennifer Maier at schs1854@bellsouth.net.