CONCORD — Martin Phifer Sr. was a prominent figure in Cabarrus County.
He was a Colonial leader, served in the General Assembly under Gov. William Tryon, and was one of the signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Phifer, a Swiss immigrant, purchased 455 acres of land in Cabarrus County, known as Red Hill Plantation, in 1759 from Gov. Arthur Dobbs.
The plantation, on what is now Lucky Drive near Poplar Tent Road, housed many important guests in the 1700s, including Tryon and President George Washington.
The Phifer family and other significant local families are buried in a plot of land called the Phifer Graveyard, near where the plantation was once situated.
For the past several years, a group of local historians has dedicated time and effort toward preserving and protecting Phifer Graveyard.
“This has been a very historic place for a long time,” said Bill Hallman, president of 1767 Phifer Preservation Inc. “We are conscientious about what we are doing to preserve history here in Cabarrus County. I think this is probably the most historic spot in all of Cabarrus County, right here in the Phifer Graveyard and where the Phifer Inn was.”
1767 Phifer Preservation Inc. received a local grant to help preserve the graveyard.
With that, the group hired Keith Seramur, from Seramur & Associates out of Boone, to provide ground- penetrating radar, which was used to map the entire graveyard, including areas outside the existing graveyard walls where enslaved people’s graves are believed to exist, although unmarked.
On Friday, Nov. 1, and Saturday, Nov. 2, Seramur used his GPR technology to indicate the presence of diffractors buried beneath the surface associated with human burials.
“These graves from the 1700s — there probably isn’t anything left in the grave, but what we can see is the disturbed soil in a grave shaft,” Seramur said.
“What we are looking for is the difference between undisturbed soil and soil in the disturbed soil in the grave shaft. We can also get a nice reflection off the bottom of the grave shaft because the bottom of the grave shaft is a nice, hard reflector.”
Phifer’s sons — John, Caleb and Martin Jr. — are buried in the graveyard, as well former state Sen. David Long and his descendants, the Winecoff family and many other relatives of the Phifers.
Before the survey, there were nearly 60 known people buried in the graveyard.
Seramur marked each burial with a white flag.
“We knew there were other burials in there,” Hallman said. “There are 56 or 57 names on the list, but we knew there were others buried there, too. We knew we needed a ground- penetrating-radar company to come in and be able to survey and map out where all the graves are.”
Hallman said that around 2011 is when he started expressing interest in the graveyard, after he met with the local Sons of the American Revolution group, who took it upon themselves to start clearing off the graveyard.
Hallman attended many of the group’s gatherings, and did massive amounts of research and working to do his part of the preservation.
In 2018, Hallman became president of 1767 Phifer Preservation Inc., which now includes a vice president, secretary, treasurer and four board members.
“Somebody needed to make sure that the graveyard was taken care of, because if not, it’s going to revert back to the land,” Hallman said.
1767 Phifer Preservation Inc. has also become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and accepts donations to put into preserving the land.
“Lots of things have happened here in Cabarrus County because of the Phifer family,” Hallman said. “That’s why the Phifer Graveyard is so important to preserve, protect and defend.”