Carrel Cowan-Ricks and Her Discoveries at Woodland Cemetery

Carrel Cowan Ricks was an American historical archaeologist that worked with Clemson University from 1991-1993. It is because of her work looking for the enslaved people’s burial grounds from pre-Woodland Cemetery that we were able to discover so much in the years to follow.

Carrel was born on December 1st, 1945 in Lansing, Michigan (1). She received her Bachelor in Anthropology in 1984 and her Master of Arts in 1989 both from Wayne State University(1). She held multiple positions in museums and in the field of archeology before accepting a joint appointment as a visiting professor at Clemson University in the Visual Arts and History Department. From 1991-1993, she would fill the role of the Historical Archeologist in University Relations, Department of Historic Houses (2).

Carrel created internships and programs that allowed high school and Clemson students to be involved in archaeological research at Woodland Cemetery (3). Through oral history and certain primary documents she knew there was evidence that the ground on the west side of the cemetery used to serve as burial grounds for enslaved individuals even before 1837(3). Carrel directed evacuation of sections of this land looking for grave shafts and any evidence of artifacts. She kept detailed records of everything observed and found that invaluable.

Carrel passed away on January 11th, 1997 at the age of 51, but her work at Clemson continues to impact us today. In the summer of 2020, the Call My Name Team was doing Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) at the African American burial grounds on the south side of the cemetery (4). Because of the Carrel Cowan Ricks’s papers that were discovered the night before, the team knew to perform GPR on the west side of the cemetery as well. This led to the discovery of 215 unmarked graves on the first day and a total of 667 by January 2021 (4). We are still in the process of honoring the lives of the people that are buried on that hill but we know that without the dedication and courage of Carrel Cowan-Ricks none of this would be possible.