RICHMOND, Ky. -- Students from a central Kentucky high school believe they know the identity of a body in a cast-iron coffin found by excavators late last year.
"We are reasonably certain the remains are those of Samuel Stone, a single man whose will was probated in 1854," Todd Moberly, who teaches American history at Madison Southern High School, told the Richmond Register.
Moberly said that after an article was published in the newspaper, two readers offered some clues that aided the students on their second trip to the Madison County Clerk's office.
As the students researched deeds to determine who owned the property off Barnes Mill Road not far from the White Oak Pond Church, they found that a John Stone had acquired it in 1833.
John Stone had two sons, Samuel and Alfred, who were both listed in the 1850 census. Only Alfred showed up in the 1860 census.
The students also found a deed of "love and affection" with which John Stone transferred the family property to his son Alfred.
"Because it would have been unusual to transfer all of the family land to only one son, that deed would tend to confirm that the other son was already deceased," Moberly said.
"We found Samuel Stone's will in the special collections of the Eastern Kentucky University library," he said. "It was probated in 1854, so he probably died that year, or no earlier than the year before."
That would be consistent with the period when the cast iron coffin was manufactured.
"Iron coffins of this type were used from about 1845 to 1860," Dr. David Pollock of the University of Kentucky said when it was discovered.
The will describes the burial place on family property and calls for both a headstone and a footstone. According to the will, Samuel Stone was a bachelor who apparently lived in his parents' home.
Samuel left his estate, including land valued at $2,800, to his father and brother.
The cast iron coffin in which Samuel was buried probably cost from $50 to $100, Moberly said. "That was still a lot of money in those days, but the value of Samuel's estate shows that the family could have easily afforded to bury him in that style," he said.
The students will be writing a formal report of their findings for the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which also assisted them in their research.
They had earlier visited the survey's laboratory at the University of Kentucky, where they examined the coffin and heard presentations by state archeologists.