Last week the PRO Team tackled some long-overdue critical projects across the cemetery. One such project was re-setting the tombstone of Elizabeth (Betsy) Pilgrim, wife of Oakland’s second sexton, Green Pilgrim. Although the preservation work was straightforward and probably not worth writing about, it gives us an opportunity to discuss one of the men who helped shape Oakland into what you see today.
Although he was one of the oldest citizens of Atlanta at the time of his death, Green Amos Pilgrim was not a Georgia native. The oldest of eight children, Pilgrim was born in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1805, and unfortunately, most of the early years of his life are a mystery. Although it’s possible that he was a soldier during the first or second Creek Civil War, not much else is known about Pilgrim’s life until 1830 when the United States census shows that he had made his way to Georgia and was residing in Putnam. After some time in Putnam, Pilgrim made a pilgrimage to Atlanta in 1845. At the time of his arrival, the city of Atlanta “was truly in its infancy,” having less than two hundred citizens. Nonetheless, Pilgrim decided to make his home in the city that would become Georgia’s capital. He began working as a carpenter, building some of the first houses in Atlanta.
In 1853, Pilgrim changed career paths and became the second Sexton of Oakland Cemetery. Pilgrim remained at his post as Sexton of the cemetery during the Civil War rather than enlisting for either side of the conflict. The war, however, came to Pilgrim in a different way on July 22, 1864 with the Battle of Atlanta. In its aftermath, thousands of dead Union and Confederate soldiers were temporarily buried where they fell. Soon after, many were reinterred at Oakland, and those that could be identified were given proper monuments. Pilgrim most likely oversaw this process and would have been tasked with keeping the necessary records not only for those lost during the war but also for those lost throughout the city as it continued to grow after the war’s conclusion in 1865.
After sixteen years of service, in 1869, Pilgrim “turned over to the [graveyard committee] the tools belonging to the cemetery,” and stepped down from his role. We don’t know why Pilgrim chose to step down from his role of Sexton when he did or what career he chose to follow afterward, but he would not stay away from Oakland forever. In 1899, at the age of 93, Pilgrim passed away after suffering from an illness of the lungs for quite some time. The former Sexton was laid to rest in the cemetery that he had once overseen. He rests beside his wife, Elizabeth Bowen Pilgrim, who had passed away fifteen years earlier in 1884. Green Pilgrim’s son, Isaac Bowen Pilgrim, was laid to rest at Oakland as well after his death in 1917.