Category Archives: Wilmington
I’ll never forget the exciting moment when I found the gravesite of Alexander Orton, my paternal great-great-great-grandfather. Born in 1842 in Virginia, he was a Civil War veteran and member of the 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry.
Finding his last resting place was part of a genealogy project I’ve been pursuing for nine years now, keeping a long-standing promise made to an elder. Diagnosed with a serious chronic illness as a teenager, I needed a kidney transplant soon after college. My great-aunt gathered her entire church congregation to support my transplant fund, but held a lingering concern about our family legacy.
“Do not let our history die,” she told my father shortly before her passing in 2007. To honor her last wish, I vowed to make the most of my second chance and do my part in documenting our family history.
I’ve traced my father’s ancestry to 1630 in Virginia, and my mother’s to 1770 in North Carolina. Some of my ancestors were born free, while others were enslaved. Like Alexander, some enlisted in the Union Army to fight for freedom in the Civil War. They’d founded four African-American communities in Tidewater, Virginia, along with masonic lodges, banks, churches, and schools. They were oystermen, carpenters, farmers, teachers, Pullman porters, and teamsters at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. READ MORE
Recovering and Preserving African American Cemeteries – Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation
The reverence attached to cemeteries and burial grounds, which have long been considered sacred sites, is an example of enduring Africanisms and cultural tradition in the African American community. Burial grounds have always been regarded as places where ancestors could be properly honored and provided with the dignity, care, and respect in death that had often been denied them in life.
Interest in the study of my family tree has led me to over a dozen cemeteries throughout Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and helped reconstruct a family legacy spanning over 400 years. Cemeteries offer an important, tangible connection to history allowing closer interpretation of days past than most other sources can. Genealogists and family historians have long recognized the benefit of cemeteries in the study of family history and an increasing popular interest in genealogy has led to an increased focus on them. READ MORE
Portsmouth, VA: Mount Calvary Cemetery, a battle with time and neglect – African American Today, The Virginian Pilot
In a cemetery complex tucked off of Deep Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Street, Nadia Orton tiptoes among the dead.
Stepping on the sunken, wet ground, Orton keeps an eye out for feral dogs that have roamed the field for the last few months.
“I think they were marking their territory,” she said.
But the dogs are mistaken. This grave site doesn’t belong to them. Orton says it belongs to the city, to the community, to the families of the 8,000-plus people who lay in one of Portsmouth’s oldest black cemeteries, referred to as the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex. Some scholars estimate 15,000 may lie at the site originally used when burials were segregated. It formally opened in 1879, though some burials happened earlier.
Notables like former slave-turned-newspaper columnist Jeffrey T. Wilson is buried there. So is prominent black educator I.C. Norcom, though his gravestone has vanished. Children’s advocate Ida Barbour rests there, too, along with musicians, oystermen and business leaders. Orton wants their legacy to stand for generations to come. READ MORE