Category Archives: Gates County
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
On a recent road trip down Route 158, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, I spotted a small family cemetery. I was on the way to Durham, North Carolina, to attend a commemoration for George Henry White (1852-1918), a nineteenth century officeholder and civil rights advocate. At first, I noticed the trash, beer cans and other detritus along the roadway, discarded by careless passersby. But then I noticed what appeared to be a granite headstone, peeking through a bed of ivy and other types of overgrowth. Was that what I thought it was? Right by the road, so close? I’d wanted to inspect it immediately, but the long line of irritated-looking drivers behind us nixed the opportunity. I wrote down the nearest cross street (Blindman Road), and vowed to revisit the cemetery on the way back home.
Anyone who chronicles burial grounds is probably used to seeing these sites on road trips. Marked by their relative small size, they’re common in rural areas, and hearken back to the era when ancestors were buried on family homesteads and estates. At times, the gravestones and other markers that signal sacred ground stand out, due to their height and prominence, whether located next to gas stations and convenience stores, in the middle of grain fields, or in modern homeowners’ front yards. In other cases, the graves may be unmarked, or have flat, worn, or hard to read headstones shrouded in overgrowth, surrounded by grazing cows and horses.
During our frequent travels, my family’s used to me pointing these cemeteries out, and groans ensue. “Another one?” they may say. Well, yes, of course. These sites are everywhere. My folks made me the history nut that I am, instilling in me a love of books, museums, and all things historical from a young age. So it’s an understandable development, I think, being drawn to spaces of tangible family history. After all, it’s the type of curiosity that helped me find my own ancestral roots, a line that stretches back to 1600s, Tidewater, Virginia. But my family has accommodated me on these unplanned stops so many times I’m sympathetic to the groans. To a point, that is. The desire to see the cemeteries remains, and when we do stop to read the names on the stones, I’m fortunate to discover clues that may lead to interesting nuggets of local history.
Making good on the original promise, we returned to the family cemetery on US- 158 this past Sunday. We’d spent the better part of the day taking the road less traveled from Durham, winding along various state routes through Franklin, Warren, Halifax, Northampton, and Gates counties, North Carolina, the geography of my mother’s ancestry. Eventually, the GPS on my Android sounded a reminder. Blindman Road was coming up. It was time to look for the roadside cemetery.
Checking the rear view, no one was behind us, so we were able to slow down and find it. The cemetery is located across the street from a recycling company, and as there’s no dedicated parking, we pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Walking up to the cemetery, I proceeded with caution. It was a really warm day, and there might’ve been critters about (the kind with fangs).
The cemetery seemed to contain only two modern-looking headstones. There may be depressions indicative of sunken graves on the site, but the existing bed of leaves and ivy made it impossible to tell. The nearest, visible gravestone, the one I’d spotted from the road days before, read “Mother Hattie M. Moore.”
For a lazy Sunday afternoon, US-158 was a very busy thoroughfare, spurts of traffic passing by at over 50 mph. With only a ditch between myself and the road, I was aware of every single vehicle.
I zoomed in on the second stone from a distance; there was far too much leaf and ivy ground cover to get any closer. Rattlesnake territory, I thought. There was no way this stone would receive a full inspection, but I could make out the inscription, “Father.”
At one point, I heard a truck approaching, and for safety reasons, paused till it lumbered past.
I couldn’t get over how close this hallowed ground is to a major roadway. Thinking about how many times we’d zipped past this little cemetery on family genealogy trips, I took a few more pics for good measure, being sure to keep my distance. Then I decided it was time to go. I’d seen this:
It looked like a canebrake rattlesnake, and where there’s one, there could be more. I quickly realized the grave site of Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. may have been host to a little snake den. Yep, definitely time to go home.
Later that evening, I reviewed a few documents that provided some information about the burial ground. Known as the Moore Cemetery, the only documented burials are Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. (1915-1971), and Hattie M. Moore (1917-1954). Curtis and Hattie were married on May 13, 1939, in Pasquotank County, by Rev. Monroe Ramsey Lane (1856-1943), whose brother-in-law is buried in Portsmouth, Virginia’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Curtis J. Moore, Sr. was the son of John Lee Moore and Edna Hunter, the grandson of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann “Kitty” Stewart, and the great-grandson of Isaac and Louisa Moore.
Hattie M. Moore’s death certificate states her maiden name was “Varn,” born in Pasquotank County, the daughter of John Varn and Mary Pernell. However, the marriage certificate states Hattie M. Moore was a Freeman, originally from Bertie County, North Carolina, and the daughter of John Freeman and Melvina (Melvinia) Freeman. The couple lived in the Newland district, in the northern section of Pasquotank County. I’m not sure when family last visited the cemetery. A hopeful sign are the flowers that, while faded, have been carefully placed beside both headstones.The cemetery has been added to Find-a-Grave, and is also included in a county cemetery database which can be found here.
The next time you’re on the road, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what genealogical treasures may be found along the roadways of Tidewater. And watch for snakes.