Category Archives: Pasquotank County

A Personal Journey Through African-American Cemeteries – National Trust for Historic Preservation

Copyright Nadia Orton

At my great-great-great-grandfather Alexander Orton, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry, at Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia.

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

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Filed under Baltimore, Chesapeake, Civil War, Durham County, Florida, Franklin County, Gates County, Georgia, Hertford County, Isle of Wight County, Maryland, New Hanover County, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Pasquotank County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, South Carolina, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Vance County, Virginia, Warren County, Wilmington

Elizabeth City, NC: Elizabeth City State University’s Beginnings, 1891

Elizabeth City State University historical marker. North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1973.

Elizabeth City State University historical marker. North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1973. Nadia K. Orton, November 2, 2013.

 

Principal Peter W. Moore and students at what’s now Elizabeth City State University in 1899. Image from ECSU Archives. (Source: NC Culture)

“On March 3, 1891, legislation passed creating a Normal and Industrial School in Elizabeth City. The school was founded with the express purpose of ‘teaching and training teachers of the colored race to teach in the common schools of North Carolina.’

The bill began in the House of Representatives and was championed by Hugh Cale, an African American who represented Pasquotank County. Cale, who was a free person of color before the Civil War, had been involved in African American education immediately following the Civil War and served on the Pasquotank County Board of Education.

The campus of what’s now Elizabeth City State University, circa 1938-39. Image from ECSU Archives. (Source NC Culture)

The Normal School extended its mission under the guidance of its first principal, Peter Weddick Moore. In 1937, it expanded from a two-year program to a four-year teacher’s college and received a new name to reflect that change–Elizabeth City Teachers College. The first bachelor’s degree was awarded by the school in 1939 in elementary education.

In 1972, the college became part of the consolidated University of North Carolina system and was renamed Elizabeth City State University. To commemorate the school’s centennial in 1991, the General Assembly honored Cale and the university with a bill setting a special mock session.”

Source: Elizabeth City State University’s Beginnings, 1891


 

I visited Oak Grove Cemetery (est. 1886), on November 2, 2013. Included below are photographs of the gravestone of Hugh Cale (1829-1909), Oak Grove Cemetery’s entrance gate, and the historical marker and street sign placed in honor of Hugh Cale.

Gravestone of Hugh Cale (1829-1909)

Gravestone of Hugh Cale (1829-1909). November 2, 2013, Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

 

Hugh Cale Elizabeth City Orton 2013

“Hugh Cale – Pasquotank County Commissioner and North Carolina Legislator. Introduced legislation to establish Elizabeth City State Teachers College. Bill passed March 3, 1891.”

 

Gravestone of Hugh Cale

Gravestone of Hugh Cale

 

Hugh Cale Historical Marker Orton Elizabeth City NC 2013

Hugh Cale historical marker. North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1994.

 

Street sign in honor of Hugh Cale. Elizabeth City, NC, 2013

Street sign in honor of Hugh Cale. Elizabeth City, North Carolina, 2013

 

Oak Grove Cemetery Elizabeth City, Orton 2013

Oak Grove Cemetery entrance, Elizabeth City, North Carolina. November 2, 2013

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Pasquotank County, NC: The Moore Family Cemetery

Moore Cemetery Pasquotank NC Orton

Moore Cemetery, Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County, North Carolina

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.”

Hattie Moore Gravestone Orton Elizabeth City NC

Gravestone of Hattie Moore (1917-1954).

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.

Traffic passing Moore Cemetery Elizabeth City NC Orton

Traffic passing Moore Cemetery on US-158. January 31, 2016

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.”

Curtis J Moore Grave Elizabeth City NC Orton

Gravestone of Curtis Jarvis Moore, Sr. (1915-1971).

At one point, I heard a truck approaching, and for safety reasons, paused till it lumbered past.

Truck passing Moore Cemetery Orton

Truck passing Moore Cemetery, January 31, 2016. Elizabeth City, NC

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:

Is that a snake I see?

Is that a rattlesnake I see?

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.

Marriage certificate of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann Stewart. Pasquotank County, 1881. Ancestry.com

Marriage certificate of Axum J. Moore and Katie Ann Stewart. Pasquotank County, 1881. Ancestry.com

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.

 

 

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Filed under Durham County, Franklin County, Gates County, Halifax County, North Carolina, Pasquotank County, Portsmouth, Tombstone Tales, Virginia, Warren County