Category Archives: Suffolk
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
The replacement gravestone for Pvt. Alfred Savage, of Co. D, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry, recently installed in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. His descendants, whom we met last year, visited his gravesite over the weekend. I wrote a short article about finding Pvt. Savage in the cemetery, and his descendants, who have made significant contributions to the City of Portsmouth. We still have a long way to go…necessary mapping of gravesites (through ground-penetrating radar), drainage studies, and other issues are vital to the long-term preservation plan for the cemetery complex, where thousands of individuals, including our ancestors, lie. However, accomplishments such as these are always a great reminder of why “we do what we do.” For family, for preservation, and for history. Again, thanks so much to the Savage Family for allowing us to take part in this journey. ♥
By Lia Russell
The long-neglected historic African American cemetery complex off Deep Creek Boulevard and Pulaski Street now has a dedicated advocacy group.
Brenda and Nadia Orton, a mother and daughter from Richmond who have at least 15 relatives buried in the cemeteries, have formed the African American Historic Cemeteries of Portsmouth Foundation, a “friends” group of volunteers.
The idea manifested as a result of a meeting earlier this month with representatives of the Chicora Foundation, which was hired to complete a restoration and preservation plan for the four conjoined cemeteries. READ MORE