Category Archives: Slavery

Warren County, North Carolina: Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church (org. 1870)

A late afternoon visit to Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and cemetery, in the Afton community of Warren County, North Carolina. November 11, 2017.

 

Coley Springs church cemetery copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and cemetery

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Filed under North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Virginia, Warren County

Nashville, Tennessee: Archaeologists survey Nashville development site for Civil War fort, African-American graves

Fort Negley. Library of Congress

 

Interesting story on the reclamation of African American history in Nashville, Tennessee, courtesy of the Associated Press.

 

Archaeologists are rolling high-powered radar gear through the thick outfield weeds and empty parking lots of an abandoned Nashville baseball stadium, looking for hints of unmarked graves of slaves and free black men who died building the war-battered fort next door.

The findings could prove pivotal for Fort Negley, one of the most significant Civil War sites for African-Americans and the focus of the latest clash between historic preservation and growth in a city with a complicated racial past.

The booming capital, which adds about 100 residents a day, is considering plans to demolish the ballpark for 21 acres of housing, shops, space for artists and musicians, and a park.

Dilapidated Greer Stadium, a minor-league baseball park from 1978 until 2014, sits where the fort’s black laborers toiled, lived and died a century and a half ago, and where 50 to 800 workers are thought to be buried. But there’s little in the written record about how they were laid to rest.

For more:  Archaeologists survey Nashville development site for Civil War fort, African-American graves


Fort Negley was named a threatened cultural landscape earlier this year. In August, Fort Negley Park launched a social media project to honor the 2, 771 African American laborers who built the fort and other Civil War fortifications in Nashville. Via their twitter page, the names of the men impressed into service are being released in individual tweets. The project will culminate in mid-December. A complete, digitized index of all laborers, free and enslaved, and names of associated slave owners may be found here. ♦

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Filed under Civil War, Slavery, Tennessee

Norfolk, Virginia: New U. S. Colored Troop Discovery, Calvary Cemetery

Military service record for Pvt. Edward Bray (ca. 1844-1926)

 

New U. S. Colored Troop discovery in Calvary Cemetery. Meet Private Edward (Edmond) Bray. He was a member of Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. Born enslaved in North Carolina, he escaped to Union lines and enlisted at Fort Monroe, Virginia, on December 22, 1863. As per his military record, he was involved in the battles of Suffolk, Drewry’s Bluff, and New Market Heights, Virginia, in 1864. He mustered out on February 12, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas, with the surviving members of his regiment. Later in life, he married, and settled in the Tanners Creek District of Norfolk County, the same area where one of our forebears landed in 1763, which was annexed by the City of Norfolk in 1955. Pvt. Bray passed away on January 5, 1926. Soon after, his wife, Mary, passed on August 7th. She is also interred in Calvary Cemetery. ♣

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Civil War, Currituck County, Fort Monroe, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Slavery, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Eight local heroes to receive new headstones

Eight more local heroes to receive new headstones. They were all born enslaved, and risked all in their collective escape to freedom to fight against the institution of slavery. Over the years, their gravestones have become weathered, vandalized, and nearly forgotten. The replacement gravestones for Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Pvt. David Bailey, and Cpl. George Baysmore, have already been approved and delivered to a local monument company for installation. Now, five others join them, and will be installed soon, weather permitting. They are:

 

Pvt. Austin Smallwood (ca. 1845-1894)

Bertie County, North Carolina

Co. I, 14th Regiment, U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Smallwood USCT Copyright Orton 2010

Pvt. Austin Smallwood. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Richard Reddick (ca. 1847-1896)

Perquimans County, North Carolina

Co. F, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2010 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Richard Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Thomas Reddick (ca. 1838-1901)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. K, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Thomas Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 24, 2014

 


 

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris (1839-1902)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. A, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored infantry

Landsman, USS Allegheny

USS North Carolina, USS Cyane, USS Independence

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Morris USCT Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 5, 2011

 


 

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1844-1884)

Gates County, North Carolina

Co. G, 28th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

 

Sgt. Rodgers Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 22, 2012

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Baltimore, Bertie County, Brazos Santiago, City Point, Civil War, Corpus Christi, Craven County, Gates County, Hampton, Lincolnsville, Maryland, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Perquimans County, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: ‘Til Death Do Us Part’: The marriage of Pvt. Esau Bowers, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Bowers Marriage Cert Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Marriage certificate of Pvt. Esau Bowers and Lucy B. Williams. Portsmouth, Virginia, 1876.

 

“Til Death Do Us Part” – The marriage certificate of Pvt Esau Bowers, (ca. 1837-1877) Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and Lucy Brownley Williams, Portsmouth, Virginia, April 5, 1876. The minister who performed their marriage, Rev. John H. Offer, was also a Civil War veteran. Born in Maryland, Rev. Offer was a Sergeant with Co. H, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, and served as the pastor of historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Portsmouth from 1871 to 1877.

Pvt. Esau Bowers was born enslaved, in Portsmouth, Virginia. According to marriage records, he was the son of Esau and Charlotte Bowers. When he was about twenty-six years old (as indicated in military records), he enlisted on July 6, 1863, at Portsmouth, Virginia, under (then) Col. William Birney, and mustered six days later at Arlington, Virginia. During the Battle of Natural Bridge (Florida), on March 6, 1865, Pvt. Bowers was hit by grapeshot on his lower right leg. Left on the field of battle, he was presumed captured by Confederate forces. Bowers was later returned to his company, or “exchanged,” according to George Connor, a fellow member of the 2nd Regiment, on March 8, 1865. Due to the severity of his injury, Pvt. Bowers’ right leg was amputated below the knee, and he spent awhile recuperating in Hicks General Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, before being discharged from service in 1866.

 

Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. Library of Congress

 

Lucy was Esau’s third wife.  She was born on Easter Sunday, 1836, in Mathews County, Virginia. Lucy and her parents, William and Sally Brownley, were slaves on the Willow Grove plantation, owned by Thomas Smith, a wealthy scion of a prominent colonial family.

 

Map of Gloucester and Mathews counties, Virginia, 1862. Library of Congress

 

Lucy and Esau weren’t married very long before his health took a grave turn for the worse. Upon his return to Tidewater, Virginia, Esau continued to suffer from the complications of his amputation during the war. Often in pain, he tried to work as hard and often as he could, out of economic need, with the use of a prosthetic, then commonly known as a “cork leg.” Like many African American families in the region, Esau and Lucy were poor, and struggled daily to make ends meet. A foreman of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard noted that despite his determination and fortitude, Esau often had to take breaks, physically unable to work because of the consistent pain in his leg. Not being able to afford a doctor, Esau and Lucy depended on help from their neighbors, and those that tried to fill the void prepared salves for Esau’s leg.

 

Pvt. Bowers Portsmouth Orton Copyright 2010

Gravestone of Pvt. Esau Bowers, Co. B, 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry. Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 10, 2010

 

Pvt. Esau Bowers passed away on January 5, 1877. His headstone, in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), was provided by the Gross Brothers of Lee, Massachusetts. After Esau’s death, Lucy continued working as a washerwoman, and was a resident of Portsmouth’s Lincoln Park by 1900. She passed away soon after. The location of her grave in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex is currently unknown.♦

 

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Filed under Arlington, Baltimore, Chesapeake, Civil War, Florida, Fort Monroe, Hampton, Maryland, Mathews County, Norfolk County, Slavery, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Four United States Colored Troops get new headstones

Four more replacement headstones for Portsmouth, Virginia Civil War veterans have been installed in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. These brave men, who fought for freedom and equality, were from Hinds County, Mississippi, Currituck County, North Carolina, and the independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, Virginia. Stay tuned for more updates!

 

Pvt. Zachariah Taylor, Company H, 5th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born September 2, 1846, in Hinds County, Mississippi. Enlisted on May 18, 1864, at City Point, Virginia. Mustered in seven days later at City Point, May 25, 1864. Mustered out on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina. Passed on September 4, 1909, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Taylor USCT Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton

Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010.

 

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2017

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017

 


 

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born October 8, 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 


 

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

 


 

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

 

Sgt. James Edwards USCT Mt. Olive Portsmouth Orton

Sgt. James Edwards, 2nd U. S. Colored Cavalry. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015

 

Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton Portsmouth VA

New headstone, installed July 26, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, July 27, 2017. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex.

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, City Point, Civil War, Currituck County, Galveston, Hopewell, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Mississippi, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, Suffolk, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

Portsmouth, Virginia: Three new headstones for local freedom fighters!

We just received word that three more local freedom fighters are set to get new headstones. Two have Bertie County, North Carolina roots, and one is from Portsmouth, Virginia. The headstones will be installed over the next few months, weather permitting. They are:

 

Pvt. Arthur Beasley Mt. Calvary Portsmouth copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Co. I, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. Mount Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 9, 2013.

 

Private Arthur Beasley, Company I, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born about 1840, Bertie County, North Carolina. Enlisted on August 2, 1864, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered in September 7, 1864, at Newport News, Virginia. Mustered out, February 4, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas. Passed away on May 8, 1896, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex).

 

Pvt. David Bailey 10th USCI Portsmouth Copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Pvt. David Bailey, Co. F, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 28, 2013.

 

Private David Bailey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born about 1840, Western Branch, Norfolk County, Virginia. Enlisted on December 4, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered in December 17, 1863, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out on May 17, 1866, at Galveston, Texas. Died on November 30, 1916, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912).

 

Cpl George Baysmore 36 USCI Portsmouth Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton

Cpl George Baysmore, Co. H, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. Mount Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 8, 2011.

 

Corporal George Baysmore, Company H, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born about 1835, Bertie County, North Carolina. Enlisted on July 13, 1863, at Plymouth (Washington County), North Carolina. Mustered in January 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out on January 17, 1866, at Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, an early discharge due to disability from gunshot wounds received at the Battle of New Market Heights/Chaffin’s Farm, September 29, 1864. He passed away on November 19, 1898, Portsmouth, Virginia. Interment, Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). ♥

 

 

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Filed under Baltimore, Bertie County, Chesapeake, Civil War, Craney Island, Fort Monroe, Maryland, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Texas, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia, Washington County

Portsmouth, Virginia: Replacement headstones on the way!

Yesterday, I was able to visit ancestral ground, and mark the grave locations of three Civil War veterans, freedom fighters all, who’ll soon get new headstones. Our family was able to set aside the money necessary to install them. A great day!

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010, Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2013. Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

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Filed under Civil War, Currituck County, Hampton, Norfolk, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Edgecombe County, North Carolina: Historical marker dedication, State v. Will, 1834

State v Will marker Battleboro NC Copyrigh 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical Marker, State v Will, 1834. Battleboro, NC, June 10, 2017

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to join fellow members of the Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, for the dedication of the historical marker commemorating the landmark State v. Will Case of 1834. From the pamphlet distributed during the program:

The North Carolina Star, January 31, 1834

“On January 22, 1834, Will, a slave belonging to James Battle at his Edgecombe County plantation, Walnut Creek, killed a white man. The charges brought against Will at the time resulted in the State v. Will case, in which the North Carolina Supreme Court protected slaves from a charge of murder when acting in self-defense.

The day started with an argument between Will a slave foreman named Allen over the possession of a hoe that Will had made by hand. Tempers flared and Will broke the hoe before going to work at a nearby cotton mill. After learning of Will’s behavior, Richard Baxter, Battle’s overseer, set off on horseback with his gun. Allen followed with his whip. Confronted by Baxter, Will attempted to flee but was shot in the back. Wounded and running for his life, Will was overtaken. Armed with a knife, Will fought off Baxter. A deep knife wound to Baxter’s arm proved fatal.

Will was charged with murder, although a white man in the same circumstances would have been charged with manslaughter. After looking at the evidence Battle believed that Will acted in self-defense, and he hired two prominent attorneys, Bartholomew Figures Moore and George Washington Mordecai, to defend Will against the murder conviction.

The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that any slave under such provocation could only be charged with manslaughter. This challenged the 1829 State v. Mann decision which held that a master’s power over a slave was absolute and that the slave’s submission must be “perfect.”

Justice William Gaston, who wrote the opinion, said that the law required exceptions to the unconditional and absolute power over slaves as described in Justice Thomas Ruffin’s State v. Mann. Ina direct reference to Thomas Ruffin’s opinion in Mann, Moore had opened his argument with the point that “absolute power is irresponsible power, circumscribed by no limits save its own imbecility and selecting its own means with unfettered discretion.” Gaston reasoned that the act was “a brief fury” that left Will incapable of rational thought. Further humanizing Will he wrote that it was “instinctive to fly, human to struggle, and terror or resentment the strongest of passions, had given the struggle its fatal issue.”

It was Gaston’s conclusion that the law must treat slaves as any other human in such a case. He stated, “If the passions of the slave be excited into unlawful violence by the inhumanity of a master…is it a conclusion of law that such passion must spring from diabolical malice?” The decision was praised by abolitionists, covered by newspapers around the country, and cited as precedent in other legal cases. Will’s bold act of resistance served to humanize slaves in the eyes of the law.” (ncmarkers.com)

The dedication of the marker was held at the Dunbar Community Center in Battleboro, North Carolina. During the program, I learned that the director of the Dunbar Center and members of the Dunbar community had graciously allowed the center’s use for the program, and I once again appreciated the maintenance of ties between extant black communities and the preservation of African American history. The center was once a funeral home, donated to the community, and preserved and enlarged through several state and private grants. Others in attendance included representatives of the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Black Workers for Justice, and the Carolina Auto, Aerospace and Machine Workers Union (CAAMWU)  . The Benediction and Grace was delivered by Deacon Linwood Armston of Holy Temple Holiness Church, Tarboro, North Carolina.

Dunbar Community Center Battleboro NC 2017 Copyright Nadia Orton

Dunbar Community Center, Battleboro, North Carolina

 

Dunbar Center North Carolina Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Dunbar Community Center, June 10, 2017. Edgecombe County, North Carolina

 

Keynote Preservation State V Will Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Keynote speaker, Dr. David Dennard, Director African and African American Studies, East Carolina University, and member of the North Carolina Historical Commission

State v. Will is an extremely interesting piece of history, and it must be placed within its appropriate historical context, occurring between the publication of David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, and the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford case, or Dred Scott Decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that “a black man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect.” In 1834, Will, through his act of self-defense, had essentially asserted his own humanity. In the aftermath of the case, Will’s owner, James Smith Battle (1786-1854), sent Will to Mississippi, where he was later executed (by hanging) for the murder of another slave. As reported in an article by the News and Observer, Will’s wife,  “Aunt Rose,” was overheard saying “Will surely had hard luck.” On June 10th, the program held in commemoration of Will’s act of resistance provided some small measure of dignity to a man who was afforded so little in life. And in learning more of Will’s story, I came to fully  appreciate the symbolism inherent within the program’s location: in an early institution of the Dunbar community (former funeral home), preserved as a recreation and heritage center, and surrounded by living descendants of the enslaved on the Battle plantation.

State v. Will (1834), near Tarboro, NC, is the sixth historical marker sponsored by the Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Others include: African Americans Defend Washington (1863), Washington, NC; the Knights of Labor (1886-1890), Tarboro, NC; Congressman George H. White & Black Second District (1897-1901), Tarboro, NC:  Thelonious Monk (1917), Rocky Mount, NC; and Operation Dixie: Tobacco Leaf House Workers Organizing Campaign (1946), Rocky Mount, NC.

 

The Phoenix Historical Society of Edgecombe County, North Carolina

“To recover, record, and promote the unique history of Edgecombe County experienced by members of its African American community.”

State v Will Historical Marker Copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

State v Will Historical Marker. Battleboro, North Carolina, June 10, 2017

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Filed under Edgecombe County, Mississippi, North Carolina, Slavery, Southampton County, Suffolk, Virginia

On Memorial Day, Reflecting on African-American History – The National Trust for Historic Preservation

First Memorial Day plaque Charleston SC Copyright Nadia Orton 2015

Plaque honoring the first Memorial Day in the United States. Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, September 6, 2015

 

Every May, the nation marks Memorial Day, the longstanding tradition we use to recognize fallen veterans. The holiday has its origins in “Decoration Day,” originally held in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, when thousands of former slaves, Union soldiers, and missionaries honored Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison and were subsequently buried in a makeshift mass grave.

Historian David Blight recounts that after the soldiers’ proper burials, a massive parade followed. Participants decorated the graves with flowers, and clergy delivered speeches to commemorate the fallen.

My personal introduction to Decoration Day began with oral histories provided by my family’s elders. In rural Tidewater, Virginia, they told stories of Decoration Day commemorations stretching back to the 1880s. Parades began in African-American communities and ended at local black cemeteries. Families and friends honored their ancestors through song and praise, while their graves were cleaned and re-decorated.

They had good reason to pay homage: Many veterans had returned from the front lines of war to become leaders in their communities, forming masonic lodges, burial societies, schools, churches, and cemeteries. These institutions formed the foundations of post-Civil War African-American communities, giving their communities potential for the very type growth and development African-Americans had been denied in slavery. READ MORE…

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Filed under Charleston County, Civil War, Craven County, Mississippi, New Hanover County, New York, North Carolina, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Slavery, South Carolina, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia