Category Archives: Tombstone Tales

Norfolk, VA: Profiles in Zinc – White Bronze Markers of Norfolk’s African American Cemeteries, Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation

 

Zinc Marker Norfolk Copyright Nadia K. Orton

White Bronze Marker, Calvary Cemetery

 

A tour of Norfolk’s historical African American cemeteries is a veritable walk through history. Cemeteries offer an important, tangible connection to history allowing closer interpretation of days past than most other sources can. Many historic cemeteries are notable for their funerary art, but a great majority of African American cemeteries do not contain such features. Families simply couldn’t afford them, due to the economic deprivations of generations of enslavement, and subsequent systemic segregation of the Jim Crow era. To maintain cultural traditions, African American families marked their ancestors’ graves as best they could, with comparatively modest headstones of granite, marble, or brick, or handmade markers of stone, wood, flowers, or concrete.

Of particular interest in Norfolk’s black cemeteries are the monuments made of a material known as “white bronze.” Composed almost entirely of pure zinc, these rare markers were popular between the late 19th and early 20th century, produced by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  READ MORE

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Filed under Norfolk, Stories in Stone, Tombstone Tales, Virginia

Norfolk, VA: Soldier for Christ and Community, Rev. Israel LaFayette Butt, Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation

Tucked away in the oldest section of Calvary Cemetery is the family plot of Rev. Israel Lafayette Butt. He was born on May 3, 1848, at the Northwest Bridge, in Norfolk County, Virginia, just north of the intersection of Ballahack Rd. and the Chesapeake Expressway, near the North Carolina border. Born enslaved, he was the chattel property of John Fisk (ca. 1810-1870), and was known by the name of “Israel Fisk” prior to emancipation. Read more

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Filed under Civil War, Norfolk, Richmond, Slavery, Stories in Stone, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Uncategorized, Virginia

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

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

Protected: Richmond, Virginia: Thoughts on Shockoe Bottom

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Filed under Bertie County, Chesapeake, Civil War, Gates County, Hampton, Norfolk, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Richmond, Southampton County, Suffolk, Surry County, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia, Virginia Beach

Portsmouth, Va: Finding Edwin Mingo, Mt. Olive Cemetery

Gravestone of Edwin Mingo, Mt. Olive Cemetery

Gravestone of Edwin Mingo, Mt. Olive Cemetery

 

I visited the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex yesterday, and came across this broken stone. Although I could make out the dates of birth and death, the name was missing. After a bit of research, I discovered the fragmented gravestone was placed in honor of Edwin Mingo, who passed away at Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, Virginia.

Central State Hospital was established on March 17, 1885, as a segregated mental health facility for African Americans. Some of its first patients were initially provided care at Howard’s Grove General Hospital, a former Confederate hospital that had been converted into an “asylum for the colored insane” on December 17, 1869, according to an 1897 article in the Richmond Dispatch.

A depiction of Howard's Grove General Hospital, Virginia Commonwealth University.

A depiction of Howard’s Grove General Hospital, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.

 

In 1885, the Richmond Dispatch reported that the patients had been transported in covered wagons from Howard’s Grove to the railroad station, and there borne by “special train” to the new hospital.  A historical marker, located on Boydton Plank Road in Petersburg, reads “Established in 1869 in temporary quarters at Howard’s Grove near Richmond. In 1870 it came under control of the state. In 1885 it was moved to the present location, the site of ‘Mayfield Plantation’, which was purchased and donated to the state by the City of Petersburg. The first hospital in America exclusively for the treatment of mental disease in the Negro.” There’s currently an ongoing project to both digitize its archives and make them accessible to the public. The patients may have been at Central State Hospital for a variety of reasons, including “for not stepping off a sidewalk to let a white man pass by, or for getting into an argument with their boss,” notes project director Professor King Davis of the University of Texas at Austin. The records will be invaluable to relatives and descendants of the former patients, doctors, and nurses of the hospital, as well as help to broaden the study of African American post-Civil War life and mental health care in Virginia.

 

Central State Hospital, 1915.

Central State Hospital, 1915.

 

Edwin Mingo Mt. Olive Portsmouth Orton

Edwin Mingo gravesite, Mt. Olive Cemetery.

 

Mr. Mingo was the son of Edwin (Edward) and Mariah Mingo. Edwin Mingo, Sr. (ca. 1829-1882), was a Civil War veteran, who enlisted with the 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, on October 29, 1863, at Norfolk, Va. He is also interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery.

I found Edwin Mingo, Jr.’s obituary in the New Journal and Guide. It reads, in part: “Funeral services for Edwin Mingo, well-known contractor and bondsman, who died April 24 in a Petersburg hospital, were held Friday afternoon, April 28, at the Wheeler Funeral Home, with the Rev. U. G. Wilson officiating. Mrs. Alma Cannon was at the piano. Mrs. Violet Rock announced the messages of sympathy and read the family paper. Solos were by Mrs. Lella Williams and Mrs. Martha Smith. Interment was in the family plot in Mt. Olive cemetery.”

Edwin Jr. left many relatives and friends to cherish his memory. We’re privileged to know some of them, who have long advocated for the preservation of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Unfortunately, there are many gravestones in the cemetery complex that are in the same condition as Edwin’s.  They’ve been vandalized and/or broken over the years, and some are nearly too faded to read. It’s discouraging to study a worn inscription on a gravestone, and being unable to discern the name, wonder if that person’s story has been lost to time. I suppose that’s why we feel excited when identifications are made, to help reconstruct a more complete history of the cemetery complex, a critical component of the preservation process. The work continues…

 

 

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Filed under Civil War, Dinwiddie County, Portsmouth, Richmond, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia

The Descendants Corner: Update – John Hodges, Civil War Sailor, Mt. Olive Cemetery

John Hodges, USN

John Hodges, USN

The replacement gravestone for Landsman John Hodges was installed in Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia, on December 30, 2015. We received the news from his descendant, Vivian Nicholson. John Hodges (1819-1885) served aboard the USS Lenapee during the Civil War, enlisting on April 22, 1864, and was the grandfather of Portsmouth native William Henry Nicholson, the first African American hired by the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Vivian shared William’s story with us in a guest blog, which can be read here.

 

A picture of the old gravestone.

A picture of the old gravestone.

 

Landsman John Hodges (1819-1885), Mt. Olive Cemetery

Landsman John Hodges (1819-1885), Mt. Olive Cemetery

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Filed under Civil War, North Carolina, Portsmouth, The Descendants Corner, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Charlotte, NC: Veterans Day at Pinewood Cemetery (1853)

Pinewood Cemetery Charlotte Orton

Pinewood Cemetery, established 1853 for African-Americans by the City of Charlotte, North Carolina

William Moore Pinewood Orton

Gravestone of William C. Moore

The inscription: “William C. Moore, U. S. Navy. Died Nov. 30, 1909, Age 35 Years. Gone Home.”


Lt. Col. C. S. L. A. Taylor Pinewood Orton

Gravestone of Lt. Col. Charles S. L. A. Taylor

Lt. Col. C. S. L. A. Taylor, 3rd North Carolina Volunteers

Lt. Col. C. S. L. A. Taylor, 3rd North Carolina Volunteers

Lt. Col. Charles S. L. A. Taylor. From the book, Black America: Charlotte, North Carolina: “The finely attired gentleman seen in this studio portrait is Col. C. S. L. A. Taylor. He was one of the first black colonels in the U. S. Army, and served in the Spanish-American War. Colonel Taylor operated the National Barber Shop at 19 North College Street, and represented Third Ward as an alderman, elected in 1885.” (Photo and text, Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain, and Amy Rogers. Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001, p. 11).

Lt. Col. Charles S. L. A. Taylor died on November 17, 1934, and is buried next to his wife Ella, and daughter Louisa T. Johnson.


Former segregation fence Pinewood-Elmwood Cemetery Charlotte Orton

The former barrier between Pinewood and Elmwood Cemeteries, Charlotte

Instead of the infamous fence, erected in the 1930s, trees now line the center aisle between the the drives of Pinewood Cemetery, on the left, and Elmwood Cemetery, to the right. Elmwood Cemetery was established in 1853 by the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, with Pinewood Cemetery as a subsection, set aside exclusively for African-American burials. Visiting the cemetery today, it was sobering to remember that all of the veterans and their family members were once on the “other side of the fence.” It was finally removed in the late 1960s, due to the influence of the national Civil Rights Movement, and local efforts of City Councilman Fred Alexander and the larger African-American community of Charlotte, North Carolina.


Emanuel Snowden Pinewood Orton

Pvt. Emanuel Snowden, Co A, 3rd NC Volunteers

Pvt. Emanuel Snowden was the son of Alfred and Eliza Snowden. He was born sometime during the 1860s, the exact date difficult to pinpoint due to varying discrepancies in census, marriage, and death records. Throughout most of his life, he was identified as a painter by occupation, and lived in Charlotte’s Second Ward. He passed on October 11, 1936, and the informant was Bessie Wilson, Emanuel’s sister.


Pinewood Cemetery Charlotte Nadia Orton

Pinewood Cemetery, Charlotte NC

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Filed under Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Stories in Stone, Tombstone Tales

The Descendants Corner: Update re: The Savage Family, Mt. Calvary Cemetery

Pvt. Alfred Savage replacement gravestone Portsmouth Va. Orton

Pvt. Alfred Savage (1837-1899), Company D, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry.               Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth, Va.

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. ♥

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Filed under Civil War, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, The Descendants Corner, Tombstone Files, Tombstone Tales, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

A North Carolina Civil War veteran in Portsmouth: Sgt. Lewis Rogers, 28th U. S. Colored Infantry

Sgt. Lewis Rogers USCT Portsmouth Orton

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery: Sgt. Lewis Rogers (1845-1884), father of Richard Rogers, Portsmouth, Virginia funeral director (1881-1951).

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August 11, 2015 · 2:16 am