Tag Archives: Portsmouth

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

Memorials to United States Colored Troops, Pt. 5 – Portsmouth, Virginia

Memorials to United States Colored Troops

A photo-essay series dedicated to the United States Colored Troops, and how they were remembered in contemporary news media

Pt. 5

Portsmouth, Virginia

Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

 

Dred Smith Lincoln Memorial Portsmouth VA Copyright Nadia Orton 2017

Pvt. Dred Smith, Co. G, 38th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry. Commander, Silas Fellows Post No. 7, Grand Army of the Republic. Lincoln Memorial Cemetery (est. 1912)

 

“After an illness of two days, Mr. Dred Smith, an energetic and faithful member of G. A. R., died at his home, 612 Race street, Thursday, June 20, at 9 p.m. Funeral service was held at Emanuel A. M. E. church Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Sympathy is extended the family. Thus passes away another of the grand old landmarks.” — New Journal and Guide, June 30, 1917

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 27, 2017)

 

Sgt. Nelson Carney 10 USCI Portsmouth VA Copyright Nadia Orton 2015

1st Sgt. Nelson Carney, Co. E, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“Zion’s Oldest Deacon Dead – Mr. Nelson Carney, a well-known and respected citizen of Portsmouth, Va., died at his residence, 717 King street Sunday, November 1, at 6:15 p.m.

He was stricken at his home October 20, and sustained a brief illness of just eleven days. The funeral service was held Tuesday, at 2 p.m., at the Zion Baptist Church of which he was the oldest deacon and Sunday school teacher.

The rain did not prevent the attendance of a large number of members and friends who were anxious to pay the last tribute of respect.

Mr. Carney served in the Civil War and was a member of Silas Fellows Post No. 7, G. A. R. and Grand Chaplain of the Dept. of Va., and North Carolina.

Rev. J. M. Armistead conducted the service, and eulogistic remarks were made by Rev. E. E. Smith, A. Gomer, Commander Grandy of Dept. of Va. and North Carolina, G. A. R.

The floral tributes were numerous and beautiful and the casket was draped with a large American flag.

He is survived by five children, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a host of friends.

He will be greatly missed by both the church and community. His remains were interred in (Mt.) Calvary cemetery.” — The New Journal and Guide, November 7, 1925

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 23, 2015)

 

Alexander Gordon USN Portsmouth VA Copyright 2011 Nadia Orton

Alexander Gordon, USS Young Rover – Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“The funeral of Alexander Gordon, a well-known colored man, who died yesterday at his residence, 633 North street, will take place from the North Street A. M. E. Church Friday at 3 p.m. Gordon, who was 70 years old had a wide acquaintance in Portsmouth, where he had lived all his life, and had the respect of all who knew him. He is survived by his widow, two sons and a daughter.” — The Portsmouth Star, August 9, 1917

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, February 20. 2011)

Pvt. Edmond Riddick 36 USCI Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton 2016

Cpl. Edmond Riddick, Co. A, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry – Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

“Death Claims Prominent Citizen – The funeral services of Com. Edmond Riddick, who died after a brief illness at midnight Thursday, took place from Zion Baptist Church last Sunday at 1:15 p.m. Rev. E. E. Smith, pastor, officiated assisted by Revs. J. M. Armistead, D. D., W. H. Willis and W. Miller. Rev. Smith spoke from those words, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” He paid a glowing tribute to Mr. Riddick’s loyalty and faithfulness to the church and community. Dr. Armistead stressed his straight forwardness and character, pronouncing it the best he has known in any man. “A Charge To Keep I Have,” and “I Am But A Stranger Here,” the favorite hymns of the deceased were sung. The Roland Hayes Glee Club sang, very effectively, “Sleep Sweetly, Tender Heart.”

The large concourse and numerous floral tributes bore unspeakable evidence of the esteem and worth in which he was held.

At the age of seventeen he enlisted in the Civil War, Co. A 36th Regiment U. S. C. Inf., served throughout the war, was honorably discharged at Brazos, Texas. Mr. Riddick was commander of Silas Fellows Post, member of Evening Star, Lodge of Odd Fellows, Grand Master’s Council and the Teamster’s Association.

Two sons, Richard Riddick and W. E. Riddick, survive him.

The following members of the Col. Young Post Spanish War Veterans, Moses Shepherd, Albert Holliday, Chas. Ahrens, Alex Davis, James Tann, Albert Baker and Hall served as active pall bearers. Messrs. L. Mingo, Mason, Solomon Vann Sr., Wellington Jefferson were honorary pall bearers.

The members of the Grand Army were with the family.

The body was laid away in the family plot in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.” — New Journal and Guide, June 26, 1926

(Photo: Nadia K. Orton, February 6, 2017)

 

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Filed under Civil War, In Memoriam, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Portsmouth, U. S. Colored Troops, USCT Diaries, Virginia

Warren County, North Carolina – Earth Day, 2017: Trees, branches, and documenting family roots

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Warren County, North Carolina

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April 22, 2017 · 9:45 pm

Portsmouth, VA: Unmarked no longer

Portsmouth Headstone Copyright Nadia Orton

Unmarked no longer! We finally received the headstone to mark the gravesite of Cpl Edmond Riddick (ca. 1845-1926), a native of Southampton County, Virginia, and member of the 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Troops. His grave had been unmarked for over ninety years, but now it is done, thanks to the assistance of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He served his community faithfully and selflessly for decades, as a long-time member of Zion Baptist Church, and commander of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was the father of educator William E. Riddick, whose well-known philosophy was “If you can make it at Norcom, you can make it anywhere.” We’re not related to him, but paid for the installation anyway, to avoid delays. Happy to have been able to serve this worthy citizen of Portsmouth.

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January 28, 2017 · 5:55 pm

Portsmouth, VA: Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex Historical Marker

Marker Portsmouth Nadia Orton Copyright

Historical marker dedicated September 19, 2016. Sponsoring organizations: African American Historical Society of Portsmouth, Virginia, INC./VDOT. Co-authors of text: members of the cemetery preservation committee Nadia K. Orton, descendant and independent historian/professional genealogist, and Mr. Charles Johnson, descendant, historian and member, African American Historical Society of Portsmouth, Virginia, Inc

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September 19, 2016 · 5:50 pm

Portsmouth, VA: Restoring dignity to a Civil War veteran’s gravesite

Gravestone Brinkley Portsmouth Copyright Nadia Orton

I first documented Pvt. Henry Brinkley’s gravesite in 2010. Born enslaved in Suffolk, he enlisted on January 1, 1864 at Fort Monroe, and engaged in action at various sites in Tidewater including Petersburg, part of the campaign that led directly to the liberation of Richmond on April 3, 1865. He mustered out in 1866. I always felt a connection to Pvt. Brinkley, and wanted to take care of his grave; he’d survived the Siege of Petersburg, while some of our USCT ancestors had not. Sadly, during a 2013 research visit, I noticed his headstone had been hit by a car (the cemetery gates can’t be locked at night.) Horrified, I made an attempt to find a descendant (current rules stipulate that a living descendant’s permission is required), but in this instance, made glacial progress. Over time, I got really tired of seeing Henry’s broken headstone. It looked terrible, and I didn’t want to fail him, so I contacted the Dept. of Veterans Affairs with a humble plea…and the gravestone was replaced! Lookin’ good, Pvt. Brinkley! RIP

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September 16, 2016 · 5:39 pm

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

Recovering and Preserving African American Cemeteries – Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Pinewood Cemetery COPYRIGHT Nadia Orton

Pinewood Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina

The reverence attached to cemeteries and burial grounds, which have long been considered sacred sites, is an example of enduring Africanisms and cultural tradition in the African American community. Burial grounds have always been regarded as places where ancestors could be properly honored and provided with the dignity, care, and respect in death that had often been denied them in life.

Interest in the study of my family tree has led me to over a dozen cemeteries throughout Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and helped reconstruct a family legacy spanning over 400 years. Cemeteries offer an important, tangible connection to history allowing closer interpretation of days past than most other sources can. Genealogists and family historians have long recognized the benefit of cemeteries in the study of family history and an increasing popular interest in genealogy has led to an increased focus on them.  READ MORE

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Filed under Civil War, Georgia, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Richmond, Virginia, Wilmington

Protected: Isle of Wight County, Virginia: Following family roots

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Filed under Civil War, Isle of Wight County, Norfolk County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Slavery, Virginia

Surry County, Virginia: The slave and tenant house at Bacon’s Castle

Slave/tenant house at Bacons Castle, Surry County, October 6, 2012

Slave/tenant house at Bacon’s Castle, Surry County, October 6, 2012

 

Photos of the slave and tenant house at Bacon’s Castle (ca. 1665). We had the opportunity to visit during an event a few years ago. I’d suffered a bilateral lower leg fracture some months prior, so those present would remember my fashionable orthopedic boot. Physical discomfort aside, it was an amazing experience. There were a few descendants of slaves and former tenant workers present. One descendant, Lucy, recounted memories of growing up at Bacon’s Castle. Her family had once lived in a similar structure, and she could vividly remember the sound of the rain on the building’s tin roof. It’s in these stories that history becomes a tangible thing, and connects with our present day.

A historical wayside marker in front of the house reads:

This building was first constructed in 1829 by the Cocke family, descendants of Arthur Allen. There was a single entry door and a porch. In 1834 there were eighty slaves working on the property, some of whom were probably housed in this building. The Hankins family, who owned the property during the Civil War, added an addition and possibly removed the porch in 1849. The floor plan today matches what would have been present in the late 1800s.

In the 1940s, several families were still living on the Bacon’s Castle property. The slave house was wired for electricity and a small kitchen added to the back of the building. Although three or four enslaved families would have lived here prior to the Civil War, the interior was modified to accommodate only one or two tenants after the war. The kitchen addition was removed in the 1990s, returning the building to its antebellum appearance.

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Bacons castle slave/tenant dwelling, 2012 Orton

 

Bacon's Castle Historical Marker, Colonial Trial, Surry. June 9, 2012

Bacon’s Castle historical marker, Colonial Trial, Surry County, Virginia. June 9, 2012

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Chesapeake, Civil War, Slavery, Surry County, The Descendants Corner, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia