Hampton, Virginia: Visiting historic Thornton Cemetery

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 13, 2021. All rights reserved.

Today we had a brief opportunity to see the ongoing preservation effort at Thornton Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia. Our day began with a trip over to Gloucester County, Virginia to find the elusive burial sites of a few United States Colored Troops. One that was supposed to be interred in Gloucester is actually buried in Thornton. Thankfully, we found him!

It was late, so as soon as we arrived, I scampered out of the car, made a right at the large garbage bins in the 7-11 parking lot, and got to work photographing the cemetery. No sooner had I reached the rear of the cemetery than I noticed a nice gentleman, wearing a mask, who wanted to know if I was a cemetery volunteer (he’s pictured in the photo below). Yes and no, I told him, a bunch of cemeteries, just not for Thornton. He’d seen the recent news stories on Thornton, but missed the name of the organizer, and wanted to know how he could help. Being a veteran, the state of the cemetery mattered to him. He shared how he’d lived in the area for years, yet never knew about Thornton. This is a statement that we hear quite often from folks: African American cemeteries, paved over, hidden by overgrowth, disrespectfully tucked away behind office buildings, industrial sites, and convenience stores. I gave him all the information we had for the organizer, and he thanked us profusely, introduced us to his wife (who’d been waiting in the car), and went on his way. Glad we could help another cemetery preservation effort, at least in this small way!

Meeting a (soon-to-be) new cemetery volunteer at Thornton Cemetery, March 13, 2021. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The 7-11 that sits in front of the cemetery. In the foreground are survey flags marking sunken and unmarked graves. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The northwest corner of the cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Daffodils a bloom. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Makes me quite nervous when I see gravestones this close to a busy street. Unfortunately, quite common for historic African American cemeteries. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Cemetery preservation is a process. Glad it’s finally happening here. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

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