Introducing Cpl. William Parks, a newly found African American veteran of the Civil War. Nadia Orton, historian and secretary of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation, first uncovered the gravestone of Cpl. Parks over Decoration Day (Memorial Day) weekend in 2018. Cpl. Parks was born about 1843 in Mobile, Alabama. He enlisted on May 5, 1865, at the Ridgeway Depot in Warren County, North Carolina. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as five feet, seven inches tall, with a “yellow” complexion, black eyes and hair. Cpl. Parks mustered in on May 5, 1865, at Washington, D. C. He was promoted to Corporal on June 1, 1865 by special order, and mustered out four months later on October 23rd, at Louisville, Kentucky.
African-American cemetery, Kent County, Delaware, August 19, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton
In mid-August, we attended a family reunion in Wilmington, Delaware, for two of the paternal branches of our collective family tree, lines that extend to the 18th-century in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County (est. 1765), and City of Portsmouth (est. 1752), and to Warren County (est. 1779), in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
On the way to the reunion, and in keeping with the theme of “family,” we stopped at this peaceful spot, a well maintained cemetery in Kent County, Delaware. It’s located near the birthplace of Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896), a free person of color and Civil War Navy veteran who was included in my first blog a few years ago. (Thomas is buried near my paternal great-great-great grandfather, Max Jolly Orton, also a Navy veteran, and other ancestors in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia.)
Walking through the sacred ground, I reflected on Thomas Craig’s family history, and wondered if any of his relatives were laid to rest in the cemetery. In all probability, they’re not, as the family moved to several areas throughout Kent and New Castle counties after 1855, when Thomas left Delaware and moved to New York City to enlist in the Union Navy. Still, it was nice to be able to visit the region, and forge another tangible connection to history, a moment only made possible through the protection and preservation of the cemetery. ♥