Category Archives: Stories in Stone

Virginia: A new headstone for 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry

Martin Smith USCT Portsmouth Copyright 2013 Nadia Orton

Headstone of 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, Memorial Day Weekend (May 25), 2013

 

Today we received word that a new headstone for 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, has been approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Born enslaved, ca. 1840 in Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia, Martin escaped and enlisted on January 5, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia, and mustered in on January 25th. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as five feet, four inches tall, with a “light complexion, black eyes and hair.” His occupation was noted as “laborer.” During the war, he was present with his regiment at Point Lookout, Maryland, Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg and Richmond through December, 1864, and assigned to an ammunition train of the artillery brigade, January to April, 1865. Martin was appointed Corporal on August 1, 1865, Sergeant on March 23, 1866, and 1st Sergeant on July 28, 1866. He mustered out with the surviving members of his regiment on October 28, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

While enslaved, Martin was often “hired out” to various plantation owners. As a teenager, he was sent down to South Carolina to work as a turpentine dipper, hard and dangerous labor that was part of the naval stores industry, which began in North Carolina in the early 1700s.  The industry was active well into the early decades of the twentieth century, supported largely through the use of convict labor and peonage. In Slavery by Another Name, author Douglas A. Blackmon describes the industry and the day to day experience of the men laboring on turpentine farms, providing a picture of what young Martin had to cope with while in the Pee Dee/Lowcountry region.

…men toiled in the turpentine farms under excruciating conditions to supply a booming market for pine tar, pitch, and turpentine used to caulk the seams of wooden sailing ships and waterproof their ropes and riggings.

Workers carved deep V-shaped notches into the trunks of millions of massive slash and longleaf pines towering in the still virgin forests. Small galvanized iron boxes or gutters were attached to the trees to collect the thick, milky pine gum that oozed from the wounds in winter. During spring and summer, as sap began to run, millions of gallons of pine resin oozed into the containers. Working feverishly from before dawn to the end of light, turpentine workers cut fresh notches into every tree once a week, gathered the gum and resin by hand, boiled it into vast quantities of distilled turpentine, and hauled it in hundreds of thousands of barrels out of the deep woods. When trees stopped producing gum and resin, the camp owners harvested them for lumber. As the demand for turpentine products soared, the timber companies relentlessly acquired fresh tracts of forest to drain and armies of men to perform the grueling work. – Slavery by Another Name, 174)

Pulling operation of a four-year face in a turpentine grove near Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

Rosin flowing on a four-year face. The tool is a “puller.” Near Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

Emptying the turpentine dups full of rosin into a bucket near a turpentine still in Pembroke, Georgia. Library of Congress

Turpentine dipper near Waycross, Georgia. Library of Congress

 

Martin Smith was forced to work in this industry for four long years.

Soon after his return to Virginia, Martin met and married Nansemond County native Jeannette “Jennie” Gordon, daughter of Isaac and Huldah Gordon, according to “slave custom’ in late 1862. The couple never had an official ceremony, according to Jeannette. “He asked my master and mistress for me, and they gave their consent,” she would later state in her pension application.

Martin and Jeannette were the proud parents of nine children, including daughters Emeline and Margaret, and sons John Martin, Charles, Pompey, and George. The family resided in the Western Branch District of Norfolk County, Virginia, in an area annexed by the City of Portsmouth in 1919. Martin generally worked as a laborer on truck farms, and managed to acquire an 1/8-acre of land on which he built a small home. His sons gained employment at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

1st Sgt. Martin Smith passed away on January 4, 1897, from complications of chronic rheumatism.  He was interred in Mount Olive Cemetery, part of the historic Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia. His wife, Jeannette “Jennie” Gordon Smith, died on August 2, 1930, from complications of chronic nephritis. She was also buried in Mount Olive Cemetery by undertaker Richard Rodgers. To date, her gravesite has not been located.

1st Sgt. Martin Smith will be the twentieth African American Civil War veteran to receive a new headstone.  See this post for more information on the other nineteen freedom fighters. ♥

Martin Smith Portsmouth USCT Copyright 2016 Nadia Orton

Headstone of 1st Sgt. Martin Smith, 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, May 29, 2016. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

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Filed under Brazos Santiago, Chesapeake, Civil War, Georgia, Grand Army of the Republic, Hampton, Maryland, Memorials to Civil War Veterans, Norfolk, Norfolk County, Pembroke, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Slavery, South Carolina, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, Texas, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Waycross

Delaware: Tracing family roots, past and present

African American Cemetery Delaware - Copyright 2017 Nadia K. Orton

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. ♥

 

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Filed under Chesapeake, Civil War, Delaware, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Warren County, Wilmington

Accomack County, Virginia: Documenting a historically African-American cemetery, Father’s Day, 2017

Documenting a historically African American cemetery on Father’s Day (June 18th), 2017, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. One of the oldest, inhabited areas of the state,  it’s become one of our favorite family destinations. The cemetery is just north of the birthplace of a family elder, who was a much beloved and respected teacher and educator of historic I. C. Norcom High School, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Unfortunately, most of the oldest sections of the cemetery were too overgrown for closer investigation, and my father warned of snakes and other dangers that may have been hidden by the overgrowth. We observed some areas that had been cleared by family members in order to reach their ancestors’ gravesites, perhaps in observance of Decoration Day, or Father’s Day. It was an encouraging thought; we’ll return soon in the hope of further exploration.  ♥

Accomack County African American cemetery copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical African American cemetery in Accomack County, Virginia

 

African American cemetery Accomack Virginia copyright 2017 Nadia Orton

Historical African American cemetery in Accomack County, Virginia

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Filed under Accomack County, Civil War, In Memoriam, Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, Virginia

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 the gravesite of 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

Protected: Portsmouth, Virginia: The Leon A. Turner Family and interconnections, Mt. Olive Cemetery

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Filed under Anne Arundel County, Brunswick County, Delaware, Maryland, New Hanover County, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, Prince George County, Slavery, Stories in Stone, U. S. Colored Troops, Virginia, Wilmington

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

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

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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

Protected: The Caretakers: William H. Elliott, Court Street Baptist Church, Portsmouth

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Filed under Portsmouth, Stories in Stone, Suffolk, The Caretakers, Tombstone Tales, Virginia