Richmond, Virginia: Honoring family, the Ortons and Youngs of Church Hill

The Young Family, Portsmouth, Virginia, ca. 1927. All rights reserved.

One never knows where priceless bits of family history can be found. In 2012, we visited the household of the Parkers, paternal cousins, in Portsmouth, Virginia. They shared with us a great photo of my paternal grandmother, Lillian Vann Young Orton, who was born in 1927, Portsmouth, Virginia. She is featured in this photo, the infant in the center, surrounded by several of her siblings.

As shared with the ExPRT team of Enrichmond in 2018, the current stewards of historic Evergreen Cemetery, Richmond, my grandfather, Horace Orton, a Portsmouth, Virginia native, was a Pullman Porter with the Seaboard Airline Railroad. After the company relocated to Richmond from Portsmouth, Virginia in 1958, my grandparents moved to Richmond, for Horace to retain his employment as a Pullman Porter. The Orton Family became the first African American family to purchase a home on 36th Street in Church Hill. After their deaths, Horace and Lillian were both interred in Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

Suffolk, Virginia: First view of Oak Lawn Cemetery’s highway historical marker!

I’ve written the text for two highway historical markers for African American cemeteries in Virginia: the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (est. 1879), Portsmouth, in 2016, and Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885), Suffolk, in 2019. However, I never knew how they were made. Thanks to a wonderful story about the manufacturer, Sewah Studios (Marietta, Ohio), I know the answer. The historical marker for Oak Lawn Cemetery is shown briefly in this great video courtesy of WTAP News, Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In Their Own Words: Sgt. Edmond Carter, Evergreen Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Camp William Penn, ca. 1863-1865, Cheltenham, Pa. Library of Congress.

Sgt. Edmond Carter served with Company G, 45th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. According to his military pension record, he was born enslaved on the Allen Estate “in the third week of August,” 1844, near Bowling Green, Caroline County, Virginia. He was the son of Lewis Carter and Mary Jones.

He enlisted under the name “Edmond Allen,” the surname of his last owner, at the age of nineteen on July 28, 1864, at Grafton, West Virginia. He mustered in on July 29, 1864, at Camp William Penn, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Edmond was promoted from Corporal to Sergeant on August 16, 1865, and was discharged nearly three months later at Brownsville, Texas, with the surviving members of his regiment.

I located Edmond’s death certificate at the Library of Virginia in early 2015, and later reviewed his pension file at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. His testimony contains a very detailed description of his military experience, as well as the reason he chose to enlist under his former slave owner’s surname.