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.

Richmond, Virginia: Evergreen Cemetery, funerary iconography

December 18, 2018. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, all rights reserved.

Funerary iconography can be defined as the identification of symbols and motifs and the interpretation of their cultural meaning. Over the last eleven years, I’ve been fortunate to visit hundreds of cemeteries in multiple states, and have been able to spot very unique headstones containing intricate icons and symbols. Sometimes, the headstones are handmade, such as the gravestone of Matilda Ella Hale Nakano, of Portsmouth, Virginia, constructed and designed by her husband, a Japanese national.

Matilda Ella Hale Nakano - Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth Va.
Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, June 21, 2012, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, all rights reserved.

Matilda Ella’s ancestral roots were tied to Bertie and Hertford counties, North Carolina. The kanji at the base of Matilda Ella’s gravestone indicates that her husband, Hosuke, made the gravestone himself. The top of the gravestone contains images of ivy, denoting eternal life and/or affection, and the “crown and cross,” representing redemption through faith, or the Kingdom of Heaven.

In other cases, the families would order a stone from the U. S. Government or monument company, and request personal touches at an additional cost, like the gravestone of Pvt. Thomas Fisher, of the 36th U. S. Colored Infantry, in New Bern, North Carolina, whose military-issue headstone contains a masonic emblem of the square and compass, by his wife, Lucy Fisher.


In Richmond, I’m in my sixth year of researching interments of Evergreen Cemetery, and have documented 7,245 to date, most covering the period where there are no official interment records (pre-1926). However, my physical and health limitations have hindered my ability to visit as often as I would like. Still, I’ve managed to snag enough photos to provide a small peek into this amazing site, and plan more photo sessions in the near future.

Between May 18-19, 2012, I attended a cemetery seminar in Eastville, Virginia, conducted by representatives from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Part of that seminar involved a discussion of funerary iconography. Here, I share some of that valuable insight, with examples of some of the gravestones that bear those symbols in Evergreen Cemetery.