Suffolk, Virginia: Oak Lawn Cemetery (1885) approved for state funding

Special thanks to: Del. C. E. Cliff Hayes, Jr. (Dist. 77), Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Councilman Curtis Milteer, Suffolk Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 5, LeOtis Williams, Frances McNair, Mike Lane, M/M Hinton (Eye Catch Photos), Otis Richards, First Baptist Church Mahan (FBC), Dr. Harry Quinton and Lt. Col. Bill Burrell (Tidewater Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.), and the staff of the East Suffolk Recreation Center. Also, special thanks to all family members, descendants, and volunteers who supported preservation efforts for Oak Lawn Cemetery over the years.

Dedicated to the memory of Deacon George Lee Richards, Sr.

Portsmouth, Virginia: Honoring Civil War Veterans of Virginia and North Carolina

Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2010-2019. All rights reserved

So pleased that Rev. Ashley H. Lewis has a new headstone! Photo: Dennis E. Orton, December 8, 2018.

In the summer of 2007, I began a family history project to document all interments in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Established in 1879, it is the oldest, extant African American cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia. It’s a historic site near and dear to our family’s heart, having over forty-eight ancestors buried there, although most are without visible gravestones.

Inspired by finding (and not finding), the burial sites of Civil War ancestors in our own family, I looked to the conditions of the graves of the United States Colored Troops in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex. Many of their gravestones were knocked over, buried, dirty, and broken, some with sizable portions sheared off by lawn mowers or other landscaping tools. I could make out the names after a little work, but what would the inscriptions look like in five years? Ten? We decided to do what was within our means to help preserve the graves of these brave souls, adding to similar efforts by descendants and volunteers over the years.

Some of the Civil War veterans qualified for replacement headstones from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2015, our family was able to assist two descendant families secure new headstones for their veteran ancestors. In addition, we replaced the headstones of eight other Civil War veterans between 2016 and 2017.

This post concerns the remaining seven replacement headstones installed in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex in December, 2018. They were all approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs between January and June of 2017. Our family didn’t know about local efforts to secure funding for the cemeteries, so we personally paid for the installation of the headstones. In retrospect, I’d say it was $850 well spent.

We have three more headstone installations to go, in Portsmouth’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. I hope the stones remain legible for future generations, so these brave men, and their sacrifice and struggle for freedom and equality, will never be forgotten.


Cpl. George Baysmore

Company H, 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Original gravestone, Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 8, 2011. All rights reserved.

Corporal George Baysmore of the 36th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry, was born enslaved about 1835 in Bertie County, North Carolina. He enlisted on July 13, 1863, at Plymouth (Washington County), North Carolina and mustered in January 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia. He mustered out on January 17, 1866, at Hicks General Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, an early discharge due to disability from gunshot wounds received at the Battle of New Market Heights/Chaffin’s Farm, September 29, 1864.

Cpl. Baysmore passed away on November 19, 1898, Portsmouth, Virginia. He was interred in Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex).

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Suffolk, Virginia: The Nansemond Collegiate Institute (1890-1939), Historical Marker

This post originally appeared on The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 5, 2013. All rights reserved

Marker text:

Here stood the Nansemond Collegiate Institute, founded in 1890 as the Nansemond Industrial Institute by Rev. William W. Gaines to provide local black children with an education, because free public schools were closed to them. Eventually the institute offered elementary, secondary and normal school courses of instruction. In 1927 a public school for black residents was opened; competition for students and a series of disastrous fires forced the institute to close in 1939.

Department of Conservation and Historic Resources 1988
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Suffolk, Virginia: Community meeting for Oak Lawn Cemetery (est. 1885)

(This post originally appeared on The Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation)

Pictures from the community meeting held on December 28, 2018, at the East Suffolk Recreation Center. Those present included Delegate C. E. (Cliff) Hayes, Jr. (VA House Dist. 77), Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Councilman Curtis Milteer, Deacon Sam Jones, Suffolk Virginia Disabled American Veterans (DAV) #5, Otis Richards, and members of the Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation: President Reginald H. Dirtion, Vice President Rev. Oulaniece Saunders, Treasurer Wilbur Holland, Jr., and Secretary/Historian Nadia K. Orton. Huge thanks to Francis McNair for all of her key assistance at the meeting, and a sincere “thank you” to all who attended in support of this important endeavor.

(l-r) Francis McNair; Reginald H. Dirtion, President, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Otis Richards; Deacon Sam Jones, Suffolk, Virginia Disabled American Veterans (DAV) #5; Councilman Curtis Milteer; Rev. Oulaniece Saunders, Vice President, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Wilbur Holland, Jr., Treasurer, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation; Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett; Delegate C. E. (Cliff) Hayes, Jr. (VA House 77); Nadia K. Orton, Secretary/Historian, Historic Oak Lawn Cemetery Foundation. 
Suffolk, Virginia, December 28, 2018.
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