Surry County, Virginia: Pvt. Harrison Spratley, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

Gravestone of Pvt. Harrison Spratley, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Surry County, Virginia

Pvt. Harrison Spratley was a member of Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. According to his military pension file, Harrison was born on August 6, 1847, in Surry County, Virginia. His parents, Dawson Spratley (b. ca. 1810), and Nancy Spratley (b. ca. 1805), were free persons of color. In the 1830s, Dawson Spratley is documented on several “free negro” lists in Surry County, Virginia, working on the farm of Angelina “Angie” Edwards (b. ca. 1770).

Portsmouth, Virginia: United States Colored Troops, Grove Baptist Church Cemetery

Photos: Nadia K. Orton, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2018. All right reserved.

The headstones of United States Colored Troops interred in Grove Baptist Church cemetery have been cleaned up, though none were reset. The grave cleaning came in the midst of a renovation project of Grove Church’s parking lot.

U. S. Colored Troops, Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, May 24, 2014.
Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, March 11, 2018.

In Their Own Words: Mary Jane Wilson, Educator – Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia

Gravestone of Mary Jane Wilson, Mt. Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). Photo: Nadia K. Orton, March 5, 2011. All rights reserved.

In 1937, Ms. Mary Jane Wilson, “Pioneer Negro Teacher of Portsmouth, Virginia,” reflects on her life…

She Promised to Honor Her Ancestors. First She Had to Find Them. The State of Things, WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio

Nadia Orton stands with the replacement gravestone she secured for African American Civil War veteran Sgt. Ashley H. Lewis (1842-1890), 1st U.S. Colored Cavalry. She has replaced 20 gravestones for African American Civil War veterans, most from various counties in North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December, 2018. All rights reserved
Warren County NC Rosenwald Orton
Mayflower Rosenwald School (ca. 1924), Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.
The gravestone of Cherry Williams Sutton (1860-1911), Nadia Orton’s maternal great-great-grandmother, located in a slave cemetery. Inez, Warren County, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2015. All rights reserved.

When Nadia Orton’s kidneys were failing, she sent letters to friends and relatives in the hopes that someone could be a donor or help defray the cost. Orton’s great-aunt Philgrador responded with money from her church. So a few years later, when Aunt Phil asked on her deathbed that her family not be forgotten, Orton knew she had to find a way to honor her ancestors. The problem was that she didn’t know who they were, or where to find them.
 
As she started tracing her lineage and locating her ancestors’ final resting places in North Carolina and Virginia, Orton began to notice the state of black cemeteries. Many were overgrown, unprotected and unmapped. Seeing the condition of these sacred spaces sparked a passion for protecting them.
 
Orton has since visited hundreds of cemeteries, and helps other families identify their ancestors’ plots. Host Frank Stasio talks with Nadia Orton, a public historian and professional genealogist, about how she uncovers the past and how it feels to find who came before you

Continue to interview

Tales from the East End: A sketch of the life of Valentine Griffin (ca. 1820-1894), Richmond, Virginia

This post also appears on African American Cemeteries of Richmond Virginia

The scourge of writer’s block was an unwelcome visitor this week, and thumbing through newspaper archives seemed the only remedy for sheer frustration. However, an interesting obituary in the Richmond Planet caught my attention. It featured a brief summary of the life of Mr. Valentine Griffin, an aged and much respected figure in Richmond’s African American community, who passed away on March 16, 1894.