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

Northampton County, Virginia: United States Colored Troops of First Baptist Church, Capeville

Copyright 2014 Nadia K. Orton
First Baptist Church Capeville Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved

I visited this church on an overcast Sunday. Thanks to all the church members who invited me to join them for service, despite my cemetery outfit of jeans and rubber boots. Thank you for the warm welcome and hospitality, I will return!

Copyright 2014 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. John Cole – Co. B, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved

Pvt. John Cole – Company B, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born in 1838, Pungoteague, Accomack County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863, at Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on May 17, 1866, at Galveston, Texas

Copyright 2014 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Henry Cypress – Company E, 1st USCC. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved

Pvt. Henry Cypress – Company E, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Born on March 17, 1845, Prince George County, Virginia. Enlisted on August 30, 1864 at Newport News, Virginia. Discharged on February 4, 1866, at Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died: March 13, 1906, Capeville, Northampton County, Virginia.

Copyright 2014 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Richmond Dillard – Co. F, 23rd USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved

Pvt. Richmond Dillard – Company F, 23rdRegiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born in 1837, Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Enlisted on July 13, 1864, 3rd Sub. District, Washington D. C. Discharged on November 30, 1865, at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

Copyright 2014 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. James Douglass – Co. F, 9th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. James Douglas – Company F, 9th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1841, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on November 16, 1863, in Worcester County, Maryland. Discharged on November 26, 1866 at New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Guy Downs – Co. B, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Guy Downs – Company B, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1829, Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863 at Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on May 17, 1866, at Galveston, Texas. Died in 1904 at Capeville, Northampton County, Virginia. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque A-23

Pvt. Elias Fidget – Co. B, 2nd USCLA. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Elias Fidget – Company B, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Light Artillery

Born about 1832, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on January 18, 1864, at Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia. Discharged on March 17, 1866, Brownsville, Texas. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque A-4

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Henry Jarvis – Co. K 55th Mass Inf. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Henry Jarvis – Company K, 55th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry (Colored)

Born about 1836, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on December 21, 1863, Belmont, Massachusetts. Discharged on August 29, 1865. Charleston, South Carolina. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque E-156

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Spencer Smaugh – Co. B, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Spencer Smaugh – Company B, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1825, Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on June 26, 1865, Washington D. C. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque A-23

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. James Weeks – Co. C, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. James Weeks – Company C, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1818, Capeville, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Cpl. Isaac Weston – Co. C, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Cpl.  Isaac Weston – Company C, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1824, Johnstown (Eastville), Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque A-23

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
Pvt. Jeffrey Widgeon – Co. C, 10th USCI. Photo: Nadia k. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.

Pvt. Jeffrey Widgeon – Company C, 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Born about 1818, Eastville, Northampton County, Virginia. Enlisted on October 30, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Discharged on May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. African American Civil War Memorial: Plaque A-23

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton
First Baptist Church, Capeville, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 14, 2013. All rights reserved.