In memory of my uncle, Horace Linwood Orton, III (1945-2019)

Horace Linwood Orton, III was born on July 8, 1945 to the charismatic, almost mythical Horace L. Orton, Jr. “Boonie” and the lovely Lillian Vann Young. Horace was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, a city whose ethnic diversity is reflected in his lineage. He was the oldest of 7 children and 3 younger brothers and 3 younger sisters. Family was everything and Horace loved talking about his childhood in Portsmouth, swimming, and crabbing with his siblings and cousins in the inlets of the James River.

Beaufort, South Carolina: United States Colored Troops, Beaufort National Cemetery

USCT Beaufort National Cemetery
U. S. Colored Troops – Beaufort National Cemetery. Photo: December 13, 2014, Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
1st SC Infantry of African Descent historical marker. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

1st SC Infantry of African Descent – The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment was raised from sea island slaves living around Port Royal. Elements of the regiment were formed on Hilton Head in May 1862. In August 1862, the regiment was reorganized near Beaufort at the Smith plantation. It was commanded by the noted abolitionist Thomas W. Higginson who led the Regiment on raids along the Georgia coast. On Jan. 1, 1863, the regiment was formerly mustered into the United States Army. The regiment saw extensive service on the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Coasts. On Feb. 8, 1864, the regiment was redesignated as the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the United States Colored Troops. The regiment assisted in the occupation of Charleston, Savannah, Augusta and other points until it was mustered out on Jan. 31, 1866.”

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