Portsmouth, Virginia: Brothers in the fight for freedom, rediscovered

Calvin White 1st USCC MCCC Portsmouth VA

Enlistment record of Pvt. Calvin White, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

 

Another long lost veteran has been rediscovered in Mount Olive Cemetery, part of the historic Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, in Portsmouth, Virginia. His name was Calvin White, and he was a member of Company H, 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry.

Calvin was born enslaved about 1833, in Gates County, North Carolina. His owner was Sarah F. Hinton (1832-1854), but Calvin’s surname came from his second owner, Watson Timothy White (1824-1919), whom Sarah F. Hinton married on May 28, 1850, Perquimans County, North Carolina. Both of Calvin’s parents were also born into slavery, his mother, Aggy, owned by the Hinton Family, and his father, Isaac Parker, “owned by a man named Parker,” according to Calvin’s later recollection. Both Calvin and his mother Aggy were moved to an area near Edenton, North Carolina, after Sarah F. Hinton’s marriage to Watson Timothy White in 1850.

At the age of thirty, Calvin “left his master,” and traveled up to Norfolk, Virginia, where he enlisted on December 12, 1863, with the 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. Calvin didn’t make the journey alone. His younger brother, Jerry, left with him, and also enlisted with the 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Calvin and Jerry were both assigned to Company H.

Enlistment record of Pvt. Jerry White, Co. H, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

 

Early freedom seekers in the Edenton area, like abolitionist Harriet Ann Jacobs, had to make use of North Carolina’s coastal “maritime underground railroad,” to escape slavery.

“Runaways depended on maritime blacks. During the antebellum period coastal ports like Edenton were crowded with black seaman. They worked as stewards and cooks on most ships and held skilled crew positions on many vessels. Ferrymen, nearly always slaves, departed from local docks to convey passengers and goods. At the wharves, slave women peddled fish, oysters, stew and cornbread to hungry sailors and found a ready market for laundry services. Slave artisans caulked, refitted, rigged and rebuilt as necessary to keep wooden vessels at sea. Their maritime culture provided runaways with a complex web of informants, messengers, go-betweens and other potential collaborators.” (Historical wayside marker, Edenton, NC)

Calvin and Jerry’s sojourn to Norfolk was likely made a little easier by the Union’s capture of Roanoke Island in early 1862.

“It was the key to all the rear defences of Norfolk. It unlocked two sounds (Albemarle and Currituck); eight rivers (North, West, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Little, Chowan, Roanoke and Alligator); four canals (the Albemarle and Chesapeake, Dismal Swamp, Northwest and Suffolk), and two railroads (the Petersburg and Norfolk and Seaboard and Roanoke)…(Time Full of Trial, Patricia C. Click)

In his enlistment record, Calvin was described as thirty years old, five feet, nine inches tall, with black eyes, complexion, and hair.  Little brother Jerry was documented as twenty years old, five feet, six inches tall, with black eyes, complexion and hair. Both men mustered in on December 22, 1863, at Camp Hamilton, where the 1st United States Colored Cavalry was originally organized.

 

Camp Hamilton, Hampton, Virginia. Library of Congress

 

In his pension record, Calvin described his military service as best as he could remember it. He noted that the regiment was involved in a small skirmish “on the turnpike near Petersburg,” though no one in his company was injured. He remembered traveling to Bermuda Hundred, arriving after the battle was over, and being before Petersburg, Virginia, though he didn’t join the fight. Later, he remembered moving on to Williamsburg, Virginia, and being in Richmond after April 3, 1865, when the state capitol fell to Union forces. In the city for only a few days, his company was ordered from Richmond to Geddes (Gettys) Station (Portsmouth, Virginia), and then on to Brazos Santiago, Texas.

It was during the trip to Brazos Santiago, Texas, that Calvin remembered the beginning of what would become permanent issues with his eyesight. Whether from smoke, dust, or exposure, he explained it as “just a loss of sight.” In his enlistment record, he was recorded as being absent from duty on August 3, 1865 as a result, with an eventual transfer to the Corps D’Afrique General Hospital at New Orleans, Louisiana soon after. On December 22, 1865, he was discharged from duty on a surgeon’s certificate of disability. He soon returned to Tidewater, Virginia.

Having no major medical issues, Calvin’s brother Jerry remained in Texas with the regiment when Calvin was discharged. Calvin lived with Jerry’s family in Hampton, Virginia until early 1867.

After Jerry’s return to Hampton Roads, Calvin relocated from Hampton to Portsmouth, and met Hannah Barnes, who became his common law wife.  Hannah was also from North Carolina, and by 1870, the couple were documented in the Western Branch district of (former) Norfolk County, Virginia. Two daughters were born to them, Martha in 1872, and Rachel Ann in 1874. During this period, Calvin worked as a general laborer, eventually becoming an oysterman, like many of my paternal ancestors.

 

Pvt. Calvin White and Hannah Barnes, 1880 Census, West Branch, Norfolk County, Virginia

 

Over in Hampton, Jerry officially married Rebecca (surname unknown). The couple had seven children, daughters Louisa and Rachel, and sons Robert (or Richard), Edward, Jerry, Jr., William, and….Calvin. Jerry White, Sr., worked mostly as a general laborer, in lumberyards in and around Hampton, and later as a gardener.

Pvt. Calvin White passed away on December 31, 1921. His wife, Hannah, and little brother, Pvt. Jerry White, preceded him in death. Hannah died sometime after 1900, and Jerry, on April 13, 1910. Calvin was laid to rest in Portsmouth’s Mount Olive Cemetery by Richard Rodgers, a son of a Civil War veteran, and noted African American undertaker for Portsmouth’s black community.

To date, a headstone for Pvt. Calvin White has not been found. It’s possible that he never had one. It is also possible that he did, and his gravestone, like so many others in the cemetery complex, is simply buried out of sight by a foot or more of soil, a victim of repeated bouts of flooding and soil disturbance over the years. Calvin’s wife Hannah may also be buried in Mount Olive, but like her husband, without an identifiable gravestone.

Of equal interest is the question of Pvt. Jerry White’s last resting place. He is not documented buried in Hampton National Cemetery, nor any other Hampton cemetery to date. Could he be buried with his older brother Calvin in Portsmouth? Or does he rest, undocumented, in one of Hampton’s historic African American cemeteries? In stark contrast, a quick Google search identified the burials of Sarah F. Hinton White and Watson Timothy White, Calvin and Jerry’s former slave owners. They rest in Edenton’s well-kept Beaver Hill Cemetery. As for the graves of Pvt. Calvin White, Hannah Barnes White, and Pvt. Jerry White, the search continues. ♥

Portsmouth, Virginia: Eight local heroes to receive new headstones

Eight more local heroes to receive new headstones. They were all born enslaved, and risked all in their collective escape to freedom to fight against the institution of slavery. Over the years, their gravestones have become weathered, vandalized, and nearly forgotten. The replacement gravestones for Pvt. Arthur Beasley, Pvt. David Bailey, and Cpl. George Baysmore, have already been approved and delivered to a local monument company for installation. Now, five others join them, and will be installed soon, weather permitting. They are:

 

Pvt. Austin Smallwood (ca. 1845-1894)

Bertie County, North Carolina

Co. I, 14th Regiment, U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

Smallwood USCT Copyright Orton 2010

Pvt. Austin Smallwood. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Richard Reddick (ca. 1847-1896)

Perquimans County, North Carolina

Co. F, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2010 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Richard Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010

 


 

Pvt. Thomas Reddick (ca. 1838-1901)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. K, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt Reddick Copyright 2014 Nadia Orton

Pvt. Thomas Reddick. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 24, 2014

 


 

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris (1839-1902)

Suffolk, Virginia

Co. A, 30th Regiment, U. S. Colored infantry

Landsman, USS Allegheny

USS North Carolina, USS Cyane, USS Independence

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Morris USCT Copyright 2011 Nadia K. Orton

Pvt/Landsman Samuel Morris. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, November 5, 2011

 


 

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers (1844-1884)

Gates County, North Carolina

Co. G, 28th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

 

Sgt. Rodgers Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton

Sgt. Lewis Rodgers. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, January 22, 2012

 

 

 

 

Delaware: Tracing family roots, past and present

African American Cemetery Delaware - Copyright 2017 Nadia K. Orton

African-American cemetery, Kent County, Delaware, August 19, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

 

In mid-August, we attended a family reunion in Wilmington, Delaware, for two of the paternal branches of our collective family tree, lines that extend to the 18th-century in Virginia’s Mecklenburg County (est. 1765), and City of Portsmouth (est. 1752), and to Warren County (est. 1779), in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

On the way to the reunion, and in keeping with the theme of “family,” we stopped at this peaceful spot, a well maintained cemetery in Kent County, Delaware. It’s located near the birthplace of Thomas Craig (ca. 1831-1896), a free person of color and Civil War Navy veteran who was included in my first blog a few years ago. (Thomas is buried near my paternal great-great-great grandfather, Max Jolly Orton, also a Navy veteran, and other ancestors in the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, Portsmouth, Virginia.)

Walking through the sacred ground, I reflected on Thomas Craig’s family history, and wondered if any of his relatives were laid to rest in the cemetery. In all probability, they’re not, as the family moved to several areas throughout Kent and New Castle counties after 1855, when Thomas left Delaware and moved to New York City to enlist in the Union Navy. Still, it was nice to be able to visit the region, and forge another tangible connection to history, a moment only made possible through the protection and preservation of the cemetery. ♥

 

Portsmouth, Virginia: Replacement headstones on the way!

Yesterday, I was able to visit ancestral ground, and mark the grave locations of three Civil War veterans, freedom fighters all, who’ll soon get new headstones. Our family was able to set aside the money necessary to install them. A great day!

Copyright Nadia K. Orton 2010

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 9, 2010, Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Washington Milbey, Company F, 10th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1818, Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia. Enlisted November 25, 1863, Craney Island, Virginia. Mustered December 17, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out May 17, 1866, Galveston, Texas. Died January 22, 1894, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2013 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, May 26, 2013. Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Sgt. James “Jim” Edwards, Company C, 2nd Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry. Born ca. 1840, Currituck County, North Carolina. Enlisted and mustered December 24, 1863, Fort Monroe, Virginia. Mustered out February 12, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died September 15, 1901, Portsmouth, Virginia.

 

Copyright 2010 Nadia K. Orton

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 25, 2010. Mount Calvary Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex)

 

Pvt. Samuel Dyes, Company G, 36th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Born ca. 1835, Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Virginia. Enlisted December 9, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered December 28, 1863, Norfolk, Virginia. Mustered out October 28, 1866, Brazos Santiago, Texas. Died July 25, 1925, Portsmouth, Virginia. ♥

Perquimans County, North Carolina: Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry, Belvidere

Pvt. Josephus Riddick Perquimans NC Copyright Nadia Orton 2017

Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry

A few days ago, our family visited the grave of Pvt. Josephus Riddick (1844-1925), of Company E, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Cavalry. The concrete headstone stands about three feet tall, and contains the inscription, “husband of Mary Riddick,” perhaps carved by hand or pressed into the cement before it set. The marker is in very good condition considering its age, and was most likely made by someone skilled in working with the material. I wanted to take a picture of the gravestone without the vine obscuring the inscription, so we wet the stone face with a few bottles of water to loosen the vine’s roots, then carefully snipped it away. Due to the heat, it didn’t take long for the stone to dry. As a rule, we generally try to do as little as possible to a gravestone, but may return soon to remove the rest of the biological growth, as it contains acids that may further damage the stone.

Gravestone of Pvt. Josephus Riddick, Co. E, 1 USCC, with vine removed. Biological growth (i.e. lichen), remains.

In military records, Josephus is listed as “Joseph Redick.” He enlisted at the age of 21 on March 25, 1864, at Norfolk, Virginia under Capt. Charles W. Emerson (d. December 17, 1905), formerly of the 3rd New York Cavalry. Josephus was born in Nansemond County (City of Suffolk), Virginia, and was described as five feet, six inches tall, with the occupation of “general laborer.” He mustered in at Camp Hamilton, in Hampton, Virginia. After a term of about two years, he mustered out on February 11, 1866 with the surviving members of his regiment at Brazos Santiago, Texas.

After returning to Perquimans County, North Carolina, Josephus married Harriett Ann Turner, daughter of Eliza Turner, on January 12, 1878. The ceremony took place at the home of Rev. Willis Whitehead. The young couple resided in Belvidere Township, where Josephus worked primarily as a farmer. According to census records, five children were born to Josephus and Harriett Ann, sons George, Henry, and James Herman, and daughters Josephine and Wincy.

Belvidere Perquimans Co. Sign - Copyright 2012 Nadia Orton

Belvidere Township sign, December 15, 2012. Photo: Nadia K. Orton

Harriett Ann Riddick passed away in 1914. Josephus later married Mary Riddick, daughter of Noah and (Harriett) Ann Riddick, on November 18, 1915, in Belvidere. Josephus died on October 15, 1925.

It’s exciting to discover and document a “new” U. S. Colored Troop, but I can’t take credit for finding his headstone; that honor goes to my father. He’d spotted it almost immediately. Josephus is a “Riddick,” and the surname is common on the paternal side of our family tree. Perhaps Josephus is another long-lost relative? Only time will tell…♥

 

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

Surry County, Virginia: The slave and tenant house at Bacon’s Castle

Slave/tenant house at Bacons Castle, Surry County, October 6, 2012

Slave/tenant house at Bacon’s Castle, Surry County, October 6, 2012

 

Photos of the slave and tenant house at Bacon’s Castle (ca. 1665). We had the opportunity to visit during an event a few years ago. I’d suffered a bilateral lower leg fracture some months prior, so those present would remember my fashionable orthopedic boot. Physical discomfort aside, it was an amazing experience. There were a few descendants of slaves and former tenant workers present. One descendant, Lucy, recounted memories of growing up at Bacon’s Castle. Her family had once lived in a similar structure, and she could vividly remember the sound of the rain on the building’s tin roof. It’s in these stories that history becomes a tangible thing, and connects with our present day.

A historical wayside marker in front of the house reads:

This building was first constructed in 1829 by the Cocke family, descendants of Arthur Allen. There was a single entry door and a porch. In 1834 there were eighty slaves working on the property, some of whom were probably housed in this building. The Hankins family, who owned the property during the Civil War, added an addition and possibly removed the porch in 1849. The floor plan today matches what would have been present in the late 1800s.

In the 1940s, several families were still living on the Bacon’s Castle property. The slave house was wired for electricity and a small kitchen added to the back of the building. Although three or four enslaved families would have lived here prior to the Civil War, the interior was modified to accommodate only one or two tenants after the war. The kitchen addition was removed in the 1990s, returning the building to its antebellum appearance.

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Bacons castle slave/tenant dwelling, 2012 Orton

 

Bacon's Castle Historical Marker, Colonial Trial, Surry. June 9, 2012

Bacon’s Castle historical marker, Colonial Trial, Surry County, Virginia. June 9, 2012

 

 

 

 

Portsmouth, Virginia: The Leon A. Turner Family and interconnections, Mt. Olive Cemetery

 

Gravestone of Leon A. Turner (1890-1916), Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Va.

Gravestone of Leon A. Turner (1890-1916), Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Va.

In Mt. Olive Cemetery, established in 1879, there’s a gravestone standing within the broken remnants of a family plot, shaded by a large tree. Both the gravestone and tree bear visible evidence of their respective ages: the stone is covered in biological growth, and the tree by a dense grouping of liana. However, if you lean in closely, the faint inscription can still be read.

In memory of
Leon A. Turner
Beloved Son of
Weadie S. Turner
Born
July 24, 1890
Departed this life
March 30, 1916
Aged 26 yrs 8 mos &
6 days

Beneath the primary inscription are the first two lines from a hymn, “O what is life? – ‘tis like a flower,” written by English poet Jane Taylor (1783-1824).

“Oh, what is life ‘tis like
a flower
That blossoms and is gone.”

I’d rediscovered Leon’s gravestone recently while skimming through six years of photos for Mt. Olive cemetery. I’d seen it so often before, but on that day I’d paused, and let my eyes linger over the details of the stone. Just what was it that caught my attention? Then I realized why. It was his date of death, the 30th of March, 1916. Leon had passed away exactly 100 years ago this month. And he was only twenty-six years old.

Leon A Turner grave Mt. Olive Cemetery Portsmouth Va.

Gravestone of Leon A. Turner, Mt. Olive Cemetery

He was born Leon Alexander Turner, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Charles Turner, also of Pennsylvania, and Weadie (Weedie) Jones, of Portsmouth, Virginia, daughter of Allen Jones and Mary Craig. The family was never rich or famous, and they don’t turn up very often in genealogical documentation. They are like the majority of people buried in African-American cemeteries, those that history often forgets, whose voices and contributions to their communities may be lost when the cemeteries in which they rest aren’t preserved, or are destroyed through neglect and development. Leon’s father, Charles Turner, has proven most elusive, and while Leon’s place of birth is recorded as Philadelphia, neither he nor Weadie are documented in Pennsylvania records. As an adult, Weadie Turner only surfaces by the early 1900s back in Tidewater, Virginia, employed as a domestic. Leon turns up twice, through announcements of his marriage in 1909 to Zelia Bishop Murray, a native of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, daughter of William Henry Murray, of Prince George County, Virginia, and Rosa Lee Murray, of Washington, D.C. The Portsmouth City Circuit Court has a record of the marriage, and the April 1st, 1909 edition of the New York Age carried an announcement of the nuptials.

The New York Age, April 1, 1909

The New York Age, April 1, 1909

Zelia’s mother Rosa Lee, like Leon’s mother Weadie, worked as a domestic, while her father William Henry was a private coachman to a banker, and later served in the Navy as a cabin steward aboard the USS Tennessee and U. S. Flagship Chicago.

By 1910, Leon’s wife Zelia is recorded living with her mother Rosa Lee and other siblings in Washington, D. C., listed as an “attendant” in the household of Vivian H. Tibbs (ca. 1848-1923), a chauffeur and Virginia-native who, years later, died tragically in a flash flood that swept through the Anacostia District of Washington, D. C. on the evening of March 17, 1923. Between 1910 and 1916, Zelia’s father William Murray’s absence in the household can be explained by his Naval service, but I’ve not found any information on Leon’s whereabouts during this period.

Within six years of his marriage to Zelia, Leon had passed, and was buried in Mt. Olive Cemetery. According to his death certificate, he was described as a general laborer, and had succumbed to complications of pulmonary tuberculosis. William Grogan, a local established undertaker, and a former owner of Portsmouth’s Fishers Hill Cemetery, handled the funeral arrangements. Sadly, Leon’s mother Weadie Jones Turner died only three years later, also from pulmonary tuberculosis. She is interred in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, immediately adjacent to Mt. Olive Cemetery. Unlike her son’s gravesite, Weadie’s has not been found.

I was a bit frustrated over being unable to find more information on the family. Sure, Leon and his relatives aren’t a part of my own lineage, but as I continued to dig for information, they began to feel like family. Stubbornly, I reviewed the records I’d already found, hoping for new insight. While studying Weadie’s death certificate, a small detail caught my eye. It was the surname of her mother Mary, given as “Craig.” On Weadie’s death certificate, it’s misspelled, and reads “Kreg.” Craig. I’d seen the surname before, a Portsmouth family I’d studied several years ago. Was Weadie possibly related to them? Genealogy research doesn’t often resolve itself in such a tidy fashion. But most of my initial research efforts into Leon and Weadie had proven fruitless. Could it be that the genealogy Gods were going to be kind after all? Maybe?

The Craig Family in question concerns Civil War Navy veteran Thomas Craig (1831-1896), born free in Delaware, the subject of my inaugural blog post. Thomas is also buried in Mt. Olive Cemetery. I remembered that he’d had a wife named “Mary.” With fingers crossed, and using the 1870 estimation of Weadie’s birthdate, I looked to the 1880 Federal Census record I’d saved in my Craig Family file.

And there she was! Ten year old Weadie, spelled “Weeddie” in the census record, living in the household of Thomas and wife Mary, listed as his adopted daughter.

Weadie Jones, age 10. 1880 Federal Census, Portsmouth, Va. Ancestry.com

Weadie Jones, age 10. 1880 Federal Census, Portsmouth, Va. Ancestry.com

This discovery provided another window into Leon’s ancestry, through his mother Weadie’s lineage. With previous research conducted into Thomas Craig’s life, I’d discovered his wife Mary Craig was born Mary Manger, about 1845, to parents James Manger and Violet Rivers, in Brunswick County, Virginia. She remained in Portsmouth most of her life, and passed away in 1910. Through his mom Weadie, it’s very likely that Leon A. Turner has maternal ties to Brunswick County as well, although it may also mean that, sadly, he’d lost his maternal grandmother Mary Craig only one year after his marriage to Zelia.

Several questions about Leon A. Turner remain. I still don’t anything about his father, Charles, or his exact whereabouts for most of his adult life. I’m also not sure how Weadie’s father, Allen Jones, maternal grandfather to Leon, fits into Mary Craig’s timeline, and Leon’s connection to Weadie and her parents needs to be verified. However, I’m happy to know a little more about Leon beyond the etchings on his faded gravestone. As part of the long-standing preservation process for the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex, I have studied hundreds of family genealogies for the people buried in the historic site, and can now add Leon’s narrative to the fascinating tale of one of Portsmouth’s first African American institutions, a site still in dire need of preservation, yet has so much to offer to regional and national history.

Fort Fisher Trees NC Orton

Windswept trees at Fort Fisher, New Hanover County, North Carolina

Thinking on the interconnected nature of Leon’s ancestry, I reflected back on a recent family visit to Fort Fisher, in New Hanover County, North Carolina, following up on local Civil War history. There, I was taken by the sight of the windswept trees along the shoreline, and the nature in which the tree limbs interlaced. As I took pictures, the various branches appeared to meld into one large tree, and my mind flashed to family history. All of the successes, tragedies, and surprises you may learn; the discoveries that can make you cry both in sadness and joy. Perhaps it wasn’t so crazy, after all, to look at the trees and think about family. I felt sadness rediscovering Leon’s gravestone, silently resting in Mt. Olive, and realizing it was the 100-year anniversary of his death, and at such a young age. However, there was also joy, I’d found his mother Weadie, and her parents, which ultimately became a trail that led me back to Thomas Craig, and my own family history. To my first blog! There really is something to the idea of six degrees of separation. But that’s genealogy, and it’s a wonderful thing. ♥