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To honor 13 South Jersey African Americans, their burial site is restored

Wedged between the shoulder of a Burlington County truck route and a scrap metal recycling plant sits a burial ground that until now has been mostly forgotten.

The sliver of land off the Mount Holly Bypass in Hainesport contains the remains of at least 13 African Americans who lived in the mostly Quaker area in the 1800s. One was a Civil War soldier who had served with the U.S. Colored Troops. Another was a resident of Timbuctoo, a community of escaped and freed slaves in adjoining Westampton that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The scattered headstones were hidden by gnarled vines and a small stand of trees until the site was cleared around Thanksgiving as part of the Eagle Scout project of Evan Welby, a senior at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m almost 18, and I had no clue it was there,” said Welby. “I was astonished because I had passed by this place so many times.”

Welby said he learned of the burial ground in Hainesport from a local VFW chapter that years ago put flags on the graves of the veterans buried there. The burial ground, which is about 130 by 60 feet, is owned by the Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church in Mount Holly, located on Washington Street, on the other side of the bypass.

Burlington County historian Paul Schopp said that the church originally was located closer to the small burial site. “Mount Moriah later bought additional lands” and established a new location for the church and a second cemetery on Washington Street in Mount Holly, he said.

Mount Moriah had purchased land for the first church and the Hainesport cemetery in 1826, according to a research paper, “History of Cemeteries in Burlington County,” written by Elizabeth Marren Perinchief in 1975 with a state history grant.

Welby said that he and 15 Scouts in Mount Holly Troop 36 cut down more than 20 trees, ripped out vines, and marked each grave by planting an American flag next to its weathered headstone. Some of the stones bore only the person’s name, birth date, and date of death. Others had etchings that could not be deciphered. One appeared to have the image of clasped hands and wings.

Welby, who plans to attend college next year to study astrophysics, said that he also learned of a solitary headstone in a wooded area adjacent to the site. “To be honest, there’s probably more,” he said. “That could be a future project.”

The owners of the adjacent AmeriCycle Scrap Metal Recycling plant offered to remove the debris with their bulldozers, Welby said. The whole task took about three days.

The Scouts also laid a gravel path and erected an eye-catching decorative white fence along the cemetery’s edge. Welby said he hopes the cemetery will attract passers-by and others interested in seeing the final resting ground.

One passerby had pulled over while they were working and told them one of her ancestors had been buried there.

Mary Giles Weston, 80, of Westampton, remembered visiting the grave of Lambert Giles, her great-great-grandfather, when she was a child.

“After everything grew up around it, I didn’t know where to find the grave,” Weston said.

Weston said she felt “a sense of warmth and happiness” when she met Welby and the Scouts. “These were the most beautiful people in the world. They spent some of their own money and did fund-raising to do this project. … Not many African Americans here in the North can say they are walking on the ground where their ancestors walked.”

The grave marker simply provides Giles’ name and the month and year he was born and died, though some of the numbers are missing.

Weston’s son, Guy, said that he researched his ancestry and learned that Giles was born in 1815 and died in 1875. Giles also was mentioned in a New Jersey Mirror article in 1875 that described him as a whitewasher by trade, “an industrious and worthy man, and noted for his courtesy of manner. … Lambert followed an humble calling, but was regarded as about perfect in his art, and will be more missed than would many of our more pretentious citizens. He was often engaged weeks in advance.”

Weston, who formerly lived in Westampton, said that further research revealed Giles lived in Timbuctoo with his wife and about seven children in the 1840s, shortly before the community reached its peak. In the mid-1800s, Timbuctoo had more than 125 residents, a school, a church, and a cemetery, Weston said.

Giles’ final resting place in Hainesport is close to the two-foot-tall gravestone of Edward B. Chapman, whose tombstone indicates that he was a member of a regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. He died Aug. 2, 1882, according to the inscription. It appears he was only 18 years old.

The rest of the etching is so worn that little else can be read.

But at least that tiny bit of history is no longer concealed by weeds.

Source: philly

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