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Cemetery steward cleans up African American graves in Deale and looks to have its history recognized


Elinor Thompson has started cleaning a cemetery in Deale where her in-laws’ family has ancestors buried and has been marking possible unmarked graves along the way.

Tanyard Cemetery, also known Franklin Cemetery, is an African American cemetery owned by Franklin United Methodist Church. Tombstones mark dates ranging from 1842 to 1982 and the site contains over 120 graves, many unmarked and many with hand-carved stones.

The property used to include two buildings, a place where cowhides were tanned and a meeting house that was one of the oldest Black Methodist gathering places in southern Anne Arundel County, said Thompson, the cemetery project manager and steward.

After the previous caretaker died two years ago, the cemetery wasn’t maintained as well as it had been.

“Even though it wasn’t in the best of shape, we are doing things to clean it up now,” Thompson said. “I have applied for grants as well to help clean up the area.”

The Trader Foundation of Maryland for Burial Sites is providing a grant to add fencing and signs.

Thompson would like to get the cemetery added to the National Register of Historic places and Maryland Historical Trust. She believes there are Civil War veterans and a War of 1812 veteran buried there, as well as many who were enslaved and later freed. Thompson has 356 death certificates of people buried at the cemetery.

She listed some notable people buried there as Primas Thompson, who she said fought in the War of 1812, Civil War veterans John H. Thompson and Thomas Crowner. Others include William G. Holland, Susan Blunt and former slave Rebecca Brown, who died in 1842, whose grave is the oldest marked at the cemetery.

“We are trying to help locate descendants of the people buried here to help connect the community,” Thompson said.

Part of Thompson’s motivation to clean up the cemetery was to protect any unmarked resting places outside the property from development after she saw construction was going to start on the property next to it. A grading permit for a single family home is pending.

Anne Arundel County will conduct an archeological survey 25 feet out from the cemetery property line to ensure there aren’t any graves at risk.

“This is an important cemetery so we required the survey out of an abundance of caution,” said Jane Cox, chief of the Cultural Resources Division at the county Planning and Zoning Department.

If artifacts are found during the survey, they would be kept in the county archaeological curation facility and accessible to researchers and the public by request. If a grave is discovered, it will remain undisturbed and protected by an easement under county law. If they discover a grave inside the 25-foot buffer from the property line, a survey between the graves and any new construction will follow.

Cox said in a week or two they will know the results.

“I am trying to preserve the history of the cemetery and its importance,” Thompson said.

Do you think you have any ancestors located in Franklin Cemetery? Contact Elinor Thompson at

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