Maryland church learns about its past following discovery of forgotten cemetery

CHARLES COUNTY, MD — A small forest, in Southern Maryland, once held a decade’s-long secret that may have gone unnoticed if not for the efforts of a curious clergywoman.

Reverend Ruby Brown-Thomas grew up visiting Nanjemoy, Maryland. Nanjemoy is a small Charles County community that sits just a few miles east of the Potomac River.

It is not very large. Just a few roads divide its sprawling farmland. Drivers are more likely to encounter a four-way stop there than a stoplight.

But, it holds a special place in Brown-Thomas’ heart. She calls it, “God’s Country”.

“It’s quiet,” Brown-Thomas said. “It’s peaceful.”



A Vietnam veteran was going to be buried alone. Then a stranger helped find his family.

By Isabella Gomez and Paul P. Murphy, CNN
Updated 8:48 PM ET, Wed May 16, 2018

When Dave Fullarton discovered the ashes of former Army Captain Larry Casey, he felt the Vietnam veteran deserved a proper military funeral. But he didn’t want to be the only one to honor him.

The safe and vault repairman from Maryland came across the remains in February when he was cleaning out the house of a close friend who had died. That friend, he said, turned out to have been best friends with Casey.

“I decided to contact the Baltimore National Cemetery to ask for some guidance,” he told CNN. “All we had was a box of ashes and some photographs.”

Neither Fullarton nor his late friend’s family had ever met Casey, who died in 2002. They did not know if he had any surviving family members.

As the cemetery made arrangements for a full military burial on May 15, Fullarton posted on social media inviting people to pay their respects. Many joined his search and managed to track down Casey’s widow, who lives in Georgia, and his daughter, who lives in Texas. Both women flew out on less than a day’s notice to attend the burial.

Read the entire story on CNN.

County Council Hopefuls Voice Support for Memorializing Historic Westbard Cemetery Site

Candidates urge housing agency to preserve burial ground under apartment parking lot

Candidates and community members showed up at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission on Wednesday.

Candidates and community members showed up at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission on Wednesday.


A group of candidates for Montgomery County Council spoke up Wednesday in support of memorializing the site of a long lost African-American cemetery in Bethesda.

The burial ground a short distance from River Road in Westbard is partially covered by a parking lot for apartments owned by the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, and the political hopefuls said it’s time for the agency to redress past wrongs.

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2018 Maryland Burial Sites Legislation

  • April 17, 2018
  • News

 In a session where major issues of gun control, school safety and funding, climate change and medical coverage captured the headlines, the General Assembly took time to protect Maryland’s history and sacred burial sites.  The effort required 2 bold sponsors, a core group of resolute advocates, 5 House and Senate committees, and hundreds of emails and phone calls to pass the first burial sites legislation since the 1990s.  Governor Larry Hogan signed both bills on May 8.  We traded a signing pen for “I Brake for Old Graveyards” bumper sticker.

Executive Office of the Governor, Joe Andrucyk, photographer

While half of the changes proposed by the Coalition and allies did not survive in committees, we are happy to report that descendants and caretakers will gain easier access, owners will be required to consult with the Maryland Historical Trust about conservation treatment, and counties and towns are now authorized to provide a property tax credit related to burial sites.

Appreciation goes to bill sponsors Delegate Tony Knotts of Prince George’s County and Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City, to the Maryland Association of Counties, David Zinner, Funeral Consumers Alliance, The War of 1812 Society in Maryland, and to all Marylanders who urged legislators to improve state law for the benefit of abandoned and neglected cemeteries.

Effective date of this legislation is June 1, 2018.  The precise new wording in sections of the Annotated Code of Maryland will be posted on this site as soon as those details are available from Legislative Services at the Maryland General Assembly.

Rediscovering the African-American graveyard beneath a Baltimore shopping center

By Christina Tkacik – The Baltimore Sun – Mar 20, 2018

Ron Castanzo pulled up to the parking lot of the strip mall in the Belair-Edison neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore in his minivan a while back.

On a grassy spot near the entrance of the Belair Edison Crossing shopping center on Belair Road, he saw the top of a white tombstone breaking through the ground, like a tooth coming in.

Castanzo, a professor at the University of Baltimore who teaches courses in anthropology and human biology, remembers thinking: “Wow, there was a cemetery here.”

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Slave Cemetery Found On Former Crownsville Plantation

Relatives of Francis Scott Key owned Belvoir plantation, where a cemetery of slaves’ graves has been found, historians say.

ANNAPOLIS, MD – From The Maryland Department of Transportation: Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) archaeologists discovered a burial ground in late January in Anne Arundel County.

Within a forest surrounded by snarled cedar stumps; field stones, perhaps marking old graves, dotted the surface on a tract of land known as Belvoir, a plantation owned by relatives of Francis Scott Key, the writer of our National Anthem from the War of 1812.

A white marble headstone was discovered. Although the name and date on this stone were eroded away by time and elements, MDOT SHA archaeologists suspect that it may have belonged to a 4-year old African-American boy, Joseph Grocia, who was buried somewhere on the property in 1913.

The cemetery find was excavated by Anne Arundel County and MDOT SHA archaeologists as part of a Transportation Enhancement Project. They did not know about the burial ground until now. The property is now owned and maintained by Rockbridge Academy in Crownsville.

Rodney Daff and James Brown Jr., who grew up on the Belvoir plantation in the 1970s, when the property was covered in strawberry fields, reached out to MDOT SHA Chief Archaeologist, Dr. Julie Schablitsky. Brown’s dad shared the history of the plantation and the “slave cemetery.”

“When we walked to the flat point of land, I became very excited about what I saw,” said Dr. Schablitsky. “I could tell right away that this was a sacred place that had been lost to time, but we needed more evidence that it was used as a burial ground.”

To help confirm the oral history of this space being used as a “slave cemetery”, MDOT SHA enlisted the help of Heather Roche, with Bay Area Recovery Canines, who visited the site in late February to help determine if human remains were buried at the site. The dogs are trained to detect the scent of human decomposition, even after 200 years in the ground. All three of the canines indicated the presence of human remains.

“The topography and location, along with the pattern of field stones and indications by Roche’s K9 team, are compelling pieces of evidence to indicate that this is, in fact, a long-forgotten cemetery related to residents of the Belvoir plantation,” said Anne Arundel County Chief of Cultural Resources Jane Cox. “The discovery offers tremendous potential to learn about an under-represented part of our county’s history.”

Further study would still be needed to determine the date of the burials and whose relatives may rest there. Despite the cautious optimism by the archaeologists, the descendants of the African American community at Belvoir are excited about the potential.

“As descendants of enslaved families who lived on Belvoir Plantation we are thrilled to have this access and knowledge of our history in Crownsville, Maryland,” said Wanda Watts. “Not many African Americans are connected to the heritage of their ancestors as we are,” said Watts.

MDOT SHA and Anne Arundel County archaeologists partnered in the discovery of historic sites along General’s Highway, where Civil War sites, homes, and Native American camps lay buried. Along this corridor, Rochambeau’s troop of 5,000 soldiers camped at Belvoir on their way to the Battle of Yorktown, which effectively ended the American Revolutionary War. Additionally, Francis Scott Key spent time at the plantation with his grandmother, Anne Arnold Ross Key. The archaeological findings will help interpret the use and evolution of this transportation corridor. The team began work at Belvoir in April 2014 and are currently writing up their finds. The African American community, county, and state have come together to recognize the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked at Belvoir. 

Source: Annapolis Patch

Applications for Trader Foundation Grants are Due on July 1, 2019

The Trader Foundation for Maryland Burial Sites provides financial assistance for worthy projects to rejuvenate endangered historic Maryland cemeteries. The Foundation invites applications for grants up to $2,000 to qualified parties. Application deadlines are January 1 and July 1 of each year.

The project or program must benefit a specific burial ground in Maryland, and Trader funds must be matched by the grantee in cash or in kind. Examples of eligible projects include rescue of an endangered site, gravestone conservation or restoration, documentation, protection of burial site from desecration by nature or by man, cemetery clean-up, and planning for restoration. For further information and the application form, click here.

Grant to Stop Stormwater Runoff at Annapolis Historic Cemetery

  • September 28, 2017
  • News

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has awarded half a million dollars in funding to fix the stormwater runoff problem at an historic Annapolis church cemetery. Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church is home to a historic cemetery where members of the African American community have been buried for over 150 years, including former slaves and Harriet Tubman’s descendants. The church, located near Whitehall Creek in Annapolis, floods during significant rain events.

Read the full article here.

Neighbor hopes state will restore, maintain cemetery

About 20 years ago, Maureen and Bill Norton were looking at oysters in a tidal creek off of the Potomac River in southern St. Mary’s County. Maureen started walking through the nearby woods and came across an iron fence surrounding a small plot of headstones among the ivy and the trees.

In the ensuing years, the vegetation has continued to grow over the cemetery, some headstones have fallen over as well as part of the fence. The ornate gate of the iron fence has gone missing.

Called the Hencoop cemetery, there are five generations of three families buried there. The land became part of Point Lookout State Park when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bought 444 acres around Cornfield Harbor Road in 1992.

Read the full article here.

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