In 1941 the government purchased 10 acres of land in Woodford, Virginia from Mrs. Martha Ferguson Galloway Baylor to serve as a burial ground from the African American graves exhumed from the area that would become Fort AP Hill Military Reservation. The cemetery was named Mount Lawn Cemetery. Graves were moved to the cemetery from St. Paul, Mount Olive, Union Baptist, and Bethlehem Baptist church cemeteries, as well as, private burial grounds. Members of Mt Dew church decided not to move the Church or the graves in the church cemetery.
In 1991, Gladys Ferguson, the secretary for Mount Lawn cemetery published the history of the cemetery in a booklet titled The Way We Were, Mount Lawn Cemetery 1941-1991, 50th Anniversary. The book contains the information on the following churches whose graves were moved to Mount Lawn Cemetery:
Mount Olive Baptist Church
Union Baptist of Free Mission
Mount Dew Baptist Church
St Paul Delos
It also contains information on many of the families that attended these churches.
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In 1998, a soldier digging foxholes while training at AP Hill, discovered an unmarked grave. Archeological research in the area unearthed the skeletal remains of 46 people: twenty-nine children, thirteen women and four men. Dr. Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institute analyzed the skeletal remains and stated the cemetery probably dated from the 18th century. The Royston family owned the land from 1730 to 1866 and the cemetery was most likely a slave burial ground.
Dr. Owsley also stated based on the bones and teeth, the slaves were chronically malnourished, with horrible dental problems and aliments associated with a diet lacking protein such as meat. The skeleton of a large man showed evidence of tough manual labor, such as stress fractures in the shoulder blades and warped arm bones from heavy lifting over the years.
In 2001, the remains of the 46 slaves were move to Mount Lawn Cemetery and the grave was marked with a large stone bearing the inscription:
This monument is dedicated in memory of the 46 African American slaves who lived, labored and died on the Royston plantation, now a part of Fort A.P. Hill. Their identity is known only to God, but we believe they live eternal in freedom. Their remains were reinterred on this site on September 23, 2001. May the blessing of God enable them to claim resurrection:
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double…
Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Every Memorial Day (called Decoration Day in the earlier years), a service is held at the cemetery to remember all of those who have passed. It is similar to a family reunion. People come from near and far to pay respects to their deceased family members and lay flowers on their gravesites. At noon, everyone gathers in the pavilion for a ceremony. There are songs, prayer, scripture readings, and a short message from the President of Mount Lawn Cemetery, Inc. Afterwards, people chant while enjoying cool drinks and food.
The Way We Were: MountLawnCemetery 1941-1991 50th Anniversary by Gladys Pocahontas Ferguson
Slaves fund in unmarked Caroline grave get rites September 24, 2001, Free Lance Star, by Hank Shaw