In 1941 the federal government purchased ten acres of land in Woodford, Virginia, from Mrs. Martha Ferguson Galloway Baylor to serve as a burial ground for the African American graves exhumed from the area that would become Fort AP Hill Military Reservation. The cemetery was named Mount Lawn Cemetery. Graves from St. Paul, Mount Olive, Union Baptist, and Bethlehem Baptist church cemeteries and private burial grounds were moved to Mount Lawn cemetery. 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 cemetery’s history in a booklet titled The Way We Were, Mount Lawn Cemetery 1941-1991, 50th Anniversary. The book contains 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.
Every Memorial Day (called Decoration Day in the earlier years), a service is held at the cemetery to remember 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 chatted while enjoying cool drinks and food. (Sources: The Way We Were: Mount Lawn Cemetery 1941-1991 50th Anniversary by Gladys Pocahontas Ferguson)
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
Source: Slaves fund in unmarked Caroline grave get rites September 24, 2001, Free Lance Star, by Hank Shaw.
Burials – Plot Book
Mount Lawn Cemetery is an excellent resource for individuals performing genealogy research on African American families who lived in Caroline County, Virginia. In the early 2000s, an officer of the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association provided me with a copy of the Plot Book that lists burials in the cemetery. The Plot Book is organized by the cemetery sections. Therefore, looking at every page when searching for a name is necessary.
The Mount Lawn Cemetery Plat Book has been converted to a PDF document. Bookmarks were added for each section (Note: The copy of the Plat Book did not have a Section G ). To view bookmarks after opening the document in Adobe Acrobat, click View from the menu bar, and select Navigation Panel and Bookmarks. Click on the bookmark to go to a specific section.
Many family members are buried in the same area; therefore, when one individual’s grave is located, you will often find burial sites for several other family members. Also, remember the Plat Book was obtained in the early 2000s; therefore, it does not contain burials that occurred after that period.
Burials – Find A Grave
The Find A Grave website allows individuals to visit cemeteries worldwide virtually. The site is not associated with any cemetery. Contributors add and update burial information. The Find A Grave app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.
Please remember the Find A Grave Mount Lawn Cemetery page is not associated with the Mount Lawn Cemetery Association and does not contain a complete record of all the cemetery’s graves.