Fi­nal rest­ing place

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists search for his­toric Port De­posit ceme­tery

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— On an over­grown hill over­look­ing School­house Apart­ments is a patch of ground that one man be­lieves is a ceme­tery plot where slaves were buried.

Al­bert Owens led a group from The Ar­chaeo-

PORT DE­POSIT

log­i­cal So­ci­ety of the North­ern Ch­e­sa­peake Inc. on a hike Mon­day to lo­cate the 20-by-20-foot plot. With a walk­ing stick in hand, Owens, a Port De­posit res­i­dent, ma­neu­vered the group through heavy brush, vines and weeds to the crest of the hill. Along the way, he pointed out decades of de­bris dumped there by peo­ple un­aware of the sa­cred ground.

He also pointed out the stacked stone wall, which

his re­search in­di­cates was built by slaves.

“The slaves that built that wall were buried here,” he said.

Sev­eral hun­dred yards away is an­other 20-by-20 fam­ily plot, but it is sur­rounded with a wrought iron fence and fea­tures carved head­stones. Not so in the slaves’ rest­ing place.

“The only marker was a stone as com­mon as the ones in the field,” Owens said.

He added that the only marks that would have been made would come from scratch­ing on the sur­face with a piece of metal.

“The stones we are look­ing for are pretty non­de­script,” said Dan Coates, pres­i­dent of the so­ci­ety.

Dur­ing the hike, Coates, Chris Sch­lehr, mem­ber sec­re­tary, and Ed O’Neill, an­other so­ci­ety mem­ber, dis­cussed the ter­rain, notic­ing such things as out­crop­pings of ferns, which they said meant the pres­ence of a spring.

“We saw some cul­tural ev­i­dence of a home­stead,” Coates said. “There’s also a pos­si­ble house area up the hill.”

“And one of the things nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with a home­stead is a fam­ily ceme­tery,” he added.

Owens told the men that the de­cay­ing house still on the prop­erty was built by his grand­fa­ther. The ma­te­ri­als he used were rem­nants of con­struc­tion at the bur­geon­ing Bain­bridge Naval Train­ing Cen­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to Sch­lehr, the land it­self was “pretty poor farm­land,” which would be the kind given to a newly freed slave af­ter the Civil War.

While search­ing, the men found sev­eral de­cay­ing fence posts amongst the bram­bles. One of the lo­cust wood posts was still hold­ing onto a rust­ing sec­tion of barbed wire fence, which had been rolled rather than nailed to the post. Sev­eral large stones were also pointed out by Owens and marked for fu­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Coates said he would talk with the membership and board of direc­tors about tak­ing on what he clas­si­fied as a man­age­able project.

“It’s 20-by-20. We could clear the space and put a low stone fence around it,” Coates said. “We would have to clear all that vine and bri­ars and look for the stones that might have some kind of pat­tern.”

It’s un­likely there would be any ef­fort to de­ter­mine the num­ber of graves on the site, he added.

“You could go in with a metal de­tec­tor and you could find some shroud pins,” Coates said.

Coates ex­plained that burial for those with lim­ited means meant be­ing wrapped in fab­ric closed with pins.

Be­cause it is on pri­vate land, he said, any in­ter­pre­tive ma­te­ri­als would likely be held and dis­played by a lo­cal his­tor­i­cal group such as the Paw Paw Mu­seum and the Port De­posit Her­itage Cor­po­ra­tion.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Chris Sch­lehr and Dan Coates from the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of the North­ern Ch­e­sa­peake Inc. de­bate the mark­ings of a plat of land where Al­bert Owens, right, be­lieves a slave ceme­tery is lo­cated in Port De­posit. Owens led a group to the site Mon­day.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Ed O’Neill, of the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of the North­ern Ch­e­sa­peake Inc., searches for re­mains of a pos­si­ble slave ceme­tery in Port De­posit.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Al­bert Owens marks one of the for­mer fence posts re­main­ing on the old home­stead prop­erty off School­house Drive in Port De­posit. It’s one of sev­eral dis­cov­ered dur­ing a Mon­day tour of the land in search of ev­i­dence of a slave burial ground.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Al­bert Owens, right, takes a closer look at a lo­cust fence post, one of a hand­ful still re­main­ing on a prop­erty off School­house Drive in Port De­posit. Owens be­lieves a Civil War era slave burial ground is also on the for­mer farm prop­erty.

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