Posted on August 15, 2017
WILLIAMSBURG BURIAL GROUNDS IN VIRGINIA
There are burial grounds scattered all over Williamsburg and on the campus of William and Mary. We’ve always known they buried bodies quickly at the hospital sites – for instance, at the Coke-Garrett house, the Greek Revival Baptist Church, the nearly 200 revolutionary bodies buried behind the Governor’s Palace – but the area hold much more, and numerous forgotten graves are nearly ubiquitous in downtown Williamsburg.
Nearly 6,000 Virginians died of the Spanish Flu in October 1918 during the historic epidemic of the 20th century. Many were sent home to be buried, but several others were simply buried on a section of land near William and Mary that is partly paved over. Two graves were found in the Merchant Square parking lot that had tombstones paved over.
We also suspect that some of the British who died at Yorktown were buried underneath the Palace Green in front of the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg. Researchers originally thought that the British were mostly buried behind the palace, but later confirmed the graves were all American. The French soldiers were buried nearby at the Bucktrout Cottage. Eight bodies were confirmed buried at the Public Gaol, one right under one of the walls.
Perhaps one of the more amazing discoveries was by accident: an Indian burial ground that was moved when construction workers accidentally discovered it while constructing the National Park Service’s National Colonial Parkway tunnel that runs under Colonial Williamsburg. Graves and resting places were unquestionably sacred to the Native American population.
The following article was written by Terry Meyers and appeared in the Virginia Gazette in 1998.
That he lives in the center of Williamsburg, only blocks from the College, but has three graves in his backyard doesn’t seem to disturb the composure of Matt Mainor. Not long after he moved to Newport Avenue, about seven years ago, he heard from a neighbor, Alfred Armstrong, the story that many people along the street had heard, that they lived close to a burying ground used in 1918 for victims of the famous influenza epidemic.
Only recently, however, has it been possible to ferret out the details of the Bucktrout Cemetery where, from 1918 to 1928, two dozen or more people, black and white, were buried in a potters field on the Bucktrout Farm. The stories of the people buried there, as I know them, are brief, very brief.
And they might have been lost totally had it not been for a gift to Swem Library of the College of William and Mary. That generous gift by the Bucktrout Funeral Home–six volumes of funeral records covering the years 1916 to 1945–tells us what little is known of the people whose bodies were laid to rest in downtown Williamsburg.
Bucktrout Cemetery was opened at a time of terrible stress on Williamsburg following the establishment and incredibly rapid expansion of a major munitions factory operated by DuPont at the village of Penniman, now Cheatham Annex, some six miles from Williamsburg. At the height of World War I, in January 1918, DuPont announced that by the summer the number of men building the plant at Penniman would be increased from 1,000 to 3,000 or 4,000, all to construct a new village with a bank, a YMCA, a post office, a hotel, a railway depot, a hospital, restaurants, and some 250 homes for workers and their families.
Wages were so high that people flocked to Williamsburg and Penniman from all over. Local farmers found laborers almost impossible to hire, and certainly not at the old low wages. With thousands of men and women manufacturing shells at Penniman and living wherever they could, Williamsburg boomed. Rental space, whether for offices or for living, was impossible to find at any price. Townspeople found they had to line up for service at every establishment, even at the Post Office, which extended its hours into the night to keep up with demand. And then, even more suddenly, the boom was over. The Armistice came on November 11, 1918. By late November came reports that 300 workers a day at Penniman were being paid off and let go.
In the midst of all this, the influenza epidemic of 1918 struck. The death rate was unimaginable, especially by modern standards. An article in the Virginia Gazette reported on January 23, 1919, even before a full count by medical officers, that in October 1918 alone 5,999 Virginians died of the flu. The Gazette cited the extraordinary death figures for many Virginia cities and camps (military camps had been particularly hard hit). The paper had reported on November 21, 1918 that “many died at Penniman, but the exact number is not known. It was very fatal there, it appears.”
Funeral homes all over the Peninsula were overwhelmed by influenza deaths. Records from October through December 1918 show that Bucktrout alone received approximately 91 bodies, most of them from the Penniman Hospital. Most were shipped elsewhere for burial, to hometowns in other parts of Virginia, in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, with DuPont picking up the tab.
The Daily Press of October 6, even before the epidemic began to peak, noted that Williamsburg was feeling the effects of the flu: “at Penniman there are reported to be many cases and a number of deaths, but both are too large to be creditable, as rumoured.” On October 11, the situation was still more ominous–no deaths in Williamsburg proper, but reports of many deaths at Penniman, of large numbers of bodies being shipped home for burial, and of a veritable exodus of frightened employees.
On October 12, the Daily Press reported that undertakers were being kept busy by the toll at Penniman: “the baggage cars are always full of caskets.” And on October 13 came a report that “a local [Williamsburg] undertaker had to requisition a truck to haul bodies from Penniman this morning, and some eight or ten were brought up this morning for shipment by train to their former homes for burial. There is a scarcity of coffins here, the dealers having had in hand only a small stock prior to the grip epidemic.”
I can only speculate as to why Horatio Bucktrout (1860-1933) chose to set up a new cemetery on farmland he had purchased in January 1918, south of present-day Newport Avenue and east of Griffin Avenue. As an undertaker descended from several generations of undertakers, he might already have had an eye out for a new potters field to replace the 19th-century paupers’ burying ground reputedly not far from where the Williamsburg Inn stands now. But the dead from Penniman, especially when they began to arrive in such great numbers, must have presented a special problem. They were not paupers, since DuPont paid a burial benefit. But they mostly would not have seemed suitable for burial in Williamsburg’s municipal cemetery, Cedar Grove, which was, with rare exceptions, reserved for residents of the city, black and white (though burials were in racially distinct sections). And because most of the Penniman dead were utter strangers to the area, there would have been no easy way to arrange for their burials in the churchyards and family plots scattered through the countryside. The widow of a later owner of the Bucktrout Funeral Home, Mrs. Clarence Page, said to me that in the 1918 epidemic, workers from Penniman “died so many and so fast” that they were buried there, on Bucktrout’s new land. One resident of Newport Avenue, William Maner, had heard that the graves were to be temporary, pending final arrangements.
The first person buried in Bucktrout Cemetery, May 19, 1918, Georg Worley, a “colored” worker at the DuPont shell plant, died at the Penniman Hospital of pneumonia and was buried in a hardwood coffin in the third plot of the first row (“A” below). DuPont paid Bucktrout’s $40 charge for a coffin, embalming, and burial.
The next burial was of another Penniman worker, a laborer, Gaspare Fiola, who died about June 16, 1918, according to a Dr. Bowers, of “stomach trouble.” Again DuPont paid the costs, $75 for the grave, a burial outfit, care of the body, embalming, and a black crepe casket. The funeral director noted on the record of the funeral the name of a lawyer in Boston, A. DeFillipo, as well as a check sent to Maria Fiola, for $18.51. Why the check was sent is not given. Fiola was laid in the fourth grave of the first row (“B” below).
James Cooke, a local child, was the third burial, but the location of his plot in the cemetery is not recorded. Bucktrout calculated that Cooke was only 9 years, 8 months, and 5 days old (he was born on January 19, 1909) when he died from typhoid fever on September 25, 1918. His funeral was held at 12 noon on September 29, 1919, at the “Wales Church” (i.e., Mt. Ararat Baptist Church), Dr. Wales officiating. James Cooke was the son of Peachy Cooke and Millie Wallace Cooke, both of whom had been born in James City County. At the time of his death, Master Cooke was living in Newport News, where his mother’s address was 456 28th St. The funeral was not expensive: $10 for a hearse and $5 for “wagon delivery.”
In early October 1918, influenza began to rage nationally–and locally. On October 8, five people died and were soon buried in Bucktrout Cemetery. All had links to Penniman. They were:
Dalton Winkles, 19, who hailed from the tiny town of Leuders, Texas, dead from pneumonia. The bill of $105 (for a white enamel coffin, an outside box, burial robe, and embalming, as well as for transportation from Penniman to Williamsburg and opening the grave) was sent to C. D. Winkles, in Leuders, but paid by DuPont in December. Dalton Winkles was buried in the first row, seventh grave (“C” below).
Mrs. Sadie J. [?] Stanley, wife of Walter Y. Stanley, 803 G St. Her husband paid the $140 funeral expenses (including in this instance a “silver grey couch” coffin and burial slippers and hose) in seven payments, from March, 1919 into November, 1919. A further notation on the page perhaps records a hometown for one of the Stanleys: 121 Mill St [?], Pontiac, Michigan. Mrs. Stanley lies in the first grave of the second row (“D” below).
James Arthur, a “Negro,” whose death from pneumonia was certified by a “colored” physician, Dr. Johnson. Burial was in a varnished coffin in row one, grave eight (“E” below) The $105 costs were paid by DuPont in December.
B. P. Humphrey, a white man. His death was certified by Dr. Branhaus, and he was buried in the second grave of the second row (“F” below). DuPont paid $105 for the usual services.
E. R. Combs, white, again dying at Penniman. Dr. Cottrell certified that death came, October 8, 1918, from myocardial insufficiency and pneumonia. Combs was buried on October 13, in the third grave of the second row (“G” below), the $105 costs paid by DuPont in December.
After that spate, burials in Bucktrout Cemetery abated, as far as records go, though deaths at Penniman did not. The ten month old son of John H. Steinruck, who lived at 1221 F Street in Penniman died on October 11, 1918, of pneumonia, as certified by Dr. Wood, with his funeral the next day. The cost was only $20. He was buried in the first grave of the third row (“H” below).
Two days later an “operator” of machinery at DuPont, G. M. Robbins, white, died, his death certified by Dr. Branhaus. On October 14, he was placed in the second grave of the third row (“I” below), in a varnished coffin. DuPont paid the costs of $105 in December.
On October 12, John D. Saunders died at Penniman Hospital and was buried in the third row, third grave (“J” below). Dr. H. A. Wood certified that he died of lobar pneumonia. The $105 that DuPont paid in December included a $5 “outlay for plot,” a specification that comes in from time to time either through a slip of the pen or as a sign that particular plots were being sold.
Also on October 12, C. M. Coffey, white, died at the Penniman Hospital, in the Annex, of pneumonia. A relation, J. F. (or S.) Coffey of Bixby, Oklahoma, apparently later wrote to inquire about exhuming his body and shipping it back home. A note is pinned to the page, suggesting that Bucktrout had written as to precisely where Coffey was buried–in row one, grave six (“K” below). DuPont paid the $105 funeral costs.
The same day, October 12, came the death of N. J. West, white, again dying of pneumonia and again at Penniman, as certified by Dr. H. F. Branhaus. He was buried October 15, 1918 in the second grave of the fourth row (“L” below). The funeral cost $105, paid for by DuPont.
The next day saw the death of W. W. Cole, white, who died October 13, also of pneumonia and also at the Penniman Hospital. He was buried in a varnished coffin, in the fifth grave of the second row (“M” below) on October 17, 1918.
On October 13, 1918 Earl Farris died at Penniman, as certified by Dr. H. A. Wood, of respiratory failure and pneumonia. Farris was single, and his body was to have been shipped to Mrs. B. Smith, Edmond, Oklahoma, but she sent a telegram ordering his burial in Williamsburg instead. The charges of $105, paid by DuPont, included a $5 “outlay for lot.” His lot was row 2, grave 6 (“N” below).
On the next day Mrs. W. F. Winkie, a white woman, died of pneumonia, as certified by Dr. H. A. Wood. She had been born at Gasport, New York on June 22, 1885, and was employed at Penniman as an machinery operator. Her parents had both been born in Germany. She was, Bucktrout calculated, 33 years, 3 months, and 22 days old when she died. DuPont paid her burial costs of $105 in December. She was buried, on October 21, 1918 in the ninth grave of the first row (“O” below).
U. F. Thomas succumbed about the same time and was buried on October 16. He was a near relation of Frances Monday, R. F. D. #6, Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The costs of burying Thomas in row 2, grave 7 (“P” below), $105, were paid in December by DuPont.
A local “colored” woman, Cornita Moss Boswell, 23 years old, died in Williamsburg of pneumonia on October 21, 1918. She was buried in a varnished coffin, but the location in Bucktrout Cemetery is not noted. Moss Boswell was charged, and paid, $75.
At this point the Bucktrout records showing place of burial become erratic as death continues apace, perhaps because the pressure of dealing with so many bodies makes record keeping more difficult. It is not until after the epidemic peaks that records begin to stabilize.
After that of Cornita Boswell, the next burial recorded as being in Bucktrout Cemetery is that of the three year old child of Louis Filler, of Penniman, the death certified by Dr. Bennet. The child was laid to rest in the first grave in the first row (“Q” below), the costs of $25 paid in cash on January 14, 1919 (included was $2.50 for “outlay for lot”).
For several more months, Bucktrout Cemetery was quiet. Then about April 13, 1919, a poor black man known only as Robert, “about 25 yrs” old, whose death was certified by a local physician, Dr. King, was laid to rest in a plot not recorded. “Robert” had died in a C & O railway car. York County was charged the $20 that brought him burial in a “pauper coffin.”
Quiet reigned again, until July 30, 1920 when a three-day-old, prematurely born white baby, George Worten Carpenter, was buried. He had been born at Camp Eustis to a mother whose name is not listed and a single man, W. Carpenter, from Georgia. The tiny child was buried in a special “still born” coffin. The cost of $40 was paid in cash on July 29, 1920. Five dollars was for the grave, the site of which within the Bucktrout Cemetery is not specified.
At the end of 1920, on December 11, Joe Pleasant, “colored,” a resident of James City County, was found dead. Born in 1842 to Frank Pleasant in Virginia, Pleasant was a laborer. He was buried in a varnished coffin. The costs of $87 included charges for shaving and dressing the body, the cost of a hearse, and $7 for flowers. Also $10 for “outlay for lot”–though which one is not recorded.
The last burial in Bucktrout Cemetery that I’ve been able to find in the Bucktrout records came years later, on March 3, 1928, when the infant of Clifton Williams and Clara Jones Williams was buried. The child had died the day before, five days after being born. The plot was not recorded. The charges of $24, including $2 for a wreath and $4 for a pillow, were covered by a note paid off within a few months by Clara Williams in four payments ($10, $5, $4, and $6). The casket was lined with lambskin.
Buried in unrecorded locations in Bucktrout Cemetery: James Cooke, buried September 19, 1918; Cornita Moss Boswell, died October 21, 1918; Robert, buried April 13, 1919; George Worten Carpenter, buried July 30, 1920; Joe Pleasant, found dead December 11, 1920; Infant Williams, buried March 3, 1928.
Were all the graves as projected in the diagram filled? I don’t know. There are a number of people who died at Penniman for whom there is neither shipping nor interment information in the Bucktrout records. Annie Forbes, a waitress at Penniman, who died of lobar pneumonia on October 20, 1918, and whose funeral costs of $105 DuPont paid, may be in the Bucktrout Cemetery. Or maybe not. No place of interment is recorded.
As best as I can tell, ten people who died at Penniman between October 16 and December 27, 1918, are listed in the Bucktrout records with neither shipping charges nor place of interment noted (though one is actually buried in Cedar Grove). Four other people died at places not recorded and were handled with no note as to being shipped or interred. To the total of recorded graves then in the Bucktrout Cemetery, 23, we might add as many as 13 whose plots are not marked in any way. That would bring the total to 36, far less than the hundreds Matt Mainor had understood might be buried in the area.
To die at Penniman seemed to lead to being shipped home or to being buried at Bucktrout. But not always. One of the ten who is recorded as neither shipped nor interred anyplace is Clarence Maxwell, described as a white, 30 year old Assistant Supervisor at Penniman, married and a Baptist, whose funeral was October 3, 1918, the Reverend Moncure presiding. DuPont paid $104 for costs. Although where the burial took place is not indicated, Maxwell in fact lies beneath a headstone in Cedar Gover: Clarence Nathaniel Maxwell, April 22, 1885–October 2, 1918. It turns out that Maxwell lies in a grave contributed by a local family–when their son was killed in France, they realized they would not need the plot. Consider too the case of Paul Wicak, the 34 year old son of Barthol Wicak, 3312 H. St., Kensington, Philadelphia. Wicak died of pneumonia at Penniman Hospital and was buried on October 21–in Williamsburg, but at Cedar Grove. In this case the bill–$185–was higher than DuPont’s standard and was paid by the Wicak family. The plot, of course, cost more than a Bucktrout lot: $15. Sex, race, class, and money make a difference, even in death.
What about the later history of the cemetery? It seems to have largely faded from memory. I certainly haven’t been able to find it mentioned on land records or in deeds as the Bucktrout Farm was subdivided, sold, and developed. Aerial photographs in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Rockefeller Library are not easy to decipher, but one which clearly shows the land may show signs of graves. A number of residents can recall the graves in the mid-1940’s; Jack Carter, who grew up on Griffin Avenue, remembers playing among the graves as a child. Martha Armstrong recalls that her small children played years ago in one grave behind their house that had sunk enough that they had to clamber in and out. She doesn’t think the graves went very far back into the woods before Counselors Close was built, though she does recall once walking back and finding there an arrangement of blue Vicks bottles, perhaps decorative acknowledgment of a burial. And Alfred Armstrong tells me he remembers clearly six graves neatly aligned, beyond the boundary of his lot, on land that is now part of Counselors Close. Armstrong never heard that any graves were discovered or disturbed in the construction of Counselors Close; William Mainor too is pretty sure that Counselors Close did not disturb any graves, not having heard that it did, and reasoning that such an event would have gotten about pretty quickly and had the archaeologists on the case in a flash.
Perhaps the only person to raise a formal question about Bucktrout Cemetery and the people buried there is Mrs. Doris Epps, who lives on South Boundary Street and who had heard about the graves from her father. When the City Planning Commission was considering the proposed development of Counselors Close, according to the minutes of a meeting on May 15, 1979, “Doris Epps asked about the graves reportedly on the land.” The answer was curt: “The City Attorney stated that they are of no concern to the city but may be to the purchasers of the property.”
Generally unknown too are the approximately 18 graves beneath the parking lot at Bassett Hall (dating, probably, to a period before 1860-1865) and the graves close to the Williamsburg Inn swimming pool, behind the Folk Art Museum hyphen. These last are the burying places of Mary Ann Debress, who died at the age of 18 in 1885 and of Bell Debress, who died December 11, 1901 (re-interred there too in 1984 was a bone fragment, possibly human, discovered in one of what might have been two or three 19th century graves where the Williamsburg Lodge expanded).Eight bodies lie near the Public Gaol, one in the old foundations and seven not far away, presumably prisoners who were executed or who died in prison. In the Bassett Hall Woods is a family plot of three or four graves discovered just a few years ago. In the woods near some Civil War earthworks (and not far from brick fragments of, possibly, a plantation house) lies the body of John Bryan (d. June 28, 1760), the 14 month old son of Frederick and Barbara Bryan. A possible Native American burial site to the east of the Peyton Randolph house may have been destroyed by the construction of the Colonial Parkway Tunnel. And in 1976 20 graves of African-Americans were discovered and excavated near College Landing in anticipation of the extension of South Henry Street. The graves dated from about 1790 to 1820. Two 19th century iron coffins with well-preserved bodies behind glass viewing panes have reportedly turned up in the course of other excavations.Colonial Williamsburg not too long ago recognized the burial ground belonging to the family of Judge Robert T. Armistead, across the street from Matthew Whaley School. Eastern State Hospital has two burying grounds, the one on South Henry Street and one, less well known, edging the National Center for State Courts, at the Newport Avenue entrance to the Colonial Parkway.Given the age of the area, it is no surprise that burials lost to memory have been found at virtually every development site around–at Kingsmill on the James, Port Anne, Holly Hills, and The Vineyards, for example. When Busch Gardens was being constructed, workers discovered the family cemetery of Grant and Mary Scott, who probably died in the 1860’s. Where seven of their children were laid to rest is now a grove of trees near the main entrance to the park.Perhaps the most historic burying ground is the mysteriously lost burial place of the 137 French soldiers who died in hospital in Williamsburg around the time of the battle of Yorktown in 1781. It was once thought they were among the bodies buried in the garden of the Governor’s Palace, but research showed those to be American men and women. Persistent local tradition locates the French cemetery not far from the Capitol. The Virginia Gazette of June 19, 1931 commented that the “well-nigh obliterated French soldier grave yard is nearly a mile [south east] from the site of the Palace.”
The article below, which is reprinted (slightly revised) with permission from Williamsburg Reunion–1960 and Before, ed. Will Molineux (Williamsburg VA, 2000), recycles some of the information from the Virginia Gazette article above, but adds further details.
The Forgotten Graves of Williamsburg, by Terry L. Meyers
“Before you dig… call Miss Mortuary. 1-800-552-7001.” A new bumper sticker? No, but it could be, at least it could be in Williamsburg/James City County and surrounding environs, where Indians have lived–and died–for thousands of years and where North America’s first successful British colony took root in 1607.
But the early years at Jamestown were devastating. In an article in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Summer 2000), Dennis Montgomery has called early Virginia “a death trap”; he calculates that perhaps as many as 5,795 colonists died between 1607 and 1624.
Where were they buried? Probably not too far from where they died. So no wonder archaeologists in the area come across so many forgotten burials and graveyards. Many of these are now recorded, of course, but even cemeteries established within living memory can fade from public memory. In researching Williamsburg’s forgotten graves several years ago, I came across a number that even long time residents of Williamsburg may not know about.
There are, of course, many, many plots in or near the Restored Area, the small graveyard between the Capitol and the Public Records Office, for example, or the larger one behind the Benjamin Waller house, not far from Bassett Hall. The Galt family burial ground (used between 1773 and 1866) is in the middle of Bicentennial Park, while not far away, at the Newport Avenue entrance to the Colonial Parkway is the lesser known of two Eastern State burial grounds, now partly paved over for parking at the Center for State Courts.
The Coke-Garrett property has several family graves on it, though none of the Civil War soldiers who died there is actually buried there. Those who died at one of the many war hospitals in town, including the College and the Bright farmhouse, were, rarely, sent home for burial. Some were buried hastily nearby, as at the Baptist Church, to be disinterred and reburied later. Some were buried at Bruton Parish Church, most at Cedar Grove.
But other sites in the Restored Area are unmarked or difficult to discover. Indeed, what might have been one is now completely gone: when the tunnel beneath Market Square was dug, workmen apparently discovered and removed an Indian burial site. Similarly, in 1976, when South Henry street was about to be extended, a slave burial ground close to College Landing was discovered; the remains of 20 African Americans buried between 1790 and 1820 were excavated. Close to the Public Gaol (indeed, in one instance, under the wall itself) lie the bodies of 8 people, very likely prisoners who died–or who were executed. Blackbeard’s pirates? Who knows?
And in 1965, as workers graded and repaved a parking lot in Merchants Square, they discovered, had photographed, and covered over several grave stones. Lucy Ann Dunlop is still there: “the beloved wife of Alexander Dunlop for 27 years who died July 20th 1866, Aged 49 years. Born a slave in the Travis family, by her consistent christian conduct and faithfulness She won and retained through life their friendship and esteem.”
Also there, just at the curb south of the old Methodist parsonage (now the Birkenstock store), is Robert F. Hill (1776-1851), apparently Lucy Dunlop’s father. And beneath the Bassett Hall parking lot, archeologists have documented as many as 18 graves, slaves buried probably before 1860 or 1865.
Tucked into a hummock just feet from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center and the Williamsburg Inn swimming pool are the graves of Mary Ann Debress, who died at the age of 18 in 1885 and of Bell Debress, who died December 11, 1901, graves carefully preserved, but also discreetly hidden. Other family members are probably buried there too.
And across the street, when the Williamsburg Lodge was expanded, archaeologists discovered (and reburied in 1984, with due decorum, close to the Debress graves) what may have been a human bone fragment from two or three graves that showed signs of having possibly having been robbed.
Perhaps the most striking of the graves in downtown Williamsburg is the extensive graveyard behind and east of Bucktrout Cottage (just to the east of Providence Hall). That was land owned by the Bucktrouts, and was close to a black neighborhood relocated when the Inn and golf course were constructed. There, in a complex overlay that professional archeologists plan some day to study, lie buried the remains of many of Williamsburg’s paupers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Anne Cutler, who lives now in Bucktrout Cottage, can recall at least one burial there early in the twentieth century, and her mother and other family members are buried there as well. Indeed, her brother (also buried there) grew up playing amongst the graves and at least once came home with some French military insignia–a clue to the most distinguished occupants of that land.
In that area are buried the 137 French soldiers who died of wounds from the Siege of Yorktown in 1781 or from disease when they wintered in Williamsburg after the battle. Several years ago, when a large tree toppled over just on the edge of the property, the remains of a human foot, still shod in its eighteenth century shoe, turned up in the tree’s root ball.
Revolutionary war soldiers, 156 Americans at least, are, as most people know, buried in the garden of the Governor’s Palace. The question is, where is the British burial ground? One rumor that I have heard several times (but have not been able to confirm) is that they are buried beneath Palace Green.
One of the most intriguing forgotten graveyards is one that is not nearly as old as the French soldiers’ burying ground. This cemetery, very close to the College, was a potters field opened by Horatio Bucktrout in 1918 and used for burials up at least into 1928, after which it and the rest of the land was subdivided for development. Newport Avenue now runs along its north side, and its graves very likely extend into some parts of Counselors Close (though whether any graves were actually built on is impossible for me to say).
Most of the three dozen or more people buried there worked in the World War I munitions plant at Penniman (now Cheatham Annex). They died from the terrible influenza that struck late in 1918. The epidemic was so bad that in October 1918 alone 5,999 Virginians perished. On October 12, the Daily Press reported that undertakers were being kept busy by the toll at Penniman: “the baggage cars are always full of caskets.”
And on October 13 came a report that “a local [Williamsburg] undertaker had to requisition a truck to haul bodies from Penniman this morning, and some eight or ten were brought up this morning for shipment by train to their former homes for burial. There is a scarcity of coffins here, the dealers having had in hand only a small stock prior to the grip epidemic.” In the Gazette articles I wrote I give more details, based on several volumes of Bucktrout records then newly presented to Swem Library.
Even in their business-like brevity, the entries in these volumes tell moving stories. Consider the sadness behind a burial on July 30, 1920 of a three-day-old, prematurely born white baby, George Worten Carpenter. He had been born at Camp Eustis to a mother whose name is not listed and a single man, W. Carpenter, from Georgia. The tiny child was buried in a special “still born” coffin. The cost of $40 was paid in cash on July 29, 1920. Five dollars was for the plot.
Or contemplate the last recorded burial at this Bucktrout Cemetery, on March 3, 1928, when the infant of Clifton Williams and Clara Jones Williams was buried. The child had died the day before, five days after being born. The charges of $24, including $2 for a wreath and $4 for a pillow, were covered by a note paid off within a few months by Clara Williams in four payments ($10, $5, $4, and $6). The casket was lined with lambskin.
Depressions marking several of the Bucktrout graves can still be seen behind “Cox’s Boxes” on Newport Avenue and a number of people today can remember other graves, Martha and Alfred Armstrong, for example, or Jim Carter, who grew up on Griffin Avenue.
The Bucktrout records, by the way, baffled me in one instance –a number of folks were recorded as being buried at what seemed to me an unlikely (but somehow appealing) church, Cheesecake Church. Only later did I penetrate the phonetic misapprehension of Chiskiack Church, not far from Williamsburg.
In connection with the Bucktrout Cemetery, I should mention a manuscript volume that Carol Dubbs (a local historian) and I are editing. Anne Cutler is giving to Swem Library the Daybook and Ledger of her great-grandfather, Richard Manning Bucktrout. In a form recalling the meticulous records kept by his own father, the better known Benjamin Bucktrout, Richard Manning Bucktrout recorded between 1850 and 1866 the deaths and burials of all manner of Williamsburg’s citizens–rich and poor, black and white, sane and crazy. He buried them all, many in churchyards or in family burial grounds like the Armistead plot close to Matthew Whaley School, others in the new Cedar Grove Cemetery, segregated by race then and into the next century. Before he died recently, Cicero Gardner, the Superintendent of Cedar Grove, told me of finding random and unrecorded old burials in the cemetery, often apparently at night by people too poor to pay the municipal fees.
Bucktrout also buried most of the Confederate soldiers who died in Williamsburg awaiting battle with the Union forces fronting Yorktown in 1862. And, interestingly, he recorded the name, home state, unit, and officer responsible for the burial bill for each of the men–these being at this early stage of the Confederacy in some instances the only record of their service.
Even more interestingly, Bucktrout’s account book makes clear that what has long been regarded as a common grave for Confederate soldiers at Cedar Grove was in fact carefully plotted, with each soldier buried individually in a recorded plot.
Only from Bucktrout’s Daybook, for example, has it been possible to assure the descendants of General Richard Anderson that his brother, Edward, who died at Dr. Garrett’s house, did in fact receive at Cedar Grove the proper burial the general ordered for him. Despite the disappearance long since of the wooden markers sometimes placed at the graves of individual soldiers, it looks like it might be possible someday to locate with some degree of precision the graves of each Confederate Bucktrout buried.
Forgotten burials no doubt blanket the area. At the exit from the Carter’s Grove Country Road, for example, at the end of South Henry Street, are the graves of four people in the Robb and Taylor family, buried between 1904 and 1917. When Busch Gardens was being built, workers discovered the family cemetery of Grant and Mary Scott, who probably died in the 1860’s. Where seven of their children were laid to rest is now a grove of trees near the main entrance to the park.
In Kingsmill, a number of graves have been found, including a slave burial ground just along the river, at the site of the eighteenth century plantation Utopia (the remains were moved to a nearby site now marked by a memorial, “Free at Last”). And at the site of the Pettus Plantation, where a Busch league mansion is nearing completion, archaeologists in the 1970’s found the bodies of a number of Civil War soldiers.
Other neighborhoods, including Port Anne, the Vineyards, and Holly Hills also have documented graves. At least twice, archaeologists have discovered nineteenth century iron coffins containing remarkably well-preserved corpses.
One of the most poignant of forgotten burials lies deep in thick woods, not one hundred yards from the brutal noise and speed of Interstate 64, near some Civil War earthworks and not far from the brick fragments of a plantation house. There is buried the body of John Bryan (d. June 28, 1760), the 14 month old son of Frederick and Barbara Bryan.