Harrisburg African American Cemeteries
From John Weldon Scott, Harrisburg, July 21, 2002
I Enjoy reading and sharing through your network. I, and a distant cousin,
have traced our great, great grandparents to Derry Township as posted in the
Pa. and US Census of 1810, 1830, 1840. Have seen free Colored people as they
were and children, William, James and George with a few unexplained females (as of Yet). I am the descendant of George who was in the 24th
reg., Co. G of the PA USCT, 1865 (Great Grandfather) who was the father of Prof. John
Paul Scott, one of the First Blacks to graduate from Harrisburg schools in
1883. I am John Weldon Scott, Son of William B. (deceased) And Marian J.
In reading about the Midland
cemetery, (fine work Ms Barksdale, et al) I am
curious as to where Isaac and Sarah might be buried since records show they
lived in Derry and Londonderry townships. I have checked the Paxton Church
where the Lorretts and Dinah, and George Washington are buried and checked
church registry to locate the Scotts. I found there was a division of the
Derry and Paxton Presbytery and am still trying to find if and where they may
have worshipped and are buried. I have found Great Grandfather George and
Grandfather and mother John Paul and Estelle Harris Scott, respectively, in
the Lincoln Cemetery. Records show that Dinah and the Lorretts worshipped at
the Paxton Church where they are buried. Seemingly, the last Slaves in
Dauphin county and George Lorrett was said to be the first Black to own
property in Dauphin County.
Another interesting point (purely speculation on my point) is that Hercules,
John Harris Jr.'s Servant and "Rescuer" could or should have known these
people or there relatives since he would obviously take John Harris to the
church to worship at the Paxton church. It would only be proper and fitting
that the (Coloreds) would gather at some time of the day during or after
services, seeing they did worship there. There is a picture at the Church office which shows a small Black child dressed in her Sunday Finery during a
picture that looked like the whole congregation. Thus, Hercules making
acquaintance with Dinah, George Washington and the Lorretts would not be too
far off logical circumstance.
Some of the records had been lost by fire and I was not able to find lists
of some of the very early parishioners.
I would appreciate whatever information from anyone who could help with this
exploration. By the way, at the State Library there are no Graveyard maps or
records of either the Midland or Lincoln Cemeteries. I have contacted Wesley AME
Zion Church about this issue. This has stymied my investigation even
though I have visited the Graveyard. Location and identification of burial sites is important to anyone searching family histories.
Glise, Morton Graham; A HISTORY OF PAXTON CHURCH 1732-1976, WITH SELECTED
SERMONS ; 1976 PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,3500SHARON ST. HBG, PA
From Calobe Jackson,
Jr., Harrisburg, August 15, 2002
I read the interesting letter from John Scott to Afrolumens. I might
offer some comment about the slaves of Harrisburg and cemeteries. The History
and Activity Coloring Book published in 1989, depicts the incident of
Hercules seeking aid from friendly Indians to free John Harris. This happened
prior to John Harris's death in 1748. Hercules was a contemporary of John
Harris. John Harris II, often confused with John Harris, hired his
Son-in-law, William Maclay to plan the layout for the city in 1765.
Hercules may have been buried near John Harris, however I have a news
paper account (1859) that his skull may have been found on the site of the old
African Burial Grounds at the foot of Mulberry Street. Many (in city)
cemeteries were moved circa 1859. Wesley Church had a burial ground off of
Ridge Avenue during this time. Also, the Harris Free Cemetery for Afro Americans
was established during this time.
The Harris Free Cemetery was
located on north 17th Street around Verbeke or Calder. A person named Harris
donated the land to the community around 1865. Warren Wirebach (Historical
Society of Dauphin County, librarian) has a copy of
the deed and other information. I have a newspaper article (1893) indicating
that a meeting was held in a local church discussing the poor condition of
the grounds and suggesting that the land be sold to the State Asylum. Beyond
that we have no other information as to what happened to the grounds or the
bodies buried there. I do know that the bypass from Cameron Street to Herr
was constructed around 1931. Perhaps the roadway cut into the cemetery. John
Scott, along with Warren and I, have pondered the fate of this burial ground.
The other burial ground of Wesley near Ridge Ave was mentioned in
[accounts of] the
Memorial Day parade for several years by both Harrisburg newspapers (circa
1867). Warren, Eric Ledell Smith and I believe that Lincoln Cemetery was not a
burial ground for blacks until the middle 1870s.
From George F. Nagle,
Harrisburg, August 15, 2002
I notice in Henry Egle's writings that Meadow Lane bordered the old African Burial Grounds at
Chestnut Street. I believe the burial grounds were, in order from Fourth Street behind the Lutheran Church: The Lutheran/Reformed burial ground, then the Presbyterian burial ground, and finally the African (also called Colored) burial ground, ending at Meadow Lane. All burial grounds were removed and the land developed, as you mention, with the Lutherans/Reformed and Presbyterians being removed to Harrisburg Cemetery. I don't have any history text that says where the African American remains were moved to, but I always assumed it was to Lincoln Cemetery. Interestingly, there is a Meadow Lane that goes from Progress Avenue almost to the cemetery. There is now a modern house between the end of the lane and the cemetery, but at one time, I'm betting that it went directly to the cemetery, and could have been an original entrance. I'm looking for an old map of that area, circa 1900 or 1920 to test that theory.
From George F. Nagle,
Harrisburg, August 29, 2002
The following passage is from Annals of Harrisburg, by George
H. Morgan (Harrisburg, 1858; repr. Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland,
Mulberry Street Graveyard
The site of the old Bethel Church, in Mulberry street, was at one time a grave-yard. Hercules--the colored man
who aided in the rescue of the first settler, Harris, from the Indians--was buried here; and his grave was
recognizable until excavations were made for improving the spot, at which time his skull and a few bones were discovered,
and removed by the descendants of Mr. Harris to the grave occupied by one of his children in the
colored people's burial ground, at the foot of Chestnut street.
While making excavations in the vicinity of the church, in May 1858, for a new school house, the workmen
exhumed a large quantity of human bones.
From Calobe Jackson, Jr.,
Harrisburg, September 20, 2002
Puzzle solved at last!
From Patriot Nov 10, 1877:
" The burial ground of the Wesleyan Union M.E. Church (colored) which
is located on Herr Street near Ridge Avenue was sold to Mumma and Co. for $6,200. The congregation recently purchased a lot of seven acres near
Grantville [now Penbrook] for $ 4200. It has been incorporated under the
title of " The Lincoln Wesleyan Union Cemetery", and will be dedicated on
next Thursday, Nov 16th. The transferring of the dead from the old to the new
burying ground will be commenced on the following week."
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