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2002 Letters

Harrisburg African American Cemeteries

From John Weldon Scott, Harrisburg, July 21, 2002
Hello Afrolumens,
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. Waters Scott.

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.


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, 1994):

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."

More 2002 letters on page 2»
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