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African American Burials in the St. John's Church Cemetery, Compass, Pennsylvania


The following tombstone transcriptions are from William Henry Egle's "Notes and Queries" column, published as an annual volume in 1899.  This information is from an article titled "Old Church Records, St. John's Cemetery at Compass, Pa."  These particular listings appear at the end of a section subtitled "In the New Cemetery."  They are indicated to be African American burials by the word "colored" that appears in parentheses after each name, although that indication of race surely does not appear on the tombstones.  Egle lists his contributor as "B.F.O. of Reading, Pennsylvania.  Perhaps the researcher obtained the listings from church records, which may have indicated the race of those interred, or perhaps the burials are segregated in a separate section of the cemetery.

Compass lies just over the border from eastern Lancaster County, in West Caln Township, Chester County.  Saint John's Episcopal Church is near the intersection of state routes 340 (The Philadelphia Pike) and 10 (Compass Road).  Following the listings is additional information on the nearby African American community, contributed by Fred Kelso.


Tombstone Transcriptions

Jacob Thompson, d. Sept. 23, 1891, in his 91st year.
Prudence Ann Thompson, wf. of Jacob Thompson, d. Oct. 11, 1888, aged 101 years.
Lloyd Parker, d. May 16, 1880, aged 88 years.
Nehemiah Coleman Brown, b. June 20, 1881; d. Sept. 17, 1887.
Ida K. Thompson, dau. of Matthew H. and Martha Thompson, d. Dec. 16, 1886, aged 6m 3d.
Samuel Coleman, b. Jan. 27, 1842; d. Feb. 15, 1887.
John Coleman, b. Dec. 7, 1858; d. Oct. 20, 1884.
Martha, wf. of Nehemiah Coleman, b. April 12, 1820; d. Sept. 5, [date incomplete]
Nehemiah Coleman, b. April 4, 1811; d. April 5, 1887.
Jacob Nocho, b. Nov. 1, 1812; d. April 22, 1885.
Letitia, dau. of Jacob and Rachel Nocho, d. Feb. 10, 1896, in her 19th year.
William Parker, d. Feb. 22, 1887, aged 73y 12d 4m.
Samuel Nocho, d. Aug. 5, 1883, aged 72y 6m 15d.
Harriet N. Nocho, wf. of Samuel Nocho, d. Dec. 31, 1894, in her 77th year.
Martha A., wf. of George London, b. May 5, 1863; d. May 27, 1890.
Anna Bertha, dau. of John and Margaret London, b. June 21, 1885; d. Dec. 3, 1890.
Reece M. Dixon, d. March 12, 1893, aged 56y.
James Jones, d. July 4, 1897, aged 47y.

More information

"I'm writing to add some info to your listing of African-American graves at St. John's Episcopal Church in Compass.  My parents participated in the publication of a book entitled A History of West Caln Township: A Self-Guided Tour Through Time and Place, Joan M. Lorenz, privately published, 1995.  On page 40 appears the following article:

The Compass Connection - Jacob and Prudence Ann Thompson

New information has recently come to light concerning the role of St. John's Episcopal Church in helping slaves to freedom, both from its rector and a member of the congregation.  The Rev. Edward Y. Buchanan, brother of James Buchanan, President, 1856-1860, received a call in 1835 to serve as rector of St. John's and was ordained in the limestone church.  A known abolitionist, the Rev. Buchanan, presented three "colored" people for confirmation between 1835 and 1842.  Arthur Burt and Ed Reeser remember their fathers telling them about a room they found when digging out the new kitchen.  It had furniture, dishes and utensils.  They were told that it had been a hideaway for runaway slaves.

One of the confirmed colored members was Prudence Ann Thompson who had escaped from Maryland sometime around 1835 and made her way east to the Skiles family who lived across the road from St. John's Church.  Prudence Ann, who could sew ten quilting stitches to the inch, worked as a servant to the Skiles', and had married Jacob Thompson by the time she was confirmed.

Jacob became sexton of St. John's in 1852.  He faithfully carried out his duties at least until 1874, where he is still mentioned in the Vestry minutes.  The next sexton, David Rockafellow, is mentioned in 1884; therefore it is possible that Jacob could have served until then.  Jacob and Prudence Ann had two sons: James Wesley and Matthew.  On the Witmer map of 1873, Jacob and James appear as substantial landowners in West Caln Township on either side of Route 10 north of Compass.  The Thompson land remained in the family until the 1960's.  Jacob lived to the age of ninety-six and Prudence Ann to the age of 101.  They lie 'asleep in Jesus' in St. John's Cemetery along with many of their descendants.
Fred Kelso, April 24, 2003


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