What we know today as the Timbuctoo Cemetery was incorporated as part of the Zion Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal African Church in 1854, according to a corporation certificate and deed on file at the Burlington County Clerk’s office. However, the oldest gravestone is from 1847. The texts of the deed and certificate, as well as this gravestone suggest that the church was operating and using the burial ground before the incorporation date. While it was not uncommon for churches to operate without incorporation during this period, the presence of a gravestone that precedes church ownership of the property remains a mystery.
Today, eleven gravestones remain in the cemetery and eight of them are US Colored Troops that fought in the Civil War. Perhaps it was the predominance of military gravestones that led the cemetery to be referred to as the Timbuctoo Civil War Memorial Cemetery in recent years. However, a geophysical survey conducted in 2009 identified a total of approximately 70 gravestones, meaning that the eleven stones that remain today represent a fraction of the total number of graves. The absence of stones on most of the gravesites has been attributed to the fact that stone grave markers were frequently a luxury that was limited to people of means or recipients of veterans’ death benefits. Rank and file citizens frequently had wooden grave markers that would not survive time.
The three non-military gravestones in the cemetery all have the last name Parker. They are all relatives of David Parker, who was one of Timbuctoo’s first settlers in 1826, and who was arguably the most prominent member of the Timbuctoo community for several decades. His first wife, Eliza Parker, died in 1847. He second wife, Matilda, died in 1870. There is also a stone for his son Frisby, who died in 1872. Those stones can be seen here.
We honor the memory of the 11 deceased whose names we know, as well as some 59 others whose names we don’t know yet. A research project that is ongoing has identified additional names. The names will be identified when the results on that research are announced on Timbuctoo Day 2018, which will be Saturday, September 22.