Preservation Needs of Local African American Cemeteries

Gravestones in the Timbuctoo Cemetery

 Historic African American cemeteries in Burlington County date to at least the 1820s.  Historic cemeteries are important repositories of history, genealogy, and culture, in addition to memorializing the deceased.  There are many lessons to be learned from records related to cemeteries.  These include lessons about individuals and their families, as well as about the communities where they are located.  In 2020, our focus is the Timbuctoo Cemetery and Mount Moriah Cemetery.  Contributions to this effort help with restoration and build awareness of history that is not widely appreciated. More specifically:

  

  • The oldest gravestone in the Timbuctoo cemetery is dated 1847,(1) 14 years before the Civil War.  We need new fencing, markers for unmarked graves, ground penetrating radar to verify the boundaries of unmarked grave-sites, genealogy research, and legal work to resolve title issues.  Ground penetrating radar conducted in 2009(2)  indicates that grave-sites extend several feet outside of the cemetery boundary and suggests that some grave-sites may be penetrated by fence posts.  The current deed of record indicates that Zion Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal African Church(3) is this cemetery’s owner.  A review of early twentieth century AME Zion conference minutes indicates that the congregation dissolved c.1902.(4)  Current county and municipal records identify the owner as simply “Colored Cemetery.”  Given the term “Colored” we assume this designation goes back several decades.  Aside from eight Civil War soldier gravestones the cemetery is known for, the cemetery includes three civilian gravestones and at least 59 unmarked graves. These are presumed to be members or associates of the church, according to restrictive language in the original handwritten deed of record.


  

  • Contributions for the Mount Moriah Cemetery would target the “old” cemetery adjacent to the southbound lanes of the Mount Holly Bypass.  This burial ground was located behind Mount Moriah’s original sanctuary on land purchased in 1826.(5)  Here we need signage, fencing, physical upgrades, and a land survey to verify the dimensions of the lot, as gravestones can be seen in the overgrowth far beyond the boundary that is currently recognized.  Ground penetrating radar is needed here as well to identify unmarked grave-sites. We will also work with Mount Moriah to develop a portal that will facilitate ongoing support from families that have relatives buried there.


 In addition to the above, we will conduct an inventory to identify all the other historically African American cemeteries in the county, at least one of which is in an obscure location that has no substantial African American population today.


Footnotes:

1. Weston, Guy "Timbuctoo: A Free African American Community in New Jersey"  AAHGS Newsletter November December 2017.  

2. Chadwick, William and Leach, Peter. (2009). Geophysical Survey of Timbuctoo, NJ. West

Chester, PA: John Milner and Associates.

3.  Burlington County, New Jersey, Deeds, E:256, Peter V. Coppuck to David Parker, Noble L. Johns, Adam Gibson, Jacob Colwell, James Pinion, Richard Christy, and William Chase , 17 December 1854; Burlington County Clerk’s Office, Mount Holly 

4. Lyght, Ernest Path of Freedom: The Black Presence in New Jersey’s Burlington County 1659-1900 (Cherry Hill. E & E Publishing House, 1978), 

5.  Burlington County, New Jersey, Deeds, T2: 64-66, Larner Waterman and wife to Perry Gibson, Wardell Parker, and others, March 15, 1826; Burlington County Clerk’s Office, Mount Holly