The Black Cemetery Network [BCN] was founded in response to the national call to action to raise awareness about the issue of erasure and silencing of black cemeteries throughout the U.S. These cemeteries contain stories about people, place, and families which are often missing from the larger public narrative. Our network connects living records of forgotten histories through research, advocacy, and collaboration.
Aside from this wonderful organization that we encourage all to support, we call your attention to an important recent initiative at the federal level:
The African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act passed was by Congress in February 2023. Under this monumental legislation, the National Park Service will administer a grant program in consultation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and others. This funding will "aid efforts across the country to research, identify, document, preserve, and interpret historic African American burial grounds."
We are very pleased to report that our early research and advocacy efforts had a very tangible outcome when the Timbuctoo Historical Society acquired title to the Timbuctoo cemetery in July 2021. Moving forward, we will continue preservation and research efforts. We believe historic cemeteries are important repositories of history, genealogy, and culture, in addition to memorializing the deceased.
There is much to be learned from records related to our cemeteries, including lessons about individuals, their families, and the communities where they are located. In 2023, our primary focus in cemetery preservation is research and restoration. With the help of dedicated volunteers we have succeeded in cleaning and restoration of gravestones, identifying previously unrecognized gravestones by clearing overgrowth in Mount Moriah Cemetery, where Timbuctoo residents were among the founders and continued to worship over the years, as well as a discussion with preservation consultants who will provide technical assistance and research support as we develop and implement our cemetery preservation plan.
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. 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.
Aside from eight Civil War soldier gravestones the cemetery is known for, the cemetery includes three civilian gravestones and as many as 100 + unmarked graves. These are presumed to be members or associates of the church, according to restrictive language in the original handwritten deed and other records.
The "old" Mount Moriah Cemetery is located 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.(3) Here we need signage, fencing, and physical upgrades. We commissioned a land survey in 2020 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 gravesites. We will also work with Mount Moriah to develop a portal that will facilitate ongoing support from families that have relatives buried there.
There is a national push to preserve African American cemeteries, reflected in the African American Burial Grounds Preservation Act passed by Congress in February 2023. Under this monumental legislation, the National Park Service will administer a grant program in consultation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and others. This funding will "aid efforts across the country to research, identify, document, preserve, and interpret historic African American burial grounds."
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, T2: 64-66, Larner Waterman and wife to Perry Gibson, Wardell Parker, and others, March 15, 1826; Burlington County Clerk’s Oﬃce, Mount Holly