more forgotten a.m.e. churches and u.s.c.t. soldiers

shiloh-photo

Above you see a 1930 era photo of another A.M.E. Church of some historical import. Founded in 1807 (have seen 1817 as the founding date too)  in Westtown Township and eventually called Shiloh.  Even earlier than my beloved Ebenezer (1831-1832) on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer East Whiteland (that I have written about since 2013, and most recently on November 12. )

Shiloh the church no longer stands.  It also is true history lost because one of the early ministers with a calling to Shiloh was Jarena Lee.  She was the first black female preacher in America. She was born a free woman of color in Cape May, NJ originally.   Bishop Richard Allen granted her the ability to be a minister in 1819. Jarena’s memoir published in 1849 is eloquent and moving and you can read it online and on this blog:

religious-experience-and-journal-of-mrs-jarena-lee-1849 )

She’s a pretty cool historical figure.

But back to Shiloh. In a sense, although the church suffered the same fate as Ebenezer we actually know more about it.  It seems that the church had a congregation until the 1920s.  Then it disappeared over time, I suppose.

But Shiloh’s graveyard, like Ebenezer’s still exists. But unlike Ebenezer which is still church owned land (unless the A.M.E. church can dispute that in writing, given the recent Inquirer article the A.M.E. Church still owns Ebenezer ) , Shiloh’s graveyard now lies on private property. And on that property there are confirmed 7 and believed up to 14 U.S.C.T. veterans buried there.  All those black Civil War Soldiers.

I learned about the soldiers at Westtown Day this fall.  The historical society folks had a display inside Oakbourne Mansion which fascinated me. It interested me enough that I took the below photo.

29732587686_69e03e0d0b_o

So  I had  received an e-mail from Kelby Hershey from the WCU Student Veterans Center.  He is the gentleman who brought all those volunteers to Ebenezer this past Saturday.

Here is what he had to say:

I am Kelby Hershey, a recent History graduate here at WCU.  I am currently working with the WCU Student Veterans Group and may have uncovered something that may interest you.
 
West Chester University Student Veterans Group has taken on an initiative this semester to ensure that the final resting places for 14 local Civil War veterans are no longer neglected and will be properly maintained.  We are currently looking for local support.  Here is what we know:
 
On the corner of Shiloh and Little Shiloh road in Westtown there used to stand a historic African Methodist Episcopal Church founded in Westtown.  Founded in 1807 it was one of the first AME churches in the country.  Please read attached article titled “Echoes of Shiloh AME Church” for background.  After the congregation moved on in the early 1900’s the building was abandoned and eventually destroyed leaving a large plot of unmarked graves.  Within the cemetery continues to lie 7 verified Civil War veterans and at least 7 more probable.  We believe there are over 14 veteran’s graves on this property and possibly even a Revolutionary War veteran.  The names and units of some of the service members at rest here are attached titled “Shiloh AME Veterans.” I encourage you to look over the names, where they are from, and the units they served in.  The property also holds an unknown number of freed slaves’ graves.  The property containing the cemetery was acquired by private ownership at some time under uncertain circumstances and the current owner will not allow the public to enter to investigate the cemetery under threat of trespassing.  The owner has allowed the property to go overgrown with heavy brush and thorns, refuses to care for the graves, and roughly rebukes all of the township’s efforts to seek resolution.
 
It is the opinion of the WCU Student Veteran Group that we are currently failing our local heroes, American veterans who have been laid to rest in our back yard without receiving proper honors.  It is additionally concerning that the owner will not allow visitors and has not taken responsibility caring for the graves.
 
In 2014 several concerned citizens, veterans, and local politicians met to discuss our options.  The township has had over two years to act and due to lack of public awareness it appears that nothing has been done.  You can follow the link below to the 2014 Unionville Times article.
 
 
So what are our options?  There happens to be a Westtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting on the evening of Monday, November 7th that is open to the public, we would like to voice our support here on behalf of local veterans and this historic project.  Every hand raised will have an opportunity to voice their support.  All comments made will be officially printed in the public meeting’s minutes.
 
Please attend with us and contact myself with any questions,

Westtown Township Board of Supervisors Meeting
November 7, 7:30-9:00 pm

Westtown Township

1039 Wilmington Pike

West Chester, PA 19382
 
 
Thank you very much,
 
Respectfully,
 
Kelby Hershey
WCU Student Veterans Center
 
Wow.  That is the same place I heard about on Westtown Day.
shiloh-soldiers– list of soldiers buried there
shiloh-deed – deed of the property
echoes-of-shiloh – a paper about Shiloh
location
It seems the A.M.E. Church has a lot of these properties – more Ebenezers, more Shilohs, and so on and so forth.  Can all be saved? Sadly probably not.  But it does make a body wonder how the modern A.M.E. Church is run, doesn’t it? How is it they seemingly do not have as much of a handle of their history and property as the should? And aren’t their laws on the books in PA that should shall we say encourage the church to maintain what it still owns?

154-bethel-mount-calvaryOf course this summer, yet another article appeared about yet another A.M.E. graveyard. It was in the Chester County Press and the subject is the ruins of the graveyard in Lower Oxford on Mount Calvary on 154 Bethel Road.  It’s complicated but there actually is a church still attached.  Somehow over the years it changed it’s name and I guess moved – Allen A.M.E. Church in Oxford on Market Street.

However, Mount Calvary is a story similar to Ebenezer because it was not the A.M.E. Church that started the drive to clean up Mount Calvary.  The person responsible is a woman I have come to know recently named Kimberly Boddy.  She discovered it while helping a friend research where certain ancestors were buried.

And Kimberly has a really cool Chester County heritage as she is the granddaughter of the late Lee Carter, who was a self-taught Chester County artist who also had what I think was called the Road To Freedom Museum at one time (I am not sure it still exists).  The Daily Local wrote about an exhibit of Lee Carter’s paintings in Coatesville last year.

Kimberly is a quiet doer, and she carries on the traditions of community service that I believe she learned from her grandfather. (And no, she did not ask me to write or say anything, I chose to because there seem to be all sorts of people trying to save historic graveyards in Chester County.)

Anyway, the Mount Calvary story was one of the things discussed at the Pennylvania Hallowed Grounds Project meeting this fall.  Here is the article from this summer:

Chester County Press Volunteers seek to rescue the Mount Calvary Cemetery from poor conditions

07/05/2016 11:39AM, Published by Steven Hoffman

The Mount Calvary Cemetery stands at the intersection of Bethel and Calvary Roads in Lower Oxford and, until very recently, it was largely forgotten.

Kimberly Boddy, a resident of Kennett Square, was helping a friend research some information and learned about the Mount Calvary Cemetery’s existence almost by accident. When she saw that the cemetery was littered with trash, that the gravestones were in a sad state of disrepair, and that weeds had grown uncontrollably in some parts of the small cemetery, she was disheartened. She knew that the 100 or so people who were buried in the cemetery deserved better.

“It broke my heart,” Boddy explained. “This may be an historic piece of ground. This is not just African-American history here, it’s Lower Oxford history.”

The cemetery dates back to 1852. At one time, the Calvary Church stood next to the cemetery, but the church moved. The cemetery itself does not even have a known address, Boddy said. The people buried in the cemetery—with family names like Jones, Moore, or Webster—were most likely members of the Calvary Church before it changed its name to Allen A.M.E. and moved to a location in Oxford Borough. When Boddy learned about the cemetery, she also discovered that some of the people buried in it served their country—including volunteers who died in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

 

 

But back to Shiloh.  People went to the recent Westtown meeting to plead the case of soldiers who have no other voices at this point other than interested strangers.  Shiloh was in a local paper in 2014:

shiloh-map-1

Unionville Times : Solutions sought for black soldiers’ final resting place

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