Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer (East Whiteland) is a sacred and historic place. It’s no secret I have written about this place for years.
The AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816. So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia. Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.
Hiram Woodyard was a Township resident and former slave who served in the Union Army as a teamster. He was a leader in the African American community and is buried at the Ebenezer AME Church. His home still stands on Congestoga Road. Other homes he built still stand. He was an inhabitant of Bacton Hill.
Without active preservation there will come a time that all which will be left of the area will be my blog posts including this one from 2017 which is an oral history complete with some really cool photos courtesy of Claude Bernadin, or this one from 2015, this one from 2016, this one from 2017, the ceremony November 2016, a post from October 2016, another one from October 2016, when for brief moment people stopped to visit the old souls now covered by weeds and brush once more, 2015 post which had links to earlier posts. Also what will survive will be the occasional newspaper article from every newspaper reporter who tried to raise awareness to this area and to Ebenezer.
Once upon a time people tried to get a Bacton Hill Historic District or something like that. It’s a shame it never happened. Because at least then there would have been a more organized history of the place.
So this Juneteenth, I was thinking of Ebenezer again and here are a few new photos scattered throughout this post. I remember the black civil war soldiers here and elsewhere throughout Chester County. I share again the oral history of one resident (CLICK HERE). I think of all of the people who have shared what they have discovered about Ebenezer over the years.
Juneteenth (on June 19) is know as Emancipation Day and also as Freedom Day, Jubilation Day, and Liberation Day. I never learned about this important day in any history class I took in school. Which is something I think needs to be rectified because it’s part of our history of this country.
Although Juneteenth is celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, it was still legal and practiced in two states – Delaware and Kentucky – until December 6, 1865, when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished non-penal slavery nationwide.
On Fold3, there exist some records of Hiram, including voluntary army enlistment. These photos aren’t the best but here they are:
Someone has been cutting the grass again at Ebenezer. I don’t know if it is the developer who will be building houses all around it or someone else. It’s not the AME church. They need to become involved as we believe that this is STILL their land, but will they?
I am but a middle-aged white woman. I am not black and won’t pretend I understand the black experience. I try to learn and respect it. But given the state of racism in this country and the need for all Americans to learn more of this country’s history good and bad, to me, this also means we need to SAVE sites like Ebenezer and preserve their history.
So I am calling on officials state, local, county, federal, and from the AME church to save Ebenezer. The church is too far gone to save BUT capping and preservation of the church ruin is possible. We need a study including with that sonar stuff like they use for Duffy’s Cut to map out where all of the graves are and what stones may lie beneath the dirt.
Officials also need to remember and properly notate the Bacton Hill area because it was a well settled free black community once upon a time. This needs to be done because otherwise this will all sink as a footnote to history that will be forgotten.
Well I am back to tell you sadly, I think I am right. Ebenezer looks like hell. Again. I am done with trying to get people to pay attention and preserve and save this site. It is pointless.
I drove past Ebenezer today and the photo above is from 2016, but essentially that is exactly the way it looks now. Perhaps worse. I couldn’t stop and take a photo as there was traffic. Ebenezer has been swallowed by the green death of weeds. The old farmhouse across the street is pending the wrecking ball as the development which alarmed me due to it’s proximity to Ebenezer was apparently approved?
These houses are going to be right next to Ebenezer on one side. A concern I still have is a lot of us have always wondered if there were more graves on each side of the fences (See blue arrows). A new development right on top of this site of ANY size puts this historic site at risk, in my humble opinion. Which is why a lot of the conversations concerning any development anywhere has to also include protecting historic sites, right? And this site is fragile so what will the vibrations of earth moving construction equipment do? My guess is nothing good.
This is a historic site that East Whiteland has never seemingly wanted to deal with (except for the historic commission as they have wanted it better preserved only how do we get there?), and the AME Church always seemingly wants to pretend it never exists. (I mean remember that promise Bishop Ingram made the Inquirer reporter Kristen Holmes to check this all out quite a while ago, right? And what do you bet he never, ever did? (Sorry I don’t see slick city bishop walking through the mud at Ebenezer, do you?)
Anyway….I am repeating myself (sorry.)
But my post in February was noticed by a lady named Patricia J. Henry who was doing Quaker research on the Malin family (and it was James Malin who deeded the land in 1831 to the then fairly new AME Church.) She was researching East Whiteland Malins in connection with “some individuals connected withValley Meeting burial ground as well as Tredyffrin area residents.” (I have a couple of emails I am quoting from.)
To continue…this Patricia emailed Bertha Jackmon the historian at the uber historic Mt.Zion AME in Devon, PA. (I will digress for a moment and wonder aloud about Mt. Zion as it looked like it needed a lot of love when I drove by earlier this summer. I have heard like many other old historic churches they have an aging and dwindling congregation?)
Back to my topic at hand: Ebenezer.
This Patricia asked them if they were familiar with Ebenezer. Bertha replied yes. (I laughed to myself reading the e-mail chain because when I started my Ebenezer odyssey years ago I went to the Pastor of Mt. Zion April Martin. Pastor Martin was super interesting and inspiring to speak with, but nothing ever happened back then with Ebenezer via Pastor Martin.)
From this email I learned that as according to Bertha that Ebenezer was “originally known as Bethel AME Church as stated in the Deed. A/K/A Bethel Bacton Hill AMEC and names.”
Aha, I thought, quite the light bulb going off. Another link to the AME Church that seems more tangible, no? As in Mother Bethel in Philadelphia from whence the Mothership of the AME Church was born? As I have always suspected? (You see I have never been able to find definitive proof that the AME church ever divested itself of Ebenezer. It was more like over time, they just ignored it as they have ignored so many other sites across the country, right?)
Then there was discussion of me and this blog. That always amuses me when these things get forwarded. Mostly what was said was really flattering. This Patricia lady thanked Bertha and said that “this should give me plenty to follow up with.” ( I never heard from this Patricia, although not sure I was supposed to.)
Bertha next contacted Steve Brown at East Whiteland Township and eventually me as well. Apparently with Steve from East Whiteland they discussed East Whiteland and this Bacton Hill development site. Steve also gave Bertha the court reporter information for the zoning hearing on the Bacton Hill development plan I guess it was.
So then Bertha and Pastor April reached out to me again. We had a nice phone call back on February 20. I will admit being snippy at first because well, they were among the first I reached out to years ago when I started this odyssey. And back then they made me feel like the teenage girl dumped at the high school dance – they just evaporated at the time. Or at least that was my perception….
Amusingly enough, apparently East Whiteland really did not notify the AME church of this plan because well, the non-existent mailing address for Ebenezer was (as in decades ago, right?) RD1 Malvern Pa, and ummmm… hey now it’s been a long time since there were any RD rural delivery addresses around these parts due to all the freaking development, hmmm?
East Whiteland should know the address of the church was/is 97 Bacton Hill Road. East Whiteland should have maybe tried contacting the corporate offices of the AME Church or Mother Bethel in Philadelphia, right? But government is government and if something appears abandoned, how far do you go on the notification process? Especially when no one has really stepped forward to say Ebenezer is their responsibility, right?
So I did then have a conversation with Bertha and Pastor April back in February. At that time there was limited time for the AME Church to file a zoning appeal if they wanted to go that route. I do not know whatever happened, because I had no standing in the zoning matter and zero involvement because I knew I had no standing (I don’t live over there on Bacton Hill Road and I am not on the East Whiteland Historic Commission), even if I worry about the history of Ebenezer. You need standing in zoning matters.
The AME Church had they chosen to get involved with their history on Bacton Hill could have possibly sought an appeal based on ground vibrations or perhaps the impact to a historic site and also perhaps for the basic fact they did not receive good notice of a zoning hearing and should have if they are admitting the AME Church still owns the Ebenezer site, so is that what the AME Church was contemplating admitting here? Since I do not think an appeal was ever filed would that be part of why they didn’t appeal? Because then they would have to admit they let their own historic site rot and go to hell in a hand basket?
Anyway, to the best of my knowledge the development of those houses is going to happen and Ebenzer is SO overgrown that no construction crew is even going to notice what is there except a seemingly empty lot. But I am done. If the AME Church doesn’t care about preserving it’s early history, why should I care? It’s not my Church, after all. I did not expect this development plan to stop, but I was hoping that for once the AME Church would at least act to see Ebenezer’s ruins were stabilized and preserved.
Yes, I am really done.
I have ridden this pony as far as it can go. My last hope was the late Al Terrell. But he is dead more than a year and no one is stepping into his shoes to get the site cleaned up. And that is not anyone’s job truthfully other than the blasted AME Church. And they do not seem to care.
So why should I?
Some day, I predict, in the not too distant future the only records of what was Ebenezer AME will be what I have saved on this blog.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
I am tired of expecting different results. I will post news as I get it, but I am divorcing myself from this. It’s too aggravating to care about a place that no one else, let alone the church that apparently still owns it, cares about.
History is important, but time is fleeting. I am sorry to the old souls buried at Ebenezer. I tried.
Above is the grave of Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.
In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”
The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:
This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.
In other paperwork, the same author continues:
Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.
Al was so excited this time last year when grave after grave was uncovered, including Hiram Woodyard, whom we knew had started out life as a slave. As a freed slave he did so much, including by all accounts being a revered community leader, and he fought for a country which had originally enslaved him.
This new information (and I will embed everything shortly within this post), did not come to me via Chester County. It came to me all the way from Winner, South Dakota, thousands of miles away!
This information started to arrive on September 12, 2017 from Eleanor Miller, who along with her sister, Grace English, once lived in East Whiteland at 416 Conestoga Road.
In the first packet of information was a letter and here is an excerpt:
Enclosed please find the papers in regards to my grandparents’ home. (Charles and Stella Rost, 418 Conestoga Road.)
I married and moved away from my home, 416 Conestoga Road, in 1967…In 2012, Malvern Patch identified the house on 414 Conestoga Road as Hiram Woodyard’s. I believe they were incorrect….My sister and I try to visit Bacton Hill once a year.
To follow (embedded) is what Eleanor sent to me. It is part of Hiram’s history she gained through personal research. This is such a treasure to receive!
Ebenezer is hanging in there and one of Al’s sons still comes back and cuts the grass and weeds when he has time, but Ebenezer needs ALL of our love. I put out the plea once again if anyone can interest the AME church in their own important history, please do. These old souls belong to us and all of our history in Chester County as well as being crucially important historically to the AME Church and black history in general.
Say a prayer in remembrance for the old souls buried at the ruins of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill road in Frazer, and remember Al Terrell too.
“Hey do the soldiers at Ebenezer have wreaths for Christmas?”
I said no, and look what she did yesterday? Isn’t that awesome?
I also thought I should mention we did have a licensed structural engineer have an initial look at the church ruin. No it was not paid for by the A.M.E. Church, but they do have the report. There are certain steps that need to be taken to stabilize the ruin, but they need to give permission before anything happens. They have had the report for weeks I am told, but have not responded to further contact by anyone which is disappointing.
Sadly, I find the ignoring caring people sadly predictable behavior. It seems to be what they do and not just in the case of Ebenezer.
But the church has never disavowed ownership of Ebenezer (well they can’t an be telling the truth can they?) and as per what I have been told that they actually do bear responsibility here no matter what.
We now have volunteers who care and if we keep up a schedule we can keep the graves cleaned up. We are hoping to get someone to use the equipment like was used at Duffy’s Cut to comprehensively map out the graveyard.
It is Christmas Eve and time for all of us to be with loved ones. Remember the old souls at Ebenezer A.M.E. in your prayers and thoughts.
Stay dry on this very rainy Christmas Eve and thanks for stopping by!
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:
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.
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
1039 Wilmington Pike
West Chester, PA 19382
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?
Of 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.)
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:
WESTTOWN – At the intersection of Shiloh and Little Shiloh Roads sits a nondescript property with a unique and historically significant past. This same quiet property is currently the subject of a heated debate between its current owner and parties deemed responsible for the care of gravesites and the moral call of many to honor U.S. Veterans.
Monday, a group including two state representatives, veterans affairs and historical advocates as well as local and county officials met looking for options to honor and preserve this final resting place of soldiers from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.
From approximately 1817 through 1920, this parcel of land was home to the Shiloh A.M.E. Church and cemetery (also commonly known as Westtown Burying Ground.) Shiloh A.M.E. was once a thriving church and its cemetery is believed to be the oldest African American burial ground in Chester County. Today, only prominently posted bright orange “No Trespassing” signage marks the property’s perimeter; while hinting at its importance and the brewing controversy….
The property was acquired by the current owner in 1977; and for approximately 15 years, various Veterans’ affairs groups have sought permission from the owner to enter the property to identify the graves, honor veterans, and provide proper care and maintenance to the gravesites.
To date, all such requests have been rebuffed by the land owner who is currently threatening civil and criminal action against anyone found trespassing.
So I am floored. I had no idea of the Pandora’s Box I was uncovering when I started to write about Ebenezer. Ebenezer keeps introducing me to like minded souls, people interested in the welfare of these departed soldiers, freed slaves, and so on. The history we are all interested in preserving is truly remarkable. And the common denominator keeps coming back to the A.M.E. Church. And the fact that those of us interested in preserving this history aren’t necessarily part of the church.
Thank goodness for groups like the Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds Project as it gives us hope that preservation IS possible. And at the end of the day, we need to respect our dead no matter the race creed or color and especially the soldiers. Those soldiers fought for our freedoms.
Because what was Shiloh’s graveyard now lies on private property, the only way you can see how the property looks is because of Google
Ever since my last go round with those fine folk at the AME Church (national and Mother Bethel in Philadelphia), I will admit I had somewhat lost faith in yet another organized religion. After all, every time I or most have contacted them about the 184 year old ruin of Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road and her graveyard the AME people have either blown people off or been generally speaking, impolite.
So when this nice man contacted me through Save the Ruins and Cemetery of Ebenezer AME Church Frazer PA and said he was going to get Boy Scouts and volunteers in there to clean up AND would get the AME Church to say OK, I was so glad to hear it, but didn’t hold out much hope given how the church had been treating myself and others.
His name is Al Terrell. The Boy Scouts are from the Willistown Troop. And there are others. Bible study folks from Al’s bible study and Lee’s Lawn Service. And more. And this is just the beginning.
Look at the photo above. Taken this morning. October 1, 2016. I have tears in my eyes writing this.
Ann Christie are you watching from heaven?
I learned a lesson here to have more faith in humanity. The good guys do exist and do prevail.
Mr. Terrell wants to get this place saved in perpetuity. And get the church restored.
My faith is renewed. Going to visit today. I have to say hello to my soldier, Joshua.
184 years of history. It does mean something to people.
I will post updates as I have them.
Ebenezer in June , 2016 the day we were there with Kristin Holmes from the Philadelphia Inquirer
This photo was taken the day many of us were interviewed for the Philadelphia Inquirer article. We had brought the reporter Kristin Holmes out to see the state of the site herself.
Well as lots and lots of people know, The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the story of Ebenezer A.M.E. that was once located at 97 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland Township, Chester County, PA.
Interestingly, a couple of fairly powerful and influential members (or so I was told) of the A.M.E. Church were interviewed : Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown, executive director of the national denomination’s department of research and scholarship and Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia.
I had contacted Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Fry Brown in the past and it kind of got nowhere. I have contacted the A.M.E. Church Elder Rev Charles H. Lett and that was late December, 2015. He never responded after we had a brief telephone conversation where he instructed me to write to him.
Most recently because of the Inquirer article, I contacted Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. Three times. I have not even received an acknowledgement of my efforts to reach him.
So either the A.M.E. Church cares very little about honoring their history and their dead or they don’t want to hear from a woman who is not of their faith and is not related to anyone buried at Ebenezer AME in Frazer.
How sad and too bad, I am not giving up. The A.M.E. can’t just talk the talk of their history, they need to walk the walk of their history. And if they could afford a giant bicentennial celebration in the city of their faith’s birthplace, surely they can afford one cleanup of one small old and sacred and historic place, right?
Here is the article before I tell you who I wrote to today for help:
Tia Manon trudged through the swampy cemetery of the old Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, looking for two names belonging to one man. (SLIDESHOW)
Perry Ringgold was a slave who escaped the South on the Underground Railroad. James Williams was the free man he became after he was harbored by a Quaker family in Exton.
According to family lore, this relative of Manon’s helped found the East Whiteland church in 1832, but none of the stone markers bore a trace of him, by either name. She did come across one name she recognized, a Reason – William Reason. Could he have been an ancestor of her late husband, George Reason?
….”It makes you feel very, very sad,” said Manon, 47, of Paoli, a student at Immaculata University.
She is among a group of neighbors and history buffs who want to clean up and preserve the two-acre tract on Bacton Hill Road. Officials of the Chester County township said that they will coordinate the effort, but that they first need permission from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which they believe owns the property….
The 2.5 million-member A.M.E. Church, founded in Philadelphia by Bishop Richard Allen in 1816, is the oldest independent Protestant denomination established by African Americans. It currently has 7,000 congregations, but the number that sprang up over the centuries and then vanished is unknown.
Chester County is filled with the ghosts of churches past. Like Ebenezer, they grew in concert with pre-Civil War black communities in locations such as Uwchlan and Downingtown, said Renee Carey, a Chester County history enthusiast and South Coatesville borough councilwoman who has researched black churches and cemeteries.
So I decided to e-mail Dr. Gates, it can’t hurt. Here is part of what I said:
You don’t know me but I am a huge fan of your work. I watch your shows on PBS. I live in Chester County, PA, and I am desperately trying along with others including the people on this e-mail to get the A.M.E. Church to save a 184 year old church ruin and cemetery.
The Church is named Ebenezer AME and land was deeded by a Quaker named Malin around 1831 and the church was completed in 1832. It was one of the earlier black churches out here and there is a graveyard too. In the graveyard there are USCT Civil War soldiers and freed slaves. It is because of one of the Civil War soldiers I became interested in the first place. His name was Joshua Johnson. Ebenezer A.M.E. is still located even as a ruin on 97 Bacton Hill Road, Frazer, PA (East Whiteland Township, Chester County, PA)
I am a blogger and a native Philadelphian who moved to Chester County, PA a few years ago. I have been trying for a few years now to get help.
All records indicate the AME Church still owns the land. We just really want to get this place saved. And I am hoping the reason I am ignored by the AME church doesn’t have to do with the fact it’s not my church and these aren’t my ancestors. To you, I respectfully submit these ARE the ancestors of people in the area, and there are more in addition to Tia who was in the article I placed with Kristin Holmes recently in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
I think you might be surprised by the people who wish to help get Ebenezer cleaned up before it is too late. The A.M.E. Church needs to spearhead the initial clean-up as we all believe land is STILL owned by the AME Church and merely not owned by a church congregation that no longer exists. But there are people interested in helping the church after that as in volunteering their time. The boy scouts always want service projects, in addition. And there is a history with local scouts and this place.
The A.M.E. Church just finished hosting their bicentennial in Philadelphia. This is part of the history they celebrate this year.
I have been routinely ignored by the A.M.E. Church for three years now.
I am not the only one.
I am a realist, and not every sacred and/or historical place can be saved. But this place is special, truly special.
I also promised the poet A.V. (Ann) Christie before she died this spring of breast cancer I would keep working with others to save this. I want to keep my word.
Most recently I contacted someone you interviewed not so long ago, Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler of Mother Bethel in Philadelphia. He was interviewed in the Inquirer article. I alone have now sent him 3 emails with information to try to get Ebenezer saved. He has not even acknowledged receipt of the e-mails. I can’t tell you how discouraging it all is.
I know you are so incredibly important a person and busy, but I thought maybe if someone like you expressed an interest, the A.M.E. church would actually respond to us. We just want them to help us get it cleaned up. It is so badly overgrown, we can’t just go onto their property and clean it up. We need their permission, and we need them frankly to pay for the initial clean-up. After that we feel we can get volunteers organized and with the permission of the A.M.E. church hopefully keep it cleaned up going forward.
But we are at a critical juncture, and we need to get the A.M.E. Church moving now before all is lost forever.
I am not asking you for any sort of financial input, but I am asking you to help us because of your unique academic and celebrity position. You are the one who teaches us how to find our roots and the importance of our personal histories. You are also the foremost authority on African American History in this country today. The people buried at Ebenezer are part of that history. Plus there are local residents and not so local residents interested in honoring their ancestors buried here.
I hope you can help us.
So we will see if that helps, or if Dr. Gates responds. He is kind of famous, so maybe he won’t. But I hope he does.
Here are some e-mail addresses for any of you out there interested in getting Ebenezer saved:
Click HERE for a Google Cache of organizers of the A.M.E’s bicentennial.
Be polite but please consider writing to these folks to get them to help save the ruins and graveyard of Ebenezer AME Church on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland, Chester County.
If you are a member of an AME congregation please tell them and the location of your church. If you have ancestors or think you have ancestors buried at Ebenezer, tell them that as well. I would also suggest including a link to the Inquirer article.
Seriously, just because they don’t respond to me it doesn’t mean they won’t respond to you- the MORE emails they get the more likely they will pay attention.
In closing, yes the song remains the same, but we can hope the more people talk about Ebenezer, the better our chances to save it and what remains of the graves.
The only photo I have ever seen from a book by Chester County Historian Catherine Quillman (History of the Conestoga Turkpike)