Luke Phayre addressing the Board of Supervisors in East Whiteland on December 14th , 2016 when they honored him ~ Adam Farence Daily Local photo
I noted in East Whiteland Supervisor Bill Holmes’ comments that he (like many others) do not know that Ebenezer is actually184 years old (deed of trust for land is 1832) – and yes this is a black historic cemetery solely. This is in my opinion and that of many others a very important piece of black history. This history of ours in Chester County has people laid to rest there whose relatives still live in the area today.
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.
Ebenezer is cleaned up thanks to Willistown Eagle Scout Luke Phayre (and his fellow scouts) , Al Terrell and the many volunteers including local arborist Robert Phipps, Doug Buettner , Kelbey Hershey and all the volunteers from West Chester University (veteran’s group and fraternity brothers from at least two fraternities – FiJi was one of them), Captain Howard Crawford and the American Legion folks, Charae Landscape Services, Tim Caban from East Whiteland Historic Commission, and many, many more. It has literally been a pretty large village of amazing volunteers the past few months. I apologize if I neglected mentioning anyone – would never wish to offend the wonderful volunteers who have come forward in 2016.
Luke Phayre has done a truly amazing job with his Easgle Scout project. He is an amazing young man. He is so bright and very polite, and dedicated with an amazing work ethic. And he has leadership skills and compassion which will take this boy far in life – such a credit to his equally amazing mom Kathy!
This has been a labor of love for me personally because until Al and Kathy and Luke came along after I had placed the first article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, up to that point no one, not even the AME Church was interested in the history and importance of the site. For years. And before me, the late Ann Christie had tried to get the place cleaned up.
People get upset for me that East Whiteland doesn’t acknowledge me for helping raise awareness, but seriously? Don’t sweat it. Local elected officials view as something like poison ivy half of the time and I am o.k. with that 🙂 I do not do what I do for any other reason than it is the right thing.
As soon as I first realized what Ebenezer was in 2013, I knew I had to raise awareness. And I will continue to do so because I want this piece of serenity and history preserved for future generations. My reward is seeing Luke Phayre and the Scouts recognized, and seeing what a community can do when it comes together. To see Ebenezer rise like a Phoenix from the ashes at 97 Bacton Hill Road and to have people from all over recognize how historically important Ebenezer and her departed souls are is the best thing ever!
Thanks also must go to Kristin Holmes of the Philadelphia Inquirer for two beautiful articles and to The Daily Local editor Tom Murray for a very nice front page story written by reporter Adam Farence who has followed the story of Ebenezer. Without our local and regional media it is hard to draw attention to things like this which matter.
We all get by from a lot of help from our friends.
Now we are waiting on the AME Church’s Bishop Ingram to make good on his promise to visit the site. We want to get permission to shore up the long walls of the church and keep on maintaining it. I sincerely hope the AME Church actually helps us to keep this project moving forward. That is a Christmas wish I have.
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
I have a file of e-mails and attempted contact. National A.M.E. church leaders, regional leaders, local ministers. Some give an initial acknowledgement of my outreach, some have wasted my time with pleasant platitudes and a complete lack of action and I wonder if they really care, but most? Most just blow me off.
There are bits of newspaper articles here and there, including this one from the 19th century with horrible language that was sadly acceptable and not considered offensive back then:
It is maddening. These aren’t my ancestors, this isn’t my religious history per se, but this place speaks to me. It speaks to me of our country’s history and the important part these brave individuals buried there played. Freed slaves, free people of color, black Civil War soldiers. They matter. #ThisPlaceMatters — yet it rots.
Then, all of a sudden people have started to connect with me again about this place:
One of my friends…. lives in Malven Borough. She and her brother went o try and locate that headstone but weren’t successful. I’ve never been back to the site myself but would love to go once the poison ivy is gone. I don’t know the exact location..is it at the corner of Bacton Hill and 401 or Bacton Hill ? I don’t want to trespass. Their family has been around forever. Her father was a minister and there were a large number of siblings but all are gone. Thanks
And then this from another local historian I just met:
I recently had a lady reach out to me who’s looking for information on their relatives that were supposedly buried at that Ebenezer Church. I was hoping I would be able to find more information when I went there but everything was so grown over that we couldn’t even find the gravesite…The people that she is looking for is a James Williams, but he also went by the name Perry Ringgold. He bought his freedom in 1851 and lived in this area as a circuit preacher in the AME churches. He had a daughter who we do not have any records of and that is who I’m looking for. The daughter also had a daughter and then passed away shortly after the baby was born leaving the child to a Sophia Lane, who we do not know the relation of them to the baby. I think it may have been a sister-in-law
And then a lady named Tia contacted me. She is looking for family buried there. She is looking for the family the historian told me about above. She shared wondrous documents with me. The original deed, and a few other gems. I do not know where the originals of these documents are, but I was so happy to receive her e-mails.
It will take a village to save this. I would love to get the weeds hacked back so we can see the graves. It has been a couple of years. I heard the boy scouts will do this, but the gentleman I messaged who suggested it never responded.
If anyone from the A.M.E. church sees this, I really wish they would give a damn. We are talking about cleaning up and maintaining a historic sacred place. Is it as exciting as Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia? No, but it is JUST as important. A lot of the history of these churches is being lost, not just here. Records were haphazard, a lot of the history oral.
Here is the text Tia sent me from the deed:
Deed of Trust
James Malin to Samuel Davis et al.
This indenture made the eleventh day of the sixth month in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty one between James Malin of the Township of East Whiteland in the county of Chester and state of Pennsylvania, yeoman of the one part and Samuel Davie, Ishmael Ells, Charles Kimbul all the said county of Chester, Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to erected in the Township of East Whiteland in the said County of Chester, of the other part. Witnesseth that the said James Malin as well for and in consideration of the trusts, hereinafter mentioned, created & declared for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar, lawful money of Pennsylvania, to him in hands paid by the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells & Charles Kimbul, the receipt of which one dollar is hereby acknowledge, hath granted, bargained, sold, aliened, enfeoffed, released and confirmed and by these presents doth grant, bargain, sell, alien, enfeoff, release & confirm unto the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells and Charles Kimbul, their heirs and assigns a certain lot or piece of land situate lying and being in the Township of East Whiteland aforesaid, beginning at a post or stone thence by land late of Doctor John Jacobs, deceased, north sixty degrees, east eight perches to a post or stone, thence by other land of the said James Malin, North thirty one degrees and an half, West nine perches to a post or stone, thence by same and land sold to Charles Kimbul, South sixty degrees west eight perches to a post or stone, thence by land late of John Jacobs now of Joseph B. Jacobs, south thirty one degrees and an half, East nine perches in the place of beginning, containing seventy two perches of land which Joseph M Paul by deed of Indenture dated the eighth day of the fourth month on thousand eight hundred and sixteen and recorded in the recorder’s office in and for the County of Chester in book M3, page 245, granted and conveyed unto the said James Malin, his heirs and assigns forever. Together with all & singular the ways, rights, liberties, privileges, improvements, hereditaments & appurtenance whatsoever thereunto belonging on or any wise appertaining and the reversions and remainders, rents issues and profits thereof, and also all the estate eight title interest use /codeftion property claiming demand whatsoever as well at law as in equity otherwise housover of him the said James Malin of in to and out of the same. To have and hold the said described lot or piece of land, hereditaments and premises hereby granted or mentioned or intended so to be with the appurtenances unto the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells and Charles Kimbul and their heirs to the use and behoof of the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells & Charles Kimbul their heirs & assign and the survivors and the survivor of them and the heirs and assigns of such survivors and survivor forever. In trust nevertheless and to the use, intents & purposes herinafter mentioned, expressed & declared that to say that the said lot or piece of land hereby granted and conveyed shall be appropriated as a place & spot of growing whereon to build and erect a church to be called and styled the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Township of East Whiteland in the County of Chester for the members of said church to meet in and at, for the purpose of performing divine worship and for the erecting other necessary guildings for the conveniency and accommodation of the members of said church and for the purpose of a burial ground to bury and inter their dead and to and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever. And the said James Malin for himself his heirs, executors or administrators doth covenant, declare & agree to and with the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells & Charles Kimbul & their several & respective heirs & assigns in manner following that is to say that upon the death of any one of them the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells and Charles Kimbul or upon their or any of them being mindful or desirous to quit him or themselves of the said Trust, or upon their or any of them being expelled from religious membership by the discipline of said Church, it shall & may be lawful to & for the majority of the members of said Church in meeting assembled as often as occasion may require to make choice of another or others to manage and & requite the said Trust in the room and stead of such as shall depart this life, be desirous of parting him or their selves of the said Trust, or being expelled from religious membership as aforesaid. And the said Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells and Charles Kimbul and the survivors and survivor of them and the heirs and assigns of such survivor shall at the request of the majority of the members of the said Church in meeting assembled as aforesaid convey the said lot or piece of land with the appurtenances agreeably to the Trusts, uses intents and purposes aforesaid to such person & persons and their heirs & assigns as shall be by the majority of the said meeting in that behalf chosen, nominated & appointed in order to keep on foot and in continuance the said Trust estate for the uses and purposes aforesaid. And also that the Samuel Davis, Ishmael Wells & Charles Kimbul or any or either of them shall not, nor will not at any time or times hereafter assign or convey over his or their said trust estate of or in the said dasonibet lot or piece of land and premises or any part therof unto any person or person or persons so as to make a tenancy in common or otherwise to sever the joint tenancy on the premises hereby created or intended so to be or in any other manner whatsoever buy shall stand and be (?) of the premises with the appurtenances to and for the uses, intents & purposes aforesaid, and to have no other use intent or purpose whatsoever. In witness whereof the said James Malin have hereunto set his hand and seal dated the day, month & year first above written. JamesMalin. Seal. Sealed & delivered in the presence of us John Rogers, James Dilworth, before me the Subscriber, one of the Justices of the peace in and for the County of Chester cam the above named James Malin and acknowledged the above written Indenture of Trust to be his ad & deed to the intent the same as such might be recorded according to law. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hands and seal the eleventh day of the sixth month in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty one. James Dilworuth. Seal