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.
Meet some of my grown-up Ebenezer saviors. The gentleman far left will forgive me as I do not remember his name. Second from left is Doug, center is Al Terrell, and far right is my arborist Bob Phipps of Phipps Tree Care.
For over three years, I felt like a lone voice in the proverbial wilderness. It also felt crazy to me that no one really cared about the ruins of 184 years of history known as Ebenezer A.M.E. and her old souls buried on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, East Whiteland.
But it ends up, people do care, and day by day she is further released from her green prison of weeds, giant poison ivy vines, overgrowth. Every day we see a little more.
Meet Luke Phayre, our Eagle Scout
The tide turned shortly after Kristin Holmes wrote her first article on Ebenezer. This gentleman named Al Terrell told me he was going to get Ebenezer cleaned up. He will tell you, and I will admit at that point my faith in this happening and being able to keep my promise to Ann Christie that we wouldn’t give up… was waning to say the least.
But Al came along with this remarkable teenager and Eagle Scout from Willistown 78, Luke Phayre. And little by little, it’s happening. It is actually happening.
Al is amazing. He is one of the nicest men I have ever met, and he has this quiet and unassuming determination about him. He has a deeply rooted faith in God and humankind that has kind of made me have faith again.
And Luke. Luke is an amazing boy, with an equally amazing mom, Kathy. This boy is hard-working, smart, and articulate. And yesterday, even as most of his buddies and fellow scouts were off on a camping trip, Luke was at Ebenezer, cleaning up debris. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with Luke and happy to meet his mother who is also just one of those people you know from the first introduction are “good people”.
Meet Harriet, we discovered her yesterday. ~ Al Terrell photo
Yesterday at Ebenezer, I also met a man named Doug. He grew up in East Whiteland and told me about how he and his friends played in the graveyard and church. He said when they were kids (60’s and 70’s) there was still the roof and the floor. And even part of the old altar and a couple of pews. That now gives us a better timeline as to when the roof caved in taking everything and the floor with it. My guesstimate on that is late 1970s or 1980s.
Duffy’s son, Luke Phayre, 15, and Terrell researched the property and talked with township officials. They also sought permission for the cleanup from the First District of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, and got it. Phayre said he talked to Bishop Gregory Ingram, who sent a letter approving the project and commending Phayre for his initiative.
“I think it’s so noble,” Bishop Ingram said in an interview Friday. “. . . I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven’t been out there. But I will.
“For anyone to make themselves available to champion a cause like this,” he said, “it shows that in the midst of all the negativity in the world, wonderful things are happening.”
This also means to me that the A.M.E. Church is acknowledging Ebenezer’s existence and importance in history. It also gives me hope and the ability to start to forgive the A.M.E. Church for not responding, not acknowledging. A boy with a scout project helped them see what we see. That is what is important. Will I ever forget that men and women of the cloth like Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia who had an earlier calling in West Chester could never take the time to speak to me when I reached out? Probably not, but that is past and it’s time to look forward.
Bishop Ingram makes a hopeful difference in my mind, so it’s time to forgive them and look forward.
Every time I am at Ebenezer now I get all filled up with tears. Happy tears that people young and old and in between still care about things like this. Now I am hopeful she will be preserved and along with her some of the history of the people of Bacton, which was once a very important black community around here.
Meet Luke’s mom, Kathy Duffy Phayre. When you meet her you know instantly why she has such amazing children!
The people buried in this cemetery bore witness to so much history. And they lived it like ordinary people raising their families, working hard towards a better tomorrow. We owe these people a great debt, I think.
This article which I am about to post is why I do what I do. And some days it is hard. People love to criticize and castigate from behind their keyboards, semi-anonymous in their vitriol.
This is a strange world we live in where at times you are punished for not essentially being like everyone else, not thinking like everyone else, not being all the exact same homogeneous lump of humanity. And then after a lot of these people criticize they actually go out and mimic what you do, anyway. Imitation is after all, the sincerest form of flattery (or something like that.)
My journey through Chester County thus far has been an amazing one. And it is home. So I am happy, so truly happy about Ebenezer. I have hope for her future and was able to keep my word to a new friend.
Enjoy the article and I will have new photos soon.
Thank you Kristin Holmes for getting it. She is the ONLY reporter from any paper who has taken the time to write about this.
Thank you Al and Luke for your hard work and unwavering faith.
The crumbling, one-room house of worship and its toppled gravestones had been all but hidden behind a towering wall of weeds for years when Alvin Terrell drove up in his yellow VW Beetle this summer and vowed, “No more.”
The semiretired data analyst/kindergarten teacher had long lived right down the road from the abandoned Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in East Whiteland Township, a congregation founded in 1832 for freed slaves and indentured servants. Once, nearly 20 years ago, he and his teenage son even helped clear away brush as part of an Eagle Scout project. But without someone to continually care for the property, he said, “Mother Nature took it back.”….Ebenezer’s plight, the subject of an Inquirer story in July, has long been a worry for nearby residents and preservationists. Rescue efforts have proceeded in fits and starts, with intermittent volunteer cleanups. Township officials, though, were cautious about such efforts because they believed the property was owned by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, whose approval was needed before work could be done there. Contacting A.M.E. officials proved difficult, and tax records regarding ownership were unclear.
…Ebenezer Church was built when a Quaker abolitionist transferred the land to three African Americans in 1832. The stone structure, with an entrance facing the street and a stone pulpit opposite the door, became a center of the surrounding African American community, the site of revivals and ice cream socials……Last month, when Terrell decided to clean up the property, he knew he needed help and permission. At a fund-raiser for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at the Malvern Retreat House, he met Kathy Duffy, of West Chester. During their conversation, Duffy mentioned that her son was looking for an Eagle Scout project. Terrell recognized a serendipitous moment – or what Duffy described more divinely as “just God.”
Duffy’s son, Luke Phayre, 15, and Terrell researched the property and talked with township officials. They also sought permission for the cleanup from the First District of the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, and got it. Phayre said he talked to Bishop Gregory Ingram, who sent a letter approving the project and commending Phayre for his initiative.“I think it’s so noble,” Bishop Ingram said in an interview Friday. “. . . I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven’t been out there. But I will.”
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)