Today’s ceremony at the ruins of Ebenezer A.M.E. on Bacton Hill Road today literally made me cry. I was so overcome with emotion that the ruin and cemetery are finally getting well-deserved recognition and attention. #thisplacematters , all 184 years of it.
When I got to the graveyard, people were assembling. Media, neighbors, passers-by who decided to pull over and stop, descendants of those souls buried there, a representative from the East Whiteland Historical Commission, some of my “Ladies of Ebenezer”, the Willistown Troop 78 Scouts, Luke Phayre the Eagle Scout and his family (including his mom Kathy and grandfather) , many local veterans, three member of the East Whiteland Police Department, WCU Student Veterans Group members, and Al Terrell.
It was so overwhelming to me, it truly was such a beautiful sight. It was indeed something I was not sure I would ever see and among other things I so wished Ann Christie had lived long enough to see this happen – which is why some of the Ladies of Ebenezer were there today – we had made Ann a promise because she truly loved the site and had tried for years before my interest to get to this point. We also felt today we were able to honor her, along with the black Civil War soldiers and other souls buried at Ebenezer. After so many decades of truly wanton neglect, these people were honored.
It was long overdue, but our very history is often such a cruel mistress.
Our ceremony was opened by Luke Phayre. He spoke about his project and thanked people who have been helping him. He spoke very well and is truly a poised and wonderful young man.
Captain Howard A. Crawford, USAF, MSC (Ret) who is the Commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134 (Bernard Schlegel Post) spoke simply and eloquently
“We’re here today to honor Civil War soldiers…African American soldiers that died…[who] weren’t given the honors of a true [military] burial.”
His son played taps for the soldiers on a bugle. Veterans gave a military rifle salute, and if memory serves I think it is called a three volley salute.
And East Whiteland Police Department sent three representatives. These fine gentlemen came in full uniform and participated. I was so touched that they wanted to do this, especially today when they were on their way to bury a former brother officer who had served with them and passed away. At a time in this country when people are so darn critical of our men in blue – like those Bryn Mawr College students this week for example – I think these are the quiet moments that most police critics tend to overlook that speak volumes as to the characters of those who serve. Bravo, East Whiteland Police Department. Such a generous gesture on your own day of loss.
In a nation currently torn asunder by varying political factions and beliefs, those of us involved at Ebenezer are humbled by this kind gesture on the part of Chester County veterans and local police and others who believe in our quest to save Ebenezer and honor those buried here.
Today we saw people leave their politics at home and come together. It was such a poignant and beautiful thing to be part of the week before Thanksgiving. This is what it means to come together and be Americans. There was no race, creed, color, or political divide we were all just Americans coming together to honor our dead. It was so inspiring and true and good a thing. Days like this give us all hope.
Thanks for stopping by. Read the Daily Local tomorrow too.
We get by with a little help from our friends. And this coming Saturday, November 19 at 1 PM sharp, thanks to the kindness of Captain Howard A. Crawford, USAF, MSC (Ret) who is the Commander of the West Chester American Legion Post 134 (Bernard Schlegel Post) there will be a simple ceremony courtesy of the Captain and other members of the Chester County Veteran’s Council including Kelby Hershey of the WCU Student Veteran’s Center.
Captain Crawford learned of Eagle Scout Luke Phayre’s project to clean up Ebenezer (Luke is part of Willistown Boy Scout Troop 78), and wanted to help those of us in the community who love Ebenezer to honor the USCT soldiers buried at Ebenezer. This honor will also extend to the old souls buried there. I am so thrilled this is happening as it was my black Civil War soldier, Joshua Johnson who first inspired me to write and care about the ruins of Ebenezer AME.
A small honor guard, taps will be played, a small dedication prayer by an American Legion Chaplain.
This might very well be the very first time the USCT soldiers buried here have ever been honored like this. We also expect some veterans of every branch of service throughout Chester County.
The address of Ebenezer was 97 Bacton Hill Road, Frazer, PA when it was an active church. For those not quite sure where Ebenezer is, they are next door to the Malvern Courts Mobile Homes at 94 Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, and not far from where Bacton Hill Road meets 401 (Conestoga Road).
Please be advised that there is not really off-street parking available, so park along the side of the road with care and caution.
Media and members of the public are encouraged to attend. In a nation currently torn asunder by varying political factions and beliefs, those of us involved at Ebenezer are humbled by this kind gesture on the part of Chester County veterans who believe in our quest to save Ebenezer and honor those buried here. So please, we most kindly request that people leave their politics at home if they choose to attend.
As a related aside, Ebenezer is in the news once again today:
For the most part, historic burial grounds do not get the same attention that is paid to birthplaces or battlegrounds. In Pennsylvania, some historic cemeteries have been relocated and the land redeveloped; other sites are neglected and overgrown; and some have been completely lost….
On the list of priorities for historic preservation, cemeteries tend to rank low. But there is some movement to protect the sacred grounds.
“These places deserve to be saved,” said Carla Zambelli, who is working to research and preserve a long-overlooked graveyard in East Whiteland Township, Chester County. “Those people meant something to someone.”
…While historic buildings and other sites have opportunities for government protection on local or national historic registers, cemeteries are rarely designated on such lists….Many of the older cemeteries have become wards of the state or their local towns because the original congregations or organizations that operated them have faded or moved on….Survival falls on the caretakers or institutions that may still run them and their “financial wherewithal,” explained Aaron Wunsch, an assistant professor in University of Pennsylvania’s historic preservation program….The Ebenezer AME cemetery is one of 42 burial grounds of black Civil War troops identified so far by the Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds Project, launched in 2009 to raise awareness of these cemeteries and establish ways to preserve them. The small volunteer group received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to host annual gatherings of preservationists and caretakers who share strategies to meet the challenges of protecting the burial sites.
Today while Al Terrell was on site at Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, a couple of things that are so delightful occurred. People came to visit.
Not people with family buried there, but just people coming to visit Ebenezer and East Whiteland’s amazing history!
First, a family stopped by Ebenezer to take pictures this afternoon and spoke with Al Terrell . Unbelievable. Their Girl Scout Troop wants to volunteer to help. Al is getting their information.
Then a woman and her daughter stopped by to take photos. Al said the lady was a photographer.
Can I just say how awesome it is?
After a few years feeling like the voice in the proverbial wilderness, all these people are taking an interest.
God is good. Don’t know what else to say ❤️ My heart is so happy right now that people obviously DO care about Ebenezer.
A photographer and her daughter stop to visit Ebenezer today October 11, 2016. Al Terrell photo
(For my years of writing about my journey with trying to get help and recognition about Ebenezer click here and here and here .)
Every day seems to bring good news. The only thing I will say is to caution people to not go climbing in the church ruin itself and to be careful. That is 184 years of history in there, and way before most of our time, the roof of Ebenezer collapsed through to the stone pier foundations. We want to preserve that, but it is NOT safe at this point for people to do anything other than view the church ruin from the outside.
Ann Christie are you watching? Chris and I promised you we would get Ebenezer help. It is happening. All these wonderful people are coming forward. I wish you were here to see her emerge from her green prison of overgrowth, but I would like to think you are watching like an angel over Ebenezer.
Ann was a brilliant poet as well as a fervent champion of Ebenezer. I think I will finish with one of her poems:
Already the Heart
The spinal cord blossoms
like bright, bruised magnolia
into the brainstem.
And already the heart
in its depth — who could assail it?
Bathed in my voice, all branching
and dreaming. The flowering
and fading — said the poet —
come to us both at once.
Here is your best self,
and the least, two sparrows
alight in the one tree
of your body.
Look…that is Ebenzer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, yesterday.
Now look at this photo from when they were first starting. This photo is Al and Luke the Willistown scout doing his Eagle Scout project when they started this journey (and the way it was when we took the Philadelphia Inquirer out to the site this summer):
Al Terrell photo
And even better is this next photo. It is Al’s son Andrew showing Luke the Eagle Scout project he did at Ebenezer 16 years ago!!! How cool is that?
Al Terrell photo
It got me to thinking. Not only of the generations of the same family interested in preserving Ebenezer for future generations, but how many scouts have actually done service projects here?
It is so obvious the love so many have had for this site. And every day we see more progress. This is what community is about, people. From East Whiteland’s township building to the local Boy Scouts from multiple troops over the years, to all the others interested in Ebenezer in the past and present, this is the good community can do simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Here is hoping the AME Church is watching. And anyone else wondering about trying to save history wherever they live.
For the past few years, I have been writing about this. I see the importance of this site intertwined with its 184 years of individual history combined with the 200-year-old history of the AME Church founded by freed slave Benjamin Richard Allen. (The AME Church as all know celebrated its 200th anniversary this year in Philadelphia.)
The parcel’s 1832 deed of trust transfers ownership of the land from James Malin, a prominent Quaker farmer involved in the Underground Railroad, to three African Americans – “Samuel Davis, Ishmael Ells, and Charles Kimbul” – for the purpose of constructing a church with a burial ground in East Whiteland.
Ebenezer’s floor was a raised platform on stone piers, according to research by archival consultant Jonathan L. Hoppe, for the Chester County Historical Society. Its single room had a door facing the road; opposite was the raised pulpit. The interior walls were covered in wainscoting.
So Al and I have been messaging back and forth. He and the scouts from Willistown have been clearing brush. Trust me, you remember the photos from June. It was a horrible mess with 10 and 12 foot weeds and more. A complete sea of poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Brambles, wild weed trees. Completely sad and crazy.
As we drove up yesterday to meet with Al Terrell for a little bit, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I almost couldn’t focus my eyes from the tears that kept welling up.
These aren’t my people, this isn’t my religion or church, yet those souls buried there mean something to me. It all started with a soldier named Joshua. Al Terrell visits Joshua too.
To see the weeds disappearing and to see graves I had not even seen three years ago was almost overwhelming it made me so happy.
Think, just think, of what the people buried here saw. The history they lived through. Slavery. Becoming free. How can we as a society which values our freedoms and ancestors let these people disappear without trying?
Before me, the poet Ann Christie also tried to save this graveyard. She and I met and became new friends because of Ebenezer. Then cancer took her from her daughter and family this past spring.
I promised Ann in her last months of life I wouldn’t give up. And I almost did. Until Al Terrell, Joe Rubino and scouts from Willistown came along with volunteers from Al’s bible study, a wonderful lawn service gentleman and more.
I walked around taking it in. I visited the Reasons, who still to this day have family in Malvern and East Whiteland and elsewhere local. Al says to me that our friend was waiting. Joshua Johnson.
When I saw Joshua’s grave unearthed from all the weeds and debris once again my eyes were so filled with tears I really couldn’t speak for a couple of minutes. My friends will tell you that is a rare occasion.
I also saw graves that we have never seen before.
The whole time I was there with Al Saturday morning, cat birds sat on the fence and nagged and scolded us. To me it was a good omen. And I have to tell you when you visit this graveyard you will notice an extraordinary thing – it’s not a sad or creepy place — it’s a very peaceful place that felt somehow inexplicably happy that people cared about it once more.
The history these people lived was remarkable. I can’t imagine being born a slave, and some of the people buried here were freed slaves. Like one gentleman in particular whose grave was discovered by boy scouts today, Hiram Woodyard. Hiram was also our other USCT member – a black Civil War soldier.
….Only none of us have seen his grave for a very long time. So I was tremendously excited when Al texted me from the graveyard.
Willistown Scouts cleaning up Ebenezer October 2, 2016 ~Al Terrell photo
Al and these boys and the other volunteers who have taken on the Herculean task of unearthing the graveyard and church from their green prison are my every day heroes.
They have restored my faith in people just doing the right thing.
In a day and age when every day when you pick up a newspaper or turn on the television all you see is the ugliness of humanity and political battles tearing people apart, this is what brings it all back around and takes you home to what is important. Home, hearth, faith, history, humanity.
I bet most people do not even know what happened in Philadelphia in 1830 right before Malin gave the AME Church this land do you?
This first convention, which occurred before the Civil War hosted about 40 people, including Bishop Richard Allen of Mother Bethel AME Church, and founder of the AME Church. (He died in 1831 a few short months before the land to Ebenezer was deeded to Mother Bethel and/or the AME Church.)
During the first ten years of this organization’s existence white abolitionists worked with the black members to try to come up with ways to deal with oppression and racism in this country. The last convention of this very important yet short-lived movement which was ahead of its time was in Syracuse, NY in 1864.
Ebenezer AME when it was first built was built within the midst of a thriving and historically important black community of which very few traces actually remain. As people died and moved, like many other communities, it shifted, rearranged, disappeared. Which of course is yet another reason WHY Ebenezer’s preservation is so important.
There is a house that I am not sure if it still sits on Conestoga Road that freed slave and former soldier Hiram Woodyard actually built. 418 Conestoga Road. Family members whose grandmother lived there many, many years ago when they were growing up, used to go to the graveyard and leave Hiram flowers on his grave.
The people buried here saw so many things. All ordinary people who lived in some cases during extraordinary times.(Which makes them somewhat extraordinary to me.) And many of these souls still have ancestors in this area today in many cases.
Ebenezer is living to see another day. I hope as time progresses now a more permanent solution to her upkeep and preservation is found. I would love to figure out when exactly Pennsylvania might have a year where a historical roadside marker might become a possibility. I would like to see the Chester County Historical Society to become a little more proactive here.