13 December 2007

Long Overdue

After months of research and working with Virginia's Department of Historical Resource highway marker program, I am pleased to announce that an application for a new marker has been approved by DHR for installation in Lexington. Though the submitted text was edited slightly, I'm very happy with the final version:

Near this spot is the original African American cemetery of Lexington. Dating to the days of slavery, this cemetery was abandoned in 1880 and the persons buried here were purportedly moved to Evergreen Cemetery. Jim Lewis, an African American who served as Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson’s body servant and cook during the Civil War, was buried here. Soldiers knew a march was imminent when Lewis started packing the secretive general’s baggage. Lewis’s and other graves were unmarked and never identified. In 1946, the City of Lexington sold the old cemetery, and houses were built over the original burial ground.

This issue has been somewhat of a controversy and sore spot in Lexington for decades. There have been several local editorials published and numerous conversations about what, if anything, should be done. When I came across the story during my research on the Stonewall Jackson book, I determined that, at the very least, there should be some public acknowledgement of this cemetery and the sad story behind it. Many thanks go to Dorsey surveying of Lexington for their assistance in verifying the location of the old cemetery and to Washington & Lee history professor Taylor Sanders for his extensive research about the city's involvement dating back to 1880. Also, Mr. Jerry Roane, a long-time Lexington resident, was of great help in locating an old tombstone somehow overlooked and forgotten over the last 130 years. It was the only one remaining in the old cemetery, but no one knows why. That mystery still has not been solved. Mr. Roane has family connections to the old cemetery, as well as to Evergreen cemetery in Lexington.

The highway marker will be located somewhere on Route 60 (Nelson Street) near the original cemetery and we are planning an official unveiling of the new marker some time in the spring. DHR will issue a press release at some point in the near future which will be posted here as well.

(The first image shows part of the old cemetery where the tombstone was located. The stone has since been moved to the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery offices by the city for safekeeping and additional research.)


Lawrence Underwood said...

Wonderful. Simply wonderful

Anonymous said...


HankC said...

Where on Nelson street is the old cemetery? in the swale under the bridge just east of downtown?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Hank. Its located near City Hall, bordered roughly by what is today North Lewis Street, Washington Street, and Marble Lane.