Archaeological Survey Uncovers 'Forgotten Cemetery' Likely Of Black Slaves

4798The nameless graves follow the line of a long-gone fence. They're mostly marked with fieldstones, if they're marked at all.
And though they sit just outside the stately stone wall of the University of Virginia Cemetery, it's unlikely anyone today will know who was buried there generations ago.

Archeologists have found 67 graves in the forgotten cemetery. The dead are probably black and possibly slaves, officials have said, but it's hard to know any more than that.

"I'm sure they will look as hard as they can to find definitive information, but it may be that we will never have a definitive answer," University Landscape Architect Mary Hughes said.

She called the fieldwork that's just wrapping up only the first part of the investigation. Researchers are hoping to use a camera on a balloon today to shoot aerial photos of the site discovered as researchers explored the area in preparation for an expansion of the university cemetery.

Soon, the search will turn to UVa's "copious" collection, Hughes said.

Researchers will not excavate graves, both out of respect and because they said they don't think it would be productive. The university will preserve and memorialize the gravesite, officials said.

This isn't the first time the university has made a discovery like this one.

Hughes cited the Catherine "Kitty" Foster site, found in the early 1990s near Jefferson Park Avenue. Archeologists searching in advance of a parking lot expansion initially found 12 graves. At the time, researchers theorized the people buried there might be descendants of Foster, a free black woman, and her relatives.

"They thought they had some idea who the burials were," Hughes said.

A few years later, a wider-ranging search ahead of a major construction project in the area turned up another 20 graves. Now, researchers say, it likely was a community cemetery, but specifics remain scarce.

Institutional records aren't likely to turn up any more information about the recently discovered graves, said Rivanna Archaeological Services' Benjamin Ford, who is helping oversee the dig. Personal papers might have indirect references to who's buried there, he said.

Researchers will target their search toward UVa's immense collection, searching indexes for papers from individuals at the university before and after the Civil War, Ford said.

For example, Ford said, there's a reference in the 1830s to a professor making a coffin for a dead servant.

Source: Black Voices | The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.  |  Ted Strong
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