Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Rosewood Cemetery Marker Dedication, Galveston

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 13, 2011

Update: A new reader asks about the title Dead Confederates juxtaposed with a story about an African American cemetery. It’s the name of the blog, which generally deals with the American Civil War, and I didn’t even realize how it would look. I hope folks will understand and not be offended, because that was not my intent. I apologize for how this looks, and hope readers will consider the blog as a whole, and not by this particular whiplash-inducing combination of phrases.

Tucked away in a nearly-impossible-to-find part of Galveston is Rosewood Cemetery, a burial ground for African Americans between 1911 and the last known interment, in 1944. Historical records identify 411 burials there, but only a handful of graves remain clearly marked. The site was originally a couple of hundred yards from the Gulf beach, but after the Seawall was extended past the site in the 1950s, and subsequent fill operations closed off the cemetery’s natural drainage, leaving the site subject to periodic flooding. Over time, grave markers succumbed to natural deterioration, vandalism or simply settled into the soil. Many of the markers that remain have been displaced from their original locations.

There’s only one marker clearly identifying the person interred there as a former member of the military, that of World War I veteran Ben L. Scott (c. 1896 — Feb. 21, 1937). Many more burials there are of freedmen and -women who were born into slavery. William Lewis (c. 1840 — November 22, 1913) is almost certainly one of those.

Eventually the land including the cemetery passed into the hands of local developers John and Judy Saracco. The Saraccos, well-known members of the local community, were aware that the cemetery lay within the boundaries of their new holdings, and had the property surveyed to define its limits. The Saraccos then had the cemetery fenced to maintain its boundary while development went on around it.

In 2006, the Saraccos donated the Rosewood Cemetery land to the Galveston Historical Foundation, which now maintains the property. The formal re-dedication of the cemetery was held in June 2007. In January 2008, local Boy Scout Sean Moran raised money and organized a crew to construct a new rail fence to surround the cemetery property. That fence was destroyed nine months later, during Hurricane Ike, so Moran — by now a college student — raised yet more money and organized volunteers to re-install a new fence again in March 2010.

This coming Saturday, April 16 at 10 a.m., there will be a dedication ceremony for the new Texas Historical Commission Historic Cemetery marker for Rosewood Cemetery, on 63rd Street, just back from Seawall Boulevard. The Galveston Historical Foundation is still seeking information on persons interred at Rosewood; if you have any information on such persons, please contact Brian Davis at 409.765.3419 or brian.davis@galvestonhistory.org.

Two photos of the cemetery in 1999:

And pictures from last Saturday’s cleanup project after the jump:

_______________

All images © Galveston Historical Foundation, used with permission.

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2 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on April 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    If any of the slaves had last names of Malone or van Buren, or were known slaves of Maj. Henry van Buren, CSA, or Capt. Edward Malone, Sr., CSA, they may have come to Galveston from Mobile? Perhaps I can help with those names? Willingly, or unwillingly, African-American slaves built much of early America; I think many a Southern town square deserves a statue of the slave’s accomplishments as well as the Confederate soldiers already on so many town squares. But that is neither “politically correct” to most of the descendants of either the slaves nor most descendants of Confederate vets.

    “FFV’s” means “First Families of Virginia”; I think the first African-Americans to Jamestown, Virginia, arrived (unwillingly) but circa 15 years or so, later? That’s earlier than most later white Virginians.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 14, 2011 at 8:10 am

      I don’t really care for the “politically correct” formulation as a criticism, as it’s extremely vague. But it’s certainly true that recognizing the accomplishments of enslaved persons is a difficult thing to get right. You have to be able to highlight the accomplishment without applauding the legal/social structure under which it was accomplished. It take some careful thought, and even then can get held hostage to political whim. IIRC the NPS and Capitol Historian prepared fairly extensive materials documenting and commemorating the contributions of slaves to the building of the U.S. Capitol, but some grandstanding by members of Congress delayed or prevented those from being put in place for the public — I need to revisit that sequence of events.

      Galveston has had an African American presence from the beginning, but it’s only been in the last couple of decades that local historical organizations have really tried to be proactive in embracing the African American experience here. There’s a long way to go, but projects like Rosewood Cemetery are real, concrete examples of progress in that regard.

      Finally, with the FFV and the landing of slaves at Jamestown, recall the letter of George W. Hatton of the 1st USCT, who made very much the same point in 1864:

      You are aware that Wilson’s Landing is on the James river, a few miles above Jamestown, the very spot where the first sons of Africa were landed, in the year 1620, if my memory serves me right, and from that day up to the breaking out of the rebellion, was looked upon as an inferior race by all civilized nations.

      But behold what has been revealed in the past three or four years; why the colored men have ascended upon a platform of equality, and the slave can now apply the lash to the tender flesh of his master, for this day I am now an eye witness of the fact. The country being principally inhabited by wealthy farmers, there are a great many men in the regiment who are refugees from this place.

      While out on a foraging expedition we captured Mr. Clayton [sic., Clopton], a noted reb in this part of the country, and from his appearance, one of the F.F.V’s; on the day before we captured several colored women that belonged to Mr. C., who had given them a most unmerciful whipping previous to their departure.

      On the arrival of Mr. C. in camp, the commanding officer determined to let the women have their revenge, and ordered Mr. C. to be tied to a tree in front of headquarters, and William Harris, a soldier in our regiment, and a member of Co. E, who was acquainted with the gentleman, and who used to belong to him, was called upon to undress him, and introduce him to the ladies I mentioned before. Mr. Harris played his part conspicuously, bringing the blood from his loins at every stroke, and not forgetting to remind the gentleman of days gone by.

      After giving him some fifteen or twenty well-directed strokes, the ladies, one after another, came up and gave him a like number, to remind him that they were no longer his, but safely housed in Abraham’s bosom, and under the protection of the Star Spangled Banner, and guarded by their own patriotic, though once down-trodden race.

      Oh, that I had the tongue to express my feelings while standing upon the banks of the James river, on the soil of Virginia, the mother state of slavery, as a witness of such a sudden reverse! The day is clear, the fields of grain are beautiful and the birds are singing sweet melodious songs, while poor Mr. C. is crying to his servants for mercy. Let all who sympathize for the South take this narrative for a mirror.


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