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What is Pine Forest Cemetery?

Ben Steelman

Wilmington’s historic African-American cemetery sits at the northern end of 16th Street — immediately next to historically white Oakdale Cemetery.

The cemetery was begun in 1860 when Wilmington town commissioners set aside 15 acres as a burial ground for slaves and free blacks. In 1871, the city deeded the property over to the non-profit Pine Forest Cemetery Co., made up of some of Wilmington’s foremost black civic leaders. The property grew to more than 25 acres.

As with Oakdale, a number of graves seem to have been reinterred at Pine Forest after its founding; as architectural historian Tony Wrenn noted, “Stones from the 1840s and 1850s are common and Pine Forest.” A high percentage of the graves, however, were never marked.

Notable burials at Pine Forest include Robert R. Taylor, the noted architect and the first African-American graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. James Francis Shober, the first black physician licensed in North Carolina; George L. Mabson, the first black lawyer licensed in the state; James B. Dudley, longtime president of what is now N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro; Robert S. Jervay, founder of the Wilmington Journal, and Mary Washington Howe, principal of Williston Graded School for 20 years.

Some of the grave markers are unusual. For many years, an anvil stood atop the grave of Alfred Hargreaves, a well-known local blacksmith. Also at Pine Forest was the grave of Jip Jones, “Born Sep. 23, 1890, Died May 18, 1904. This was the only dog we know that attended church on Sunday. He was loved by everybody who knew him.”

Heavily forested, Pine Forest has suffered in recent years from hurricane damage and vandalism, as well as from limited resources and an aging cadre of volunteer caretakers. Efforts have been made to restore the grounds in recent years, however, and local Scouts have adopted the cemetery as a project.

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One Response to “ What is Pine Forest Cemetery?”

  1. On June 15, 2009 at 10:13 am beverly tetterton wrote:

    The best source of information on Pine Forest Cemetery and those buried there can be found in Strength Through Struggle, The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950, by Bill Reaves. Published by the New Hanover County Library in 1998, the 580 page book can be purchased at the library for $20.00.
    It also contains the best information on Oak Grove Cemetery.

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