A complete catalog of historic cemeteries in Southeastern North Carolina would fill a thick volume. At least 85 burial sites have been documented in New Hanover County alone, and many are not known. Virtually every plantation or family farm had its own burial plot, such as the Foy family plot (relocated to Poplar Grove Plantation in 2001) or the Kenan plot near Liberty Hall in Kenansville.)
Brunswick County historian J.C. Judah, a co-founder of Brunswick County Search and Rescue, has documented dozens of slave burial grounds scattered across the county; a number of these are described in her book, “The Legends of Brunswick County.”
Below are some of the larger, more notable cemeteries of historic interest:
* St. James Churchyard — Wilmington’s original burial ground, behind St. James Episcopal Church, off Market Street between Third and Fourth. Originally much larger; many graves were relocated to Oakdale Cemetery. Final resting place for Cornelius Harnett, leader in the colonial Stamp Act protests and member of the Continental Congress; Thomas Godfrey (1736-1763), poet and playwright, whose “Prince of Parthia” is thought to be the first play written by an American to be staged by a professional theater company; and Maj. George Washington Glover, first husband of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. The last burial was in 1850
* Oakdale Cemetery — established 1852, located at the north end of 15th Street in Wilmington. The historic “garden cemetery” is noted as much for its flowers and shrubs as for its Victorian tombstones. Final resting place of newscaster David Brinkley, Lincoln Memorial designer Henry Bacon, Confederate spy Rose O’Neale Greenhow, a number of Confederate generals and war heroes and Edward B. Dudley, North Carolina’s first popularly elected governor.
* Pine Forest Cemetery — located right next to Oakdale at the north end of 16th Street. Established as a burial ground for slaves and free blacks in 1860; taken over by the non-profit Pine Forest Cemetery Co. in 1871. Final resting place of Robert R. Taylor, noted architect and first black graduate of MIT; James B. Dudley, college president; Wilmington Journal founder Robert S. Jervay and many others.
* Bellevue Cemetery — located at North 17th Street and Princess Place Drive, this simple cemetery was founded in 1876 and chartered by the state in 1877. At least 135 Confederate veterans are buried here, along with a number of sailors who died while their ships were in port here. Charles Williams Stewart and William Elmer Stewart, a father and son who became local folk heroes after killing two police officers during a raid on their Brunswick County still, were buried at Bellevue after their executions in 1925 at Central Prison in Raleigh. Bellevue has the only surviving cemetery lodge building in the Wilmington area.
* B’nai Israel Cemetery — North 18th Street and Princess Place Drive. Cemetery founded by Wilmington’s Orthodox B’nai Israel congregation in 1898; the earliest recorded burial dates from 1909.
* Wilmington National Cemetery — Market Street at North 20th Street. Begun in 1867, the cemetery originally held Union dead from the Fort Fisher and Wilmington campaign as well as from other points along the Wilmington & Weldon and Wilmington & Manchester rail lines. The burials include more than 550 “U.S. Colored Troops” from the Civil War. The Dutch Colonial lodge dates from 1933; notable is the 1887 bandstand, the only structure of its kind surviving in Wilmington. Final resting place of Inglis Fletcher, noted historical novelist (“Roanoke Hundred,” “Lusty Wind for Carolina,” etc.), buried with her husband, a Spanish-American War veteran.
* Old Smithville Burying Ground — corner of Rhett and Nash streets, Southport. Historic cemetery dating from the 1700s, when Southport was known as “Smithville.” Many sea captains, river pilots, shipwreck victims and locals are buried here. Final resting place of Maj. Gen. Robert Howe, local planter, Revolutionary War leader and president of Benedict Arnold’s court martial board; and (supposedly) Benjamin Smith, aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington and governor of North Carolina (but see below).
* St. Philip’s Church — at Brunswick Town State Historic Site. Colonial Gov. Arthur Dobbs was reportedly buried inside the impressive ruins of this Anglican church, although nobody knows exactly where. Several notable patriots are buried in the churchyard including Alfred Moore (1755-1810), an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Gov. Benjamin Smith. (Several of these graves, including Smith’s, were moved here by patriotic groups at the end of the 19th century.)
* Orton Plantation — A colonial cemetery at the north end of the plantation gardens includes the tomb of Orton’s founder, with the famous epitaph, “Here lies King Roger Moore …”
* Mount Lebanon Cemetery — also known as Giles Cemetery, located outside Mount Lebanon Chapel at Airlie Gardens off Airlie Roads. Burials date from the 1830s; final resting place for a number of members of the Wright, Corbett, Conway, Beane and Sneeden families.
* Oak Grove Cemetery — A “poor man’s burial ground,” active from around 1870 until at least 1960, at the sound end of 16th and 17th streets of Wilmington, bordering Cape Fear Country Club between the present locations of the Star-News building and the Scottish Rite Temple. Perhaps 10,000 people were buried there, according to local historian Bill Reaves, about 75 percent of them black, 20 percent white and the rest unknown. Many of the graves were surrounded by sea shells or household items — distinctive African-American customs with ties back to Africa. Its “potter’s field” was the final resting place for an unknown number of paupers, mental patients, jail inmates and drifters with no known next of kin. In 1961, when 16th and 17th streets were extended, a number of the graves (or, at least, the tombstones) were relocated to a cemetery in Flemington, across the Cape Fear River. In 1985, however, archaeologist Mark Wilde-Ramsing reported finding human bones, concrete slabs, pieces of tombstones and rusty funeral-plot markers on the site. Concern over the property forced New Hanover County to relocate the planned site of its new Social Services building in the 1980s.
* Acorn Branch Cemetery — One of New Hanover County’s oldest cemeteries, located off Kerr Avenue at the end of Morris Road, near the Wilmington International Airport. Members of the Kerr family, for whom Kerr Avenue was named, are buried there.
There is a second Acorn Branch Cemetery, located off the east side of North Kerr Avenue between Gordon Road and Farley Drive. Slaves are known to have been buried here before the Civil War, and several African-American families have laid relatives to rest here for generations. The property is now owned by New Hanover County.
* Pine Tree Burying Ground — Landlocked cemetery located in the vicinity of Seventh and Queen streets. Dating from before the Civil War, the plot may have held the bodies of victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1862. In 1999, the city had 162 graves relocated from the site to Flemington.
Date posted: April 15, 2009