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What is the earliest cemetery in Wilmington?

Ben Steelman

The oldest maintained cemetery in Wilmington is the St. James Parish Churchyard, located off Market Street between Third and Fourth. In the early 1700s, it was essentially the town’s municipal cemetery. The last burial there was in 1850.

The site includes a number of bricked-in, “barrel-vault” graves, typical of the Colonial era.

Among the notable burials in the churchyard are 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 churchyard is also the site of one of the region’s more persistent ghost legends: Samuel Jocelyn, who apparently died after falling from a horse in 1810 and was buried there. It was later discovered that he had been buried alive (after his ghost appeared, to complain to his friends).

The churchyard was once much larger. As St. James Episcopal Church expanded, a number of graves and tombstones, were moved to Oakdale Cemetery in the 1800s.

Bricked-in tombs were also located in the 1970s near the old “Gallows Hill” site on the 500 block of Market Street. As recently as 2014, bones were found during construction at Fourth and Chestnut streets.

Bones were found during the 2009 renovation of Thalian Hall, which may have come from a Native American burial.


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