In this SIGHTLINE story, The Observer explores the history of Hartstown, a pioneering Black community in Jefferson County. Click here to see other stories in this Sightline.
A Free Community
Following the end of the Civil War, formerly enslaved men, women and children developed many self-sustaining communities based on proximity to employment opportunities. Hartstown (or Harts Town) was the name of one such community that developed in Kearneysville, West Virginia, following the Civil War. Individuals from Hartstown found jobs at the nearby orchards, quarries, and the nearby railroad. By the turn of the 20th Century, Hartstown was a thriving community with social organizations, businesses, and multiple religious congregations working hand-in-hand for the betterment of all residents.
Mascena Hart and John H. Fox were two pioneers of this community. Hart purchased the first lot and operated a grocery store for the community. Fox had been enslaved on Dandridge Farm in Kearneysville and won his freedom after serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In 1879, Fox, along with George W. Johnson and George Mason, purchased a plot of land along what is now known as Old Route 9, adjacent to Mascena Hart’s lot, to build what would become St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
In 1883, adjoining land was deeded to Douglass Roper, David Washington, Sr., Benjamin Carter, George H. Fox, and George Mason to expand and use for a cemetery. This church was Hartstown’s first Black church. It housed lively community events from its inception, including an “African concert” in June of 1890; the Shepherdstown Chronicle newspaper article advertising the event touted the participation of “three native-born Africans” and states “the public is invited to patronize these entertainments.”
Building Churches, Building Bonds
In 1889, William T. Stewart, orchard owner and former slave owner, deeded a piece of property to a group of men from Hartstown — Allen Cole, Douglass Roper, Daniel Ford, Benjamin Carter, and John Wesley Fry — for the purpose of building a Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) church. The deed (recorded in book U, page 304) refers to the church as the M.E. Church of Kearneysville, also known as Stewart Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. Stewart Chapel eventually added a meeting house to their property and often hosted events such as gospel concerts and the ‘Miss Stewart Chapel’ contest, as well as large meals for the community.
The relationship between St. Paul’s Baptist Church and Stewart Chapel Methodist was quite unique. The services and Sunday school classes of both churches were scheduled such that the community could attend services at both, further strengthening community bonds. Stories of quarry baptisms and community members coming together to help build and expand one another’s churches paint a vivid picture of the spiritual bond and kinship between the residents of Hartstown.
Evidence of this bond can also be seen in the respective cemeteries associated with these churches and the names inscribed on their stones, to the extent that community leader and eventual trustee of St. Paul’s, Boyd Carter, is buried in St. Paul’s Baptist cemetery along old Route 9, while the cemetery that bears his name in memoriam stands on top of the hill as an extension of the Methodist Cemetery established by Stewart Chapel A.M.E. Church.
The Right To Be Remembered
Cemeteries and burial grounds were an integral part of these reconstruction and Jim Crow era Black communities. Following the abolition of slavery, the community cemetery and church were the first pieces of land these families owned. The burial land also connects to an enduring struggle — through slavery and segregation, the burial of an Black person could be viewed as freedom in death — free from the struggles of life and now able to return home. Cemeteries were a permanent place for individuals to have honor, their name memorialized, and possibly the first and only documentation of their existence.
St. Paul’s Baptist Church, still active today, has a cemetery on the front lawn of the church property, with the Hart-Lucas burial plot on the adjacent property to the south. Stewart Chapel’s cemetery is not on an adjoining property but is a short distance away from the old church property, on the crest of a hill, bordering the former apple orchard, and close to the nearby quarry.
A Burying Ground
In 1902, some of the trustees of Stewart Chapel — Allen Cole, William Goens, Tucker Ford, Albert Mason, Douglass Roper, Benjamin Carter, and Wesley Fry acquired land for another cemetery from Danial Baker, of the Standard Lime and Stone Company that operated the nearby quarry. Another example of the interwoven relationships of the church and community, Douglass Roper and Benjamin Carter were also trustees of both St. Paul’s and Stewart Chapel churches. The new piece of land was on the orchard border, previously owned by the largest slave-holding family in the county, the Dandridges, then owned by William T. Stewart.
The original deed for the cemetery (recorded in book 98, page 68) refers to it as a “burying ground” and it was never given an official name. Over the years, those laying their loved ones to rest referred to the cemetery by various names including Kearneysville Methodist, Methodist Cemetery of Kearneysville, Stewart Chapel Methodist Cemetery, or Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Cemetery.
Local historians believe that due to the large number of slaves owned on the bordering properties, the burying ground was already a place where enslaved individuals were buried before it was officially deeded as a “burying ground for colored people and no other purpose.” The location of the cemetery on the border of an orchard and farm which had been run with slave-labor, the number of graves marked only by field stones and yucca plants, as well as obvious burial mounds and/or depressions, are all features typically found in the burial grounds for enslaved workers.
The Legacy of Boyd Carter
Local community leader, Boyd Carter, was deeply involved in the Hartstown community. Carter worked at the local quarry for more than 40 years and, when the quarry closed its operations in the 1940s, Standard Lime and Stone sold Carter several plots of land throughout Kearneysville and Hartstown. Most of these properties were thereafter deeded to families in the community. He became a trustee of St. Paul’s Baptist church in 1927 and also played a pivotal role in the eventual expansion of Kearneysville Methodist Cemetery.
On June 8, 1948, Boyd Carter acquired the property bordering the Methodist cemetery on the northeast and northwest (recorded in deed book 173, page 120). Around this time, Carter used a portion of this land to create an extension on the original Methodist cemetery. The first recorded burial following this land acquisition was that of Susan Turner who died on June 21, 1948.
Ownership of the property used to extend the Methodist cemetery transferred hands after Carter’s death in 1959. In a deed from November 7, 1963, there is mention of the 1948 cemetery extension and the possibility of burials beyond the deeded boundaries of the Methodist cemetery: “…this conveyance is made subject to such rights of burial as may exist – it being understood that there may be certain bodies buried in the portion of the land herein described near-to and along the northeast line of the old cemetery and the northwest line of the old cemetery” (recorded in deed book 263, page 273).
On December 9, 1963, after a legal battle, David and Alice Allen were assigned as trustees of the portion of Boyd Carter’s land that had burials (recorded in deed book 264, page 149). Burial records indicate that many of the Kearneysville and Hartstown families deeded land by Boyd Carter were also later buried in this cemetery. It seems fitting then that this addition to the Methodist Cemetery was eventually named Boyd Carter Memorial Cemetery, to recognize the man who provided members of the community a place of their own in life and beyond.
In this SIGHTLINE story, The Observer explores the history of Hartstown, a pioneering Black community in Jefferson County. Click here to see other stories in this Sightline.By Addison Reese