At its December 7, 2022 meeting, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission (JCHLC) voted unanimously to add Fairview Cemetery of Gibsontown (Charles Town, West Virginia) to the rolls of registered Jefferson County Historic Landmarks based on its ability to provide insight into the people, events, and patterns of life that are part of this county’s rich and diverse history.
Established nearly 150 years ago, Fairview Cemetery of Gibsontown is the largest black cemetery in Jefferson County. Fairview has been the burial ground for generations of black families, some of whom can be traced to the area as early as the late 1700s. Through vital records, newspaper archives, and extant grave markers, more than 1,500 names of those interred at Fairview have been identified — although the actual number of burials is far greater. Notably, Fairview is the final resting place of more than one hundred military veterans, representing service in every major conflict that occurred over the past two centuries — including a recently discovered military marker for a veteran of the War of 1812.
In 1873, the Spirit of Jefferson began discussing the need for a new burial ground for people of color in Charles Town because the existing burial ground on the east side of town was full. As a temporary solution, the Charles Town City Council allowed burials in the alley beside the old cemetery. A group of black citizens quickly organized and began soliciting funds from the community to secure land for the new burial ground. In early 1875, the Fairview Cemetery Company was incorporated and land was purchased just outside of Charles Town in a community referred to as Gibsontown.
The charter members of the cemetery board were John H. Talbot, Edward P. Talbot [Tolbert], Philip Jackson, George W. Jackson, Joseph Walker, Robert Ford, and Richard Jackson. These men were some of the most prominent black citizens of their time, dedicated to serving and bettering their community. In December 1884, Edward P. Talbot provided land for the Grand Order of the Galilean Fishermen to erect their building; he also served as the first president of this black benevolent society that provided mutual aid, including covering burial costs for members in need. After emancipation, Robert Ford became a hearse driver for the Sadler Brothers undertaking business in Charles Town for 40 years and then for their successors, Strider and Ramey until his death. On June 29, 1905, the Shepherdstown Register estimated that “about 3,000 bodies were conveyed by him to cemeteries in the hearse which on Tuesday conveyed his own remains to their final resting place” — that final resting place being Fairview. Ford was also one of the original trustees of the Queen of the Valley Lodge No. 1558, Independent Order of the Odd Fellows of Charles Town. John Henry Talbot was one of the original trustees of Mt. Zion M.E. church in Charles Town; he and Philip Jackson were also leaders of St. Phillips Episcopal Church. These are just a few examples of how these men, and many others buried at Fairview, shaped the history of Charles Town and beyond.
Without perpetual care, Fairview has had periods of time without regular maintenance. During these times, many gravestones toppled and were swallowed by wild growth and covered by soil. Additionally, there was a period of time when a portion of the cemetery was used as a dump for the city. The clean-up and restoration of Fairview has been ongoing for more than a decade. The JCHLC and Fairview Cemetery Association are currently seeking grants and other funding sources to complete the restoration, a process that will include surveying and mapping burial locations, working to reset and repair headstones, and stabilizing soil. Both groups will also be recording the site’s history and developing a more accurate and complete list of those interred in Fairview.
Donations can be sent to: Fairview Cemetery Association, PO Box 411, Ranson, WV 25438.
Addison Reese is one of five commissioners serving on the Jefferson County Historic Landmark Commission (JCHLC). The Commission plays a key role in highlighting the county’s diverse history through preservation of structures and historic landscapes as well as documenting the oral history of the people who live in these places. If you have any records, photographs, or stories you would like to share about historic sites throughout the county, you can contact Reese at AddisonReeseJCHLC@gmail.comBy Addison Reese