(Above) Albert Washington served in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War. Born enslaved in Culpepper, Virginia in the 1840s, Washington married Anne Saunders of Charles Town in 1889 and resided there until his death in 1922.
Cemeteries not only serve as resting places for our loved ones but also offer windows into our history. Old family graveyards are often a lasting mark of the wealthy landowners of the 19th century. Cemeteries established to bury the Civil War dead, like Elmwood, Edge Hill, and Pine Grove, remind us of the true cost of war. Church cemeteries are monuments to the congregations and community who once prayed together within their walls.
On January 7, 1873, the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper announced the need for “a new burial ground for the colored people” of Charles Town and vicinity, “that they should have a decent and secure resting place for their dead is a question that admits of no debate but the plan by which such a burial place should be secured has not heretofore been definitively fixed upon.” A few months later, an update was provided including the individual donations made to help secure land for a cemetery. Established during the Reconstruction period, Fairview Cemetery, referred to as Ventosa Cemetery of Gibsontown on the original tax card, contains the remains of more than 1,100 people of color, including more than 70 military veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
Not Always Remembered
There are many graves without identifying markers, so the date of the first burial is unknown. Death registers and existing marked headstones indicate that recorded burials began by the late 1870s. By far the largest Black cemetery in the county, the actual scale of the cemetery is still unknown due to limited records and the number of stones that have become covered.
The entire area is a reminder of the not-to-distant history of Jefferson County. As you enter Fairview cemetery, you pass remnants of the Gibsontown homesteads once owned by families interred in the cemetery. To the right is Page Jackson Elementary School, built after school segregation was deemed unlawful and carrying the same name as the first black high school in Jefferson County (Page Jackson High School, now the site of the Jefferson County Schools’ administrative offices). The Page Jackson name honors two prominent black educators interred at Fairview: Phillip Jackson, longtime principal of Page Jackson High School, and former slave turned prominent teacher, Littleton L. Page.
Turning To The Future
Fairview continues as an active cemetery, but maintenance and preservation are a struggle. “We want to preserve the history, but we also want to get the present straightened up,” explained Bryan Rutherford, a trustee of the cemetery association. “Our goal is to keep the cemetery maintained. We get a small amount of donations, but it’s not enough – we need to set up a fund for regular maintenance. There are a lot of stones knocked down that need to be put back up.”
Rutherford also noted a concern about mapping all of the plots and boundaries. Finding graves outside of unfenced boundaries is a common issue with rural cemeteries. When these cemeteries were surrounded by woods and farmland, it wasn’t an issue. In the case of Fairview, the pending construction to build out the adjacent Huntfield development poses a risk of disturbing unmarked graves if appropriate archeological surveys are not completed before disturbing the land.
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, and/or stories you would like to share about historic sites throughout the county, you can contact Reese at AddisonReeseJCHLC@gmail.com.By Addison Reese