On the day before Christmas Eve, I paused for a few minutes in a quiet country cemetery sitting atop a knoll near Pleasant Hill. A chilling December breeze gently swept over this old burial ground in the shadows of the Griffith A.U.M.P. Church as I gazed at monuments of soldiers, ministers, teachers, mothers, fathers, and children. Almost directly in front of me flags flapping in the breeze drew my attention to three United States Government issued tombstones for soldiers with the U. S. Colored Troops. In the distance, I saw more flags marking veterans from most of the country’s wars. Nothing in this tranquil spot, noise, automobiles or people, distracted me as I thought about the period these people lived in and how times have marched continually onward.
It was February 26, 1864, when the three brave young men from Cecil County enlisted in the infantry with the 30th Regiment, Company C of the United States Colored Troops. Rev. John Webster was one of the soldiers. Private Webster mustered out of the service on December 10, 1865. He died on August 28, 1890, from typhoid fever at the age of about 55 and left a number of small children, his wife having died about a year earlier. In announcing his death the Elkton Appeal of September 3, 1890, said: “Rev John Webster, a very respected colored man, living near Warburton’s mill died on Friday last. He had been suffering with typhoid fever for some time. . . He served in the war and was an honest and industrious man. . . .” It noted that his funeral took place on Sunday at Cedar Hill A.U.M.P. Church. Jackson Janes, born December 12, 1864, was mustered out on March 28, 1865. He passed away on June 5, 1892. Private Cyrus T. Wesley mustered out on June 17, 1865.
These men and the other people in this final resting place lived, raised families, worked, and died in this community as time continued its onward march. They labored on the land, fought bravely for the nation, ministered to the Griffith A.U.M.P. congregation, taught at Cedar Hill School, and raised families here and each of these cold old stones has many stories that could be told. The church that is the center of this community, Griffith A.U.M.P., was dedicated on Saturday June 7, 1874, at services conducted by the Rev E. W. Scott. The Choir from the Providence Church was there to assist in the ceremony. The church is named for Benjamin Griffith, a resident of the area, since he donated the land for the church and nearby school.
Having spent a revitalizing few minutes gazing and walking reflectively through a country graveyard, I felt a closer connection with our past as I drove home to my family and the rapidly approaching Christmas holiday. I decided that as soon as the holiday was over I’d see if I could find out a little more about privates Janes, Webster and Wesley, three pioneers from the county at a time when the nation was torn by the issues of slavery and the Civil War. Atop a hill in northeastern Cecil in the peaceful little community of Cedar Hill, as Christmas neared, it was a good day to recall the sacrifices for freedoom that these three African-Americans from the northeastern corner of Maryland and others made during the Civil War.