Relics of What Came Before: Old Family Burial Grounds

At the end of dusty old farm lanes, in overgrown fields, and along the shoreline around Cecil County, you sometimes trip across largely forgotten family cemeteries.  They’re there because of the practice that prevailed from the founding period, which called for setting apart a portion of the estate as a burial lot.  That custom faded as burial in the churchyard became the custom and commercial graveyards evolved in the 19th century. Lots of these lonely parcels have been lost to time since they were never marked on maps and as people moved away from the original properties memory faded with the passing of generations.

One of these long lost cemeteries is located at the top of the Elk River.  Abandoned to nature centuries ago, it is hidden in the woods under a thicket of weeds and scrubs. Near where high ground begins to give way to shoreline there’s a scattering of headstones for members of the Henderson family. This prosperous family, making its wealth from transportation on the Chesapeake, built a fine mansion near Frenchtown. Those old cold stones, many of them broken, aren’t visited often, except for an occasional hunter venturing past the family burial plot. But, when curiosity led a reporter to walk through this silent spot in 1881, he mentioned tombstones for Hannah Henderson 1777, Francis Wallace 1785, and Amelia Henderson 1815.

cemetery sewell aug 31 1966 whigaThe old Sewell family burial vault at Holly Hall is one people often inquire about, but it has been lost to time and development.  Located near the early 19th century mansion, it was on a grass-covered hill overlooking the Elk River, one county newspaper reported in 1898. At one time this was a a peaceful spot, but today traffic whirls poast on Bridge Street while parking lots, fast-food places, and stores have crowded in from all sides, covering most of the ground.  Nothing remains to mark the family graveyard.

Elsewhere genealogist in search of information will find cared for family plots. One of those is located north of Elkton on a high spot overlooking the Big Elk Creek. Members of the Gilpin Family rest there. Although a burial hasn’t taken place on this ground for centuries, a well-maintained brick fence surrounds this final resting spot and it is cared for by area residents.

There are plenty of others in an area with a history as long as ours.  However, the Cecil Whig remarked in 1881 that many of these graveyards had long since passed away and the ground they once occupied was under cultivation, “leaving nothing to mark the spot covered by them.”

These old gravestones, dating back to the county’s founding period, tell the tale of our history. They hold vital, irreplaceable clues to our past for historians and genealogist so it is important that we care for these remaining relics of what came before us. One area research, Gary Burns, has done his part to help out in this area. In doing months of fieldwork he has documented over 29,000 burials across the county, including many little-known family and church burial grounds. Click here to go to his work.

The old Henderson family graveyard on the Elk River.


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