Delaware archaeologists find African-American graves that may date to Civil War

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John Potts is using a total station to map the site. Graves can be seen  as grey-ish stains in the soil. (Jill Showell/Edward Otter, Inc.)

John Potts is using a total station to map the site. Graves can be seen as grey-ish stains in the soil. (Jill Showell/Edward Otter, Inc.)

Archaeologists in Delaware last week began surveying a site set for development near Frankford and found 11 graves so far.

Nearby residents expressed concerns the site — known as the Orr Property or Hall Plantation  — might contain a historic cemetery. So developer Ribera Development LLC hired archaeologists, who made the discovery after a neighbor directed them to the likely spot.

Archaeologists found the headstone of C.S. Hall, with markings indicating he was an African-American Civil War soldier. A day later, they discovered what’s believed to be a cemetery containing the remains of a black family — including the graves of three children.

Archaeologists found the headstone of C.S. Hall, with markings indicating he was an African-American Civil War soldier. (Edward Otter)

“African-American cemeteries tend to be a lot more forgotten, the markings are a lot less permanent than the white cemeteries,” said archaeologist Ed Otter, who made the discovery.

“If it weren’t for the military-issued tombstone, there would be no tombstones at all,” he added. “So they’re harder to find, they’re out there, they’re just not well known.”

Archaeologists have not yet confirmed the presence of remains, and they don’t know anything else about the graves. They plan to research Hall, and hope to learn more about the family, Otter said.

“For the local area, especially for the people who are related to these individuals, this is an important thing to find,” he said.

The graves will be preserved, and the State Historic Preservation Office said it plans to offer support as the archaeological investigation continues.

Graves at the site can be seen as grey-ish stains in the soil. (Jill Showell/Edward Otter, Inc.)

“This cemetery is a significant discovery for the community and for all Delawareans who value and appreciate our state’s rich history,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the preservation office. “As work continues at the site, we hope to learn more about those who are interred there, so that they may be properly memorialized and their personal stories retold.”

He also thanked the neighbors who brought attention to the cemetery.

“Their recollections and local knowledge about the site and its location were key to discovering these burials,” Slavin added. “They spoke up, and, thanks to them, we can add a new page to Delaware history.”

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