WATERFORD - It was about 150 years ago when former slave Micajah "Cajoe" Phillips was buried in Waterford, but it wasn't until recently that the final touches were put on his final resting place.
Thursday afternoon, dozens gathered for a dedication ceremony for a fence that was recently erected at Phillips' gravesite on farmland in Waterford he once owned.
The Waterford High School band, several local historians and members of Beverly-based American Legion Post 389 were among those involved in the ceremony.
Photo by Ashley Rittenhouse
Denver Norman, left, and Phillip Crane, right, shake hands in front of a fence dedicated Thursday at the burial site of Micajah “Cajoe” Phillips in Waterford.
Ray Swick, historian for the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park in Parkersburg, said despite how important he was, Phillips has been forgotten by the public.
He thanked the many local historians who have been working cooperatively to piece together the history of Phillips' life and keep his story alive.
"Phillips' importance as a historic individual is greatly enhanced by a single fact: more is known about his life in the form of primary details- biographical information- than about any other African-American settler on the Ohio Valley frontier," Swick said. "To be sure, there were other Ohio Valley frontier slaves and blacks who had their names known, but that's generally all that was known about them."
Historical documents show that Phillips was born in Virginia and served as a slave for Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, for whom the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is named.
The material for the fence was donated by Denver Norman, the third step great-grandson of Phillips. The fence was cut and welded by Waterford High School students Austin and Levi Heiss and Michael Fox.
"We're extremely proud of the effort they made in order to make this fence possible," said Waterford High School Principal Randy Shrider.
Although the year of his birth is unknown, Phillips' tombstone states he died on Dec. 8, 1861 at the age of 125. Buried alongside him are his wives Binah and Anne.
"The date of his birth, the number of wives, his military service, whether he was freed or just fled, his age at death- all of these are subject to considerable controversy, but not his earthly possessions," Lower Muskingum Historical Society member Phillip Crane told those at the ceremony Thursday. "Cajoe was a slave for nearly 40 years and all he got for his efforts were his basic needs, a Bible and a hymn book presented by Margaret Blennerhassett."
Swick noted that Phillips was responsible for recording a considerable amount of valuable information about the Blennerhassetts and their relationship with their black servants.
According to information compiled by Crane, Phillips said at one point that Harman Blennerhassett freed him, yet one obituary states "he was never freed- he fled."
Crane said in 1812 Phillips bought 20 acres of land on the west branch of Wolf Creek and four years later he bought 100 acres in Watertown Township. Twenty years later he sold 15 acres for $40, and 20 years after that he sold 35 more acres for $280.
"Old, at least 90, Cajoe was unable to support himself and young (children) in his household," Crane said. "He fell in debt enough so that at his death his remaining 50 acres were sold to pay his creditors."
The land once owned by Phillips, located on Buchanan Road in Waterford, is currently owned by Robert and Kelly Bauerbach.