PARKERSBURG - About 50 community members gathered Saturday to honor an unheralded group of veterans in Wood County's only black cemetery.
"We are so proud of this cemetery and the heritage it represents," said Pat Bannister, president of the Spring Grove Cemetery Association. "All of us here today have something in common - we all have family members who have gone on and we will see in the by and by."
The program included a speech by Dan Hinton, commander of the local Gen. Benjamin D. Fearing Camp No. 2 of the Sons of Union Veterans, as well as a reading of the four-page list of United States military veterans laid to rest in the cemetery, located at the intersection of 45th Street and Sayre Avenue off Rosemar Road.
Bill Webb, a New York City resident and Parkersburg native, speaks Saturday at Spring Grove Cemetery during the dedication of a memorial stone for his ancestor George Edmondson, a Civil War veteran, as part of the cemetery’s Memorial Day program. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Members of the local Gen. Benjamin D. Fearing Camp No. 2 of the Sons of Union Veterans attend the Spring Grove Cemetery Memorial Day program Saturday. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"What I am most proud of about the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) is that it was fully integrated from the beginning," Hinton said. "No matter what, any man was allowed to become a member and there was no debate - everyone held a noted office as there was no distinction between people; at least in the local GAR."
The GAR was established in 1866 and was composed of honorably discharged veterans who had served in the United States Army, Navy and U.S. Cutter Service from 1861-1865.
As well as the holiday ceremony, Saturday's service also honored George Edmondson who was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery with his wife Maria. Edmondson, who was born into slavery in Lexington, Va., in 1836, was a veteran of the Civil War, having joined Union Regiment 127th Colored Infantry in Wheeling in 1864.
He died in 1922 and was interred in the local cemetery in an unmarked grave next to his wife who had a memorial headstone.
"George's wife had a monument and was honored, but the family somehow overlooked George's memorial," said Bill Webb, a descendent of Edmondson's. "Today we are able to honor him after a long while and it's emotional and heavy, but it is a good thing."
Webb, a resident of New York City and Parkersburg native, has been working with local historian Cynthia Buskirk, a member of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, since 2008 to honor Edmondson with the grave stone.
"This has been a wonderful five-year project," Buskirk said. "It's a pretty awesome thing to find a family's history and that is what Bill has done while getting this memorial together."
Webb said he has been researching Edmondson, who was a founding member of Spring Grove Cemetery, for more than 30 years.
"He was an interesting man who not only not only worked in a foundry and glassworks, but was also described as 'one of the leading citizens of Parkersburg of the older generation' in his obituary," Webb said. "But one of the more interesting things about him is he was a great-great-grandson of Elizabeth Hemings, mother of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson's slave."
Part of Edmondson's family history is on display in Washington, D.C., with family records and records kept by Thomas Jefferson which led to the discovery that his grandfather, Brown Colbert, was a slave on Jefferson's plantation for a period of time.
Spring Grove Cemetery was acquired in 1891 by black members of the community because, at the time, everything including burial grounds were segregated and blacks could not be buried in the same cemetery as white people.