Dignity in Death: Two more Civil War heroes....

There are about 93,000 people buried at Eden, including re-interred remains from Lebanon Cemetery, the Stephen Smith Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored Person's Burial Ground, Olive Cemetery and the First African Baptist Church Burial Grounds, all Philadelphia cemeteries disrupted by urban construction

Sheppard Shay was a 59-year-old cook when he died in Philadelphia on Aug. 10, 1902. Military records indicate he was 21 when he enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 20, 1861, seven months after the start of the Civil War, but his recorded birth year of 1843 shows he probably was not much older than 18. His remains were removed from Olive Cemetery in Philadelphia and re-interred in Eden on May 26, 1903.

The Civil War was almost over when coachman John W. Esley enlisted in the Army Feb. 28, 1865 at age 27, but he managed to achieve the rank of sergeant with Company F of the 24th U.S. Colored Infantry before being discharged seven months and four days later. He died March 10, 1913 at the age of 77 and was buried at Eden three days later.

Some Local Civil War Heroes

One of the first Civil War veterans' graves visible upon entering Eden Cemetery is that of Robert Daniels, a 22-year-old "oysterman" from Baltimore, when he enlisted with Company I of the 19th U.S. Colored Infantry on June 7, 1864. He died Feb. 18, 1924 in Philadelphia and is buried in Celestine, the oldest section of Eden.

Nathaniel Logan of Philadelphia, a corporal in Company A of the 6th U.S. Colored Infantry, suffered a gunshot wound to his right foot on June 15, 1864 at Petersburg, Va. A 29-year-old married carpenter when he enlisted in the Army, Logan was 93 in 1927 when he died and was buried in Eden.

Perry Bolden, a private in Company A of the 41st U.S. Colored Infantry, was a Teamster from Darby, who had a wife and at least three children when he died around age 75 and was buried on March 14, 1919 at Eden.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Bolden lived on Marks Avenue about a block away from Darby shoemaker Nimrod West Johnson, who served in Company F of the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry. He died of a heart condition on New Year's Eve 1906 and was buried Jan. 4, 1907 in Eden.

Laborer Benjamin Cork, a Navy veteran of the Civil War, was also a Darby resident who married in 1873, 10 years after enlisting in the service at age 21. He died of "cardiac degeneration" on April 2, 1912 and was buried at Eden two weeks later.

Civil War Veterans

Upon entering historic Eden Cemetery, visitors are greeted by an engraved obelisk dedicated May 30, 1919, to "The Colored Soldiers who fought and died in France 1917-1918 that liberty, equality and fraternity might be established between all nations and among all peoples."

The Civil War veterans aren't as evident. Through research begun by Friend of Eden Cemetery, Sheila Jones, 12 Civil War headstones were located, 10 of which are legible. She has identified two more gravesites of U.S. Colored Troops Civil War veterans on either side of the grave of 19th century poet and equal rights advocate Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, but has not yet identified them.

But at least 400 U.S. Colored Troops Civil War veterans are known to be among the remains re-interred in Eden from Philadelphia's former Lebanon Cemetery, but their identities are unknown, said Jones.

We know they are there from citations in the Christian Recorder AME newspaper," said Jones, who has located Civil War veterans in four sections of Eden.

Jones has managed to decipher some of the engravings eroded by the elements on the aged marble headstones at Eden, and determine the names of veterans buried there. Through books, cemetery internment records and the Internet, Jones has learned more about the lives of these black Civil War heroes.

 

Eden's history goes further back than 1902....

Historic Eden Cemetery is the final resting place for a number Philadelphia area residents who died long before Eden’s establishment in 1902.

In 1849, Jacob C. White, one of Philadelphia's black elite, founded Lebanon Cemetery, one of only two private burial grounds for the city’s African American dead. The rural patch at 19th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia served the free black community’s wealthy and dignified, as well as some black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The cemetery was fronted by an iron gate; a tall wooden spire loomed over the five-acre lot, where graves were laid out in haphazard rows.

By 1882, the land was coveted by factory owners looking to expand their industries. By now the cemetery was overcrowded and had fallen into disrepair. The decline happened to coincide with a booming underground market for grave robbers. It was learned that Lebanon Cemetery’s graves had been habitually robbed of bodies that were then sold to Philadelphia medical schools, most notably Jefferson Medical College. A sensational trial took place when a local journalist acting on a hunch staked out Lebanon Cemetery one night and caught the grave robbers red-handed, stacking black bodies onto a horse cart like trunks of fallen trees.

In 1902, the organizers of Lebanon Cemetery could no longer fight the city and industry’s demand for the property. The city condemned Lebanon Cemetery and forced its closing. Lebanon’s organizers then entered into contract to have the remaining bodies moved to Eden, whereby Eden became home to people who had died in the mid-19th century.