Historic Mount Olive Cemetery - Wilmington, Delaware

HOME History Maps Around the Cemetery

 

 

The burial location indicated in the Delaware Death records is usually clearly listed as 'Mount Olive'. In the earliest records - some locations are indicated as rough street addresses.

In earlier records, though, various references appear. Even though these are alternate names, at least one person has been identified in Mount Olive where the burial location is indicated by a different name or description.

Extracts of the earliest state-wide Delaware death records which mention African-Americans (including enslaved persons) has been included to assist in family history research. These earliest records do not reference cemeteries by name. Several persons mentioned in this file do have relatives buried in St. Peters. The burials marked 'unrecorded' in these pages may refer to the 'Affr Cem' found on the 1868 county map - the marked site would be close to the Front and Union St location of the later St. Peters and Union cemeteries. The unrecorded burials may also be on King Street. By 1861, further burials at the site of Peter  Spencer's grave were banned by city ordinance.

The 1870 Quartermasters Report for Wilmington and vicinity listed several soldiers' burials at Zion Cemetery and Saint Peter's cemetery.

Military Burials 1870

From 1872 - 1885, burials appear at the cemetery identified as '12th and French', 'Old Union' and 'Old AUMP'. The Lockman family, for example, has members buried in Union Cemetery, St. Peters Cemetery and Mount Olive. Other early cemeteries of interest for African-American genealogy include the Baptist cemetery at 10th and King St; Delaware City, Pigeon Run, Old Cathedral, Wilmington and Brandywine, Mt. Zion, Silverbrook and the public burials grounds (these include New Castle County Cemetery, Poor House, Alms House and Potters Field).

notes from 'The Churches of Delaware' by Frank R. Zebley. 1947 Mother A. U. M. P. Church is located at 819 French St. Peter Spencer originally was a member of Asbury Church. The church was built in 1813, rebuilt in 1827 and enlarged in 1842. There is a small graveyard to the rear of the church. Union American M. E. Church, colored, is located at 1206 French St. There is a graveyard to the rear of the church. St. Peter's U. M. P. Church, colored. The first services of this church were held in the colored cemetery on Union St., near Front St. They purchased a lot at 2nd and Union Sts.

Between 1885 and 1895, the most active cemeteries in the Wilmington area include St. Peters, Union, Ezion, old Baptist and Mount Zion. After 1895, Mount Zion becomes the most active cemetery; followed by St. Peters. No further mention in the records appears for Union, old Union or Ezion. Although other cemeteries (Old Swedes, Wilmington and Brandywine, old Cathedral, Cathedral) are shown in Wilmington-area maps (city directories or local play maps) - none of the African-American cemeteries are shown on any historic map located so far. The 1868 map of Christiana district shows 3 small dots labeled as 'Aff Cem' on the city line.

There was a caretakers house on the property from 1914 until after 1939. Undoubtedly both burial records and plot maps were kept at that time. If anyone knows of the existence of these records and would like to help reconstruct the cemetery records, please contact me.


Undertakers who served families at St. Peters and Mount Olive include:
L. W. Palmer
Joseph Bass
S.V.B. Carty
Wm. E Grinnage
Annie Brierly
Ed R Bell
Wm. E Grey
Wm Gumby

 


Pre-1850

News-Journal, Wilmington DE 08 Jan 1909 pg 5 - Had struck a colored Cemetery, the existence of which many had forgotten.

While some colored men in the employ of Humphrey Littelpage, a contracting cellar digger, were digging and excavations for a cellar in the rear of the buildings at No 305 and 307 West Second street this morning, they unearthed several human skeletons and also parts of several coffins. The men who were doing the digging were startled when they came across the articles, as they thought that there may have been a murder and the victims buried there. The articles found were three human skulls, two or three shin bones and some hip bones, besides the decayed parts of two or three coffins.

All the bones were badly decayed, showing they had been in the ground a long time. While the men were digging up the skeletons an old resident of that section of the city who was passing stopped and upon seeing the bones and parts of coffins, he stated that about a half a century ago a colored church and cemetery were located there and the cemetery was where the skeletons were found. This statement mad the diggers feel much easier and they went back to their work, keeping a watch for more bones. The bones were piled up and the coroner will be notified, so that he can make an investigation of the matter and have the bones removed.

 

1861 - Several African-American cemeteries, close to churches, are active in Wilmington prior to 1861, when this ordinance was enacted. Despite the ordinance, burials continued at several sites, most notably at 12th and French. An ‘Affr Cem’ is indicated outside the Wilmington city limits. Mt. Zion and St. Peters were both outside the city limits at the time of their establishment.

 

Ban on Burials

American Union

 


1868 - A map of Christiana - Centerville shows three dots, apparently labeled as Aff. Cem - one west of Front and Union and two east of Front and Union; south of Pyle's property.  If the dots represent early cemeteries where St. Peters and Ezion grew; was there a cemetery west of Front and Union?
1868 cemeteries

View and Enlarge this map to see the church locations (12th and French, 10th and King)

 


1870 - St. Peters - an historic moment
St. Peter's African Union Methodist Protestant Church, was founded by Rev.E. H. Chippey who preached on a platform in a graveyard on Union street and built their first church in 1870. (History of the State of Delaware, vol 2, pg 35e, pg 793. Henry Clay Conrad - available at www.ebooksread.com)
Death Records in the period 1870 - 1890 mention burial locations: St. Peters (included in this site); Front and Union (included in this site); Union / Old Union at 12th and French (included in this site); Ezion (2nd and Union - included in this site); Mt. Zion; Baptist Cemetery (10th and King)

1870 Wilmington City Directory - No specific African-American cemeteries are mentioned. Churches include: African Union, French above 8th; Union American, French above 12th; E. Zion, 9th and French; Wesleyan Union, Poplar above 5th

Cemeteries which appear in the maps and city directories include "old" Cathedral (also called St. Peter's RC), Wilmington and Brandywine, Cathedral, Old Swedes and Riverview.

By 1870, the Secretary of War recorded 3 veterans' burials at St. Peters
Sect of War

 

1879/80 Wilmington City Directory

Union American, 12th above French. The burial ground identified as 'Old Union' is located at 12th and French.

No specific mention of African-American cemeteries appears.

Churches mentioned include:
Union American, French above 12th
Mount Olive Chapel, Poplar above 5th
St. Peters Chapel, Second above Union
Ezion M.E. Church, Ninth and French
African Union, French above 8th - this is the original cemetery where Peter Spencer was buried. Referred to as AU Churchyard in burial records.
819 French St

Old Union
French Above 12th

1879 Wilmington City Directory

St. Peter's Chapel. 2nd above Union. St.
The location of St. Peter's cemetery is refered to as '2nd and Union' or 'Front and Union', but is not mentioned in the city directory

Front and Union

 


1884

Cemeteries named in the Wilmington area death records include:
St. Peters (Front and Union, 2nd and Union)
Mt. Zion
Union or Old Union (12th and French)
Baptist (10th and King)
Ezion

1884 Wilmington City Directory


St. Peter's Cemetery - located between Front and Second; and Union and Pyle
Most African-American cemeteries do not appear in the city directory.
Ezion Cemetery - burial ground of the Ezion M.E. Church. Located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyle's Lane

St. Peters
Ezion

 

 


1890 Wilmington City Directory


Ezion Cemetery - Burial ground of Ezion M.E. Church, located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyle's Lane
No mention of St. Peters or Union Cemetery

 


1895 Wilmington City Directory


Ezion Cemetery - Burial ground of Ezion M.E. Church, located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyle's Lane
No mention of St. Peters or Union Cemetery

 1895 map of Wilmington - although several African-American cemeteries were active, they are not noted on this historic map. Approximate locations are shown:
Front, Union, 2nd, 3rd

1895 St. Peters

French above 12th, King above 10th

Old Union

 


1898/99 Wilmington City Directory

UNION (colored) - West of Union on Pyles lane from Lancaster to Second St. (no reference to St. Peters)

'Union Cemetery' may refer to either the cemetery located on French above 12th or St. Peters – but burials at 12th and French are often listed as ‘Old Union’.

(and some stones have been located in Mt. Olive from burials listed as 'Union' cemetery.
Union Cemetery

1898/99 Wilmington City Directory

EZION cemetery - Burial Ground of Ezion M.E. Church; located between Second and Third; and Union and Pyle's Lane.


Ezion Cemetery

 

 


1899 - 1914

1899 are the first recorded burials at ‘Mount Olive’ – two Loper children.

Early burials

Bayard, Frederick M d 1 Jul 1901 aged 5m

Loper, Rita   d 8 Nov 1901 aged 17y

Loper, Elmer       d 22 Jul 1902 aged 9m

Both Mount Olive and St. Peters are active, although is appears St. Peters was used for infants. In burial records between 1899 and 1914, both St. Peters and Mount Olive are named as active cemeteries. References to 'old Union' cemetery (12th and French) are not found.

 


1905 Wilmington City Directory

Ezion Cemetery - located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyles' Lane.
Union (colored) - West of Union on Grant, from Lancaster Ave to 2nd St

 

1906

Wilmington Star, 26 Apr 1906 ‘Conditions at Saint Peters Cemetery’

The report was to the effect that for years the cemetery has been full and that no more permits for internments should be given to any undertaker.The report declared that the law has been grossly violated as the graves in some instances have been dug only two feet deep. “The colored people have a new cemetery beyond Silverbrook and no more internments ought to be tolerated in St. Peters cemetery

 


1909 – Unidentified Cemetery discovered on W. Second St.

 


1910 Wilmington City Directory

Ezion Cemetery - located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyles' Lane.
Union (colored) - West of Union on Grant, from Lancaster Ave to 2nd St

 The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) 20 Sep 1910, Pg 12

City Council members, accompanied by members of the local Board of Health, will make an inspection of the cemeteries next Saturday afternoon at 2 o’clock.

The cemetery which is bounded by Lancaster Avenue, Second Street, Grant Avenue and which lays against the rear of eleven hourses in Anderson’s Row, is owned by the A.U. Church in French Street between Eighth and Ninth streets; know as St. Peters. This cemetery is used for burying infants but the company owning it also owns Mt. Olive Cemetery, which is about two miles from the city on Lancaster turnpike.

Mt. Zion cemetery, which is owned by Ezion Methodist church, is on the west side of Second Street, between Union Street and Grant Avenue; between Union Street and Grant Avenue.  The avenue runs along the extreme western end of the land to old Cedar Grove lane, which is about 100 feet east of third street.

Besides those who complained of the odor, other complained against the disorder of the occupants of Anderson’s Row, which according to the neighbors, is most disagreeable. This appears to be at its zenith every Saturday night.

 

The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware)

24 Sep 1910, Sat, Page 1

The lines of the two blocks show, according to records at the City Registry Bureau, an area of 158,259 square feet, divided as follows: 93,833 square feet in the block bounded by Second Street, Third Street, Union Street and Grant Avenue. Of this tract, 48,729 square feet is owned by the Zion cemetery, whose lands run north of Second street in the land of William Boyd, which contains 50,105 sq feet. The deed of the land owned by the Zion cemetery calls for a strip along Union Street, which is owned by the Old Company Road. This strip, which is very small, lays but a few feet back from thebuilding line. The Mon Company also owns part of the bed of Grant Avenue and some land on the west side of Grant Avenue which totals to about 15,300 square feet. The St. Peters cemetery owns, according to the records, about 63,000 square feet in the block running along Lancaster Avenue, Grant Avenue, Second Street and in the rear of Anderson’s Row. This row, which is owned by Helen Anderson, contains 22,800 square feet and on it are erected the eleven buildings known as Anderson’s Row in Union Street, north of Lancaster Avenue; along with a blacksmith shop on the corner, a small one-story store on Lancaster Avenue besides the adjoining house.

 


1911 – City Council

The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) 27 Jan 1911, Fri, Pages 1& 2

From a demand for $20,000 to a sum hardly more than nominal is the drop taken by the trustees of the cemetery of the African Union church at Front and Union Street in the negotiations that have been going on for some time … of the city acquiring the cemetery land to be converted into park purposes or to be sold in order to abate an alleged nuisance.

The following proposal was submitted to the trustees of the Mount Ezion and St. Peter;s cemeteries for their consideration. That the trustees make a proposaition of the sum for which they can secure a tract, say five acres, for a new cemetery, including the question of removal of bodies; the city to take the old cemetery and agree to turn over to the cemetery trustees any equity aquired by the city by sale of same within a given period, say five years from the date of the agreement.

Wilmington Del Jan 10, 1911. As counsel for Mount Zion Cemetery Association I submit their offer to sell the city their land at Second and Union Street, now used as a cemetery. The city to pay my clietns $25,000, furnish them with five acres of land on the Lancaster Turnpike outside of Wilmington adjoining a cemetery alongside of the Peoples farm, and thereupon my clients will remove all bodies and convery their land at Second and Union Streets, to the city. George Lodge

Wilmington Del Jan 12 1911 Referring to the cemetery of the African Union Church, situate on Lancaster Avenue, north of Union street in this city, I beg to advise you that my clients have found it difficult to procure satisfactory bis for the removal of the bodies buried in the said cemetery, and have found that such removal will be much more expensive than anticipated. However they authorize me to offer their entire cemetery to the city for the sum of $20,000, for which price they will purchase a new cemetery outside the city and will bear the cost of removing and reinterring the bodies now buried in the present cemetery.

On Jan 18, 1911 the committee held a meeting with A.G.B. Anderson, who owns several properties at Lancaster Avenue and Union Street ; who made the following proposition – to dispose of his entire holds for the amount of $22,000.

 


1914 - Cemetery Move

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) · Thu, May 21, 1914 · Page 9

St. Peter’s colored cemetery at Second and Union Streets, is to be abandoned and the bodies removed to another cemetery….The cemetery is controlled by the trustees of the African Union Church of this city, and they intend to remove the bodies in the cemetery to the Mt. Olive cemetery, west of Silverbrook Cemetery and outside the city limits.

Zion cemetery, which is in the same vicinity, will not be removed. Johnathan Chippy is chairman of the board of trustees. The cemetery is about 60 years old.

General Contractor
Gilpin Ave
May 26 1914
Union Church of African Members
I will move all the bodies of the graves of St Peters Cemerty at Front and Union Sts and bury them in Mt. Olive Cemetery, for the sum of two thousand four hundred and fifty dollars.
William Campbell

Contracts dated Jun 1914 - work to be completed within four months. Plain pine boxes were to be provided if original coffins not intact; all headstones, footstones, markers and ornaments to be moved and re-interred
St. Peters and Ezion were adjacent cemeteries.
It is possible that some burials from Ezion were re-interred in Mount Olive at that time.

 


1919 Wilmington City Directory


Ezion Cemetery - located between 2nd and 3rd and Union and Pyles' Lane.
Union (colored) - West of Union on Grant, from Lancaster Ave to 2nd St
The city directory still lists both cemeteries at these locations
.

1919 - Removal of Ezion Cemetery

The cemetery at 2nd and Union (called Ezion, Union, and sometimes Zion in the early death records) was sold and the burials transferred to the new Mount Zion cemetery. The Morning News (Wilmington, DE) 26 Oct 1918 page 8. Bids have been advertized for by William E Grinnage for the removal of several hundred bodies from the Negro Burying ground at Second and Union St. The cemetery was established about 75 years ago. Some of the stones in the cemetery bear dates as early as 1843.
New Mt Zion cemetery on the Lancaster Pike adjoining the P & R Railway at Silverbrook, a burial ground exclusively for Negroes is now finished
.

 

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) 20 Sep 1919 Sat pg 8

Bids have been advertised for by William E Grinnage the undertakes for the removal of several hundred bodies from the Negro buying ground at Second and Union Streets. This cemetery contains over an acre, and is so filled with bodies that no more can be accommodated. The cemetery was established about 75 years ago. Some of the stones bear dates as early as 1843.

There is no possible way of learning how many bodies have been buried at the cemetery as no definite records have been kept and what records have been preserved through the years are not available. The bodies are to be removed from their present location to the Negro cemetery, on the west side of the Philadelphia and Reading railroad tracks along the Lancaster turnpike.

 


1921 – Completion of Mt. Zion

The Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) 12 Sep 1921, Mon, Page 6

New Mt Zion Cemetery, on the Lancaster Pike adjoining the the P&R Railway at Silverbrook, a burial ground exclusively for Negroes is now finished and is a source of pride to those who projected it and to colored residents in general.

They found a place is 1914, bought it, secured the deed and all necessary papers that year. They went to work to build the cemetery. They cleared off the rubbish, pulled down some of the hills, filled up gullies and low places, built fences, laid out driveways and walks; planted trees and dug out a ditch. The next thing was to remove the dead from the old to the new cemetery, which was attended with much difficulty. The old graves were nearly filled with water and made it very tedious.

 


1938 The Motorists Green Book

Several residents of Mount Olive ran Tourist Homes in their houses, and were mentioned in the Green Book. (NYPL)

 


1939 - WPA (Works Progess Administration)


Surveys are made of Mount Olive Cemetery (459 stones and plots identified) and old Union Cemetery (5 stones identified)
BAPTIST - An African-American burial ground was located on King St. above 10th. It appears in records 1881 - 1890. It is referred to as 'Baptist Burying Ground' (col).

Baptist Burying Ground
Mount Olive appears in death records from about 1899 to 1984. Some burial records are unclear - two places of burial appear on this death record
Two cemeteries
NOTES: According to local neighbors, many coffins were found during the construction of Bancroft Parkway. In 1972, a supermarket was renovated at 2nd and Union, and additional burials were discovered during the renovation. In 1988-89, the old Union Cemetery at 12th and French was moved during construction of the MBNA complex downtown.

 


1969

1969 is the last year a significant number of burials occur at Mount Olive. Many family members are buried in Mount Zion and Silverbrook Cemetery (close by) from 1969 onwards.

Does anyone know the history on this? Burials seem to resume ca. 1972.

 


1996 MBNA Construction

The Mother UAME Church Cemetery: A Late Nineteenth Century Black Urban Burial Population During the Sununer of 1996, MAAR Associates, Inc. (MAl), was asked to undertake the excavation and removal of burials at a documented cemetery located on French street in the downtown area of Wilmington, Delaware. The cemetery property, associated with the AD. 1853 Mother UAME Church, was scheduled to become the site of an eight to twelve story MBNA America office tower, and the owners, working with the Church and the Delaware Historic Preservation Office, contracted with MAl to determine the limits of, removal, and analysis of the contents of the original cemetery tract. To assist in the management of the project, representatives of the client (both MBNA and the Mother UAME Church) and an Osteological Advisory Committee were established. An MAl research team conducted excavations on a six day-a-week basis in order to complete the burial removals within the allotted two months. During this period MAl completed the identification, definition, recording, and removal of more than 260 graves, including coffins, crypts, items of clothing, and grave furniture. The next six months were spent in the osteological IS study of the burial population, in artifact analysis, and in the interpretation of funeral practices and the cemetery as a whole. Comprehensive project reports have since been published.

 Archeology Report

 The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) 16 Jun 1996 Sunday pg 1

For more than a century, the oldest among them had lain in rest in the soil behind Mother Union American Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington. But because the church property – and the adjoining cemetery – is being sold to MBNA Corp, the ornately etched coffins and fragile remains of 347 people were painstakingly raised to the surface in May in preparation for re-interment elsewhere in the fall. The partially paved-over cemetery bounded by 12th and French St.

Two bishops have been identified, including the remains of the Right Rev Edward Williams, the churches first pastor and first bishop of the denomination. He died in 1894, his wife in 1908. There were also graves dating back as far 1854, three years after the church was organized. The most recent burial site was 1908. Only 16 names, some partial, have been found on grave plaques. The remains will be turned over to the church for re-burial on the grounds of it’s sister congregation, Mount Pisgah UAME church in Summit Bridge in November. At some point between the late 1940s and early 1950s, the cemetery was sold by the church. The cemetery was one of two ‘Spencer’ burial grounds on church properties that grew out of a religious movement begun in 1813 by Peter Spencer.

On Find-a-Grave

https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2188424

////////////////////////////////////////////

Enoch1Never scrub. scour, scrape or use any brushes or other harsh tools on a lichen-darkened stone. These can be very damaging to a stone’s surface. Enoch Jefferson, USCT. He enlisted in the US Navy in NY Nov 1863 - 5'2", scar on chin. waterman. He had originally enlisted under an alias, Samuel Jefferson (6th Regiment, Delaware Infantry Co F), but then joined the Navy. He received a pension for his service; as did his wife. The family appears on the 1880 census on DuPont St in Wilmington (Florence is 9 in 1880, Enoch works in a brickyard). 6 month time lapse. I sprayed them with D/2. Walked away. (I flinch when I see videos of well-meaning and poorly-informed people scrubbing tombstones... they are destroying them). Before / after

 

Information on D/2 – it’s expensive, but proper care is critical.

http://d2bio.com/

(available from many sources)

 

 

 ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Mitsawokett of Delaware

Free African Americans


Memories of Old Wilmington

Honor the ancestors