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19th-Century African-American Cemetery Found in Philadelphia

Friday, July 26, 2013


PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—While researching the life of nineteenth-century civil rights activist Octavius Catto, historian Terry Buckalew found a record of Catto’s wife, who had been buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He had never heard of that cemetery before, so he started looking for the names of other African Americans who were buried there. He came up with a list of at least 1,500 people who had been buried in the cemetery, owned by Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, the oldest African-American church in the country. The cemetery was in use between 1810 and 1864, and then a playground was eventually built over the site. When the city announced plans to renovate the playground, Buckalew told the church and the city of what he knew. Archaeologists have found a single gravestone, dated 1819, evidence of grave shafts, and are working to determine where the cemetery limits are. “It should leave a nice buffer that will ensure the cemetery will not be disturbed,” said archaeologist Douglas Mooney.