By Linda Cicoira
Two Good Samaritans who are clearing trees, thick brush, heavy roots, cement, and trash from an old cemetery hidden off the side of the road between Oyster and Cheriton, in Northampton County, have uncovered 19 graves and counting, including those of six Union soldiers.
The site is near the intersection of Sunnyside and Seaside roads. A vault was found back in the woods on the same property Monday.
“We became aware that there were soldiers here and we saw this property had grown over,” said Carla Purvis. “We decided that we couldn’t have that. So, we went to the church, and we asked for permission to come in and not only clear the cemetery, but repair the stones and adopt the cemetery as if it were ours.”
African Baptist Church, in Cheriton, owns the parcel. Across the street from the graveyard, is the original church property, which Purvis said was deeded in 1868.
“The church was considered to be under the cape of a big oak tree. There was no building here.” Purvis said. Pointing at some trees across a field, she added, “That was a POW war camp after World War II.
“When we started the (cemetery) endeavor, we didn’t know what we had ahead of us,” she said. “Only … that and we couldn’t get in here.”
The couple hired a local backhoe service company to clear some of the property. Six dump truckloads were hauled away. The Purvis’s have also pulled out some debris by hand and mowed.
The excavating company was “strictly our expense, the church has nothing to do with what we are doing here, other than giving us permission,” she said. “We are strictly a concerned citizen thing. I did not want to see this like this. Carla Purvis is a researcher and her husband is an engineer. I have friends who are in the monument business who are helping and assisting me,” she said.
Delicate sandstone headstones had broken and moved over time and will be repaired. The first one to be fixed will be the stone of Violet Weeks, which was “face-down in the dirt” and broken in two places, Purvis said. Weeks’ husband is buried beside her. He was in Company D of the 10th regimen of the U.S. Colored Infantry.
Other headstones are not on the base or were yards away from the corresponding graves. Carla Purvis has also obtained rods for dowsing the property.
“I have them in my truck,” she said. “I haven’t done it. It’s been too windy. It has to be bone-still. If a lighter blows out, you don’t do it.”
“Dowsing” is done with a forked stick, rod, pendulum, or similar device to locate underground water, minerals, or other hidden or lost substances.
For information about helping the cause, contact Carla Purvis by phone or text at 830-719-3027. The couple hope to eventually install a Civil War split log fence, she added.
Photos by James Lamberth and ‘Linda Cicoira