History of the Graveyard and surrounding sites


Our graveyard goes back to the founding of Fredericksburg in 1728 when a lot was designated for a graveyard and another for a church as well as one for the market and government. You are at the center of the colonial town.

We have 116 numbered graves. Most of them are from the first half of the 19th century though the earliest is 1752 of John Jones, a tavern keeper. Historians have speculated that others preceded him but that the stones have not been preserved.

It reflects the precariousness of life – 21 of the graves are from children under the age of 20. 9 are veterans of wars – French and Indian, Revolutionary, War of 1812 and the Civil War.

Our graveyard has served not only as a place to bury coffins and cremains but a place of beauty with its flowers and a place of meditation and retreat.  You get do art with gravestone rubbings. It’s alive – with a number of birds, squirrels and the occasional rabbit family. Come get lost in time! It is the most accessible part of the church – no steps, imposing red doors. Just one gate that is left open.

Our is a graveyard and connected to the church where a cemetery is not. Graveyard tends to be smaller. The cemetery idea goes back to Rome. Cemetery creation is related to population growth. Graveyards connected to churches are appropriate since the communion of saints is not only living members but those deceased.

This graveyard served the town of Fredericksburg not just the church. The citizens of Fredericksburg lay before you in all their diversity- all ages, professions and means.

The graveyard is connected to the church but also connected to municipal life. The church and municipal government buildings were put in the same block without numbers  originally. Indeed in the colonial years there was a close connection between church and government.  The Parish. Wardens  collected fees and taxes which paid the minister and covered the expenses of the parish. They certified the levy payment and accuracy of the tithables, the number of families to pay the tithe. Secondly, they were the eyes and ears of the court and responsible for wrongdoers reported to the court. This is the origin of the concept of “warden”. Robert Carter of Nomini Hall provided a summary of the functions of the warden. One included “making formal legal complaint against all who swear, are drunk, “deny a God, Trinity or monotheism, willfully absent from Church.”

Unlike many church graveyards there were no bylaws restricting burials to St. George’s parishioner. We have parishioners but since 1752 we have people that may not have considered themselves members.  It may be closer to a municipal cemetery in the first half of its existence.

It is a place to study lives. The Virginia Herald newspaper from the 1780’s is a valuable resource to find out who these people are, what did they do with their lives, how did they interact with the town and finally how funerals were conducted. It is a fascinating cross study of American life. The Herald catapults back in their times.

Before 1831, America had no cemeteries. It’s not that Americans didn’t bury their dead—just that  large, modern graveyards did not exist. Graveyards tended to fluid without strict dimensions. In May, 1816, newspaper notice that city council wanted to open “the street [Princess Anne] through a part of the burying ground heretofore enclosed with the old Church, but now lying open.”

But with the construction of Mount Auburn Cemetery, a large burial ground in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the movement to build cemeteries in America began. In Fredericksburg city cemetery originated in 1844 with a 3 acre lot owned by Willian Jackson at the corner of William Street and Washington Avenue.  It was laid out in 12 sections.

Fredericksburg was founded in 1728 on land originally patented by John Buckner and Thomas Royston of Essex County in 1681. It was named for Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51), eldest son of King George II of Great Britain and father of King George III

When Fredericksburg was created, a market square, church and graveyard or churchyard were created as the nucleus of the town. A churchyard is simply land surrounding a church, which is usually owned by the relevant church and historically used as graveyards. All three would be at the center of the development of Fredericksburg.

At the time people were buried in family graveyards or on property, church graveyards and graveyards organized by fraternal societies.

After the designation of numbered “lots” in the 50 acre site, the unnumbered lots bounded by today’s Caroline and Princess Anne streets and halfway between George and William streets, but adjacent to George, were set aside for St. George’s Episcopal Parish Church. This would have been a 1 acre property


The first church built in Fredericksburg was by action of the Vestry of St. George’s Parish at a meeting on March 13, 1732. The 60×24 foot wooden church, contracted by Henry Willis may have been completed in 1735 when the sexton was first paid or as late as 1741 as some historians (Hodge) have indicated .

In setting up a town, you had to set up a market place and church and with the church went a graveyard. In the founding of Fredericksburg ours was called a “church-yard.” The idea is that the communion of saints encompassed both the living and dead.

William Clark says the church property  was known as “God’s Acre.” The first known burial 1752. John Jones. 1754 Archibald McPherson, William Paul 1774. Historians during the depression in 1930’s speculated that people were buried here earlier and Clark says predates 1720.   Quenzel writes “cemetery was old enough to arouse sufficient sentiment attachment to cause bodies to be brought a considerable distance to be buried in the ‘midst of their people.’”

Besides St. George’s there was Thornton and Willis family Centuries and 1784 Mason Lodge acquired from James Somerville a half-acre lot on the corner of Charles and George Streets. The purpose was to build a lodge but lacking funds the land became a cemetery. Currently 234 memorial stones, the earliest Lucy Legg in 1787 and latest Eleanor Ellis (1904).

The main problem is that burying people was less formal than today. In the early years, there were deaths than burials recorded in Fredericksburg.  Robert Hodge researched 133 deaths between 1787-1799 but for the whole period 1728-1799 the cemeteries recorded 41 burials. Where are they buried ? In 2009, we found one grave in the middle of Princess Anne while creating a pipe for a water source for St. George’s new sprinkler system.

In the 1760’s, the church may have been too small more than 30 years after is construction. There was also a need to enclose the property which was done in 1770. The Vestry at the time did not meet in the church or generally in the government building but in homes. Was this due to space though it was rare for all 12 members to show up for a meeting which were held infrequently?

In 1770, the church was repaired and a gallery erected in a new addition. Two years later, they ordered the Church wardens purchase 100 acres of land “convenient to the new Church for the use of the Poor and that they erect new buildings thereof.”

Wait a second  – buy more land and erect new buildings when they just added an addition?

St. George’s was on the same site we have now but also had ½ acres leading to Caroline Street. We do know they saw the grave yard as “filled” and the prospects of building a new church on the increasingly sloping ground daunting – “hilly and broken nature”. The latter was probably closer to the truth as the church never used the property near Caroline St for graves. 

St. George’s wanted a new church in 1772. Was it because of attendance? We don’t have any figures.

They may have needed more money to handle the poor. In 1755 the Assembly passed a law requiring a poorhouse to be established – purchase or rent land for the maintenance and employment of the poor. Wardens would keep a register of the poor. In 1758, they sold glebe land to Benjamin Grymes and rented 100 acres for the use of the poor. They also exempted deserving poor and handicapped from the parish levy.

So sell some land, the ½ acres to Caroline Street use the money to invest in a new church near the old one and  handle the poor.

The search for land may reflect the expansion and growth of the time. The new property would be near new development at the time. The 1759 new corporate limits extended the town 1/2 block west of Prince Edward, increasing its area from 50 to 200 acres.


Two subdivisions developed:

  1. 17 lots of Henry Willis – first subdivision.
  2. 30 acres “meadowlands – Kenmore Avenue (“canal ditch.”) and included much of land on Hanover. William Hunter local merchant bought subdivided. Sold first to John Allan who laid out 8 lots on what became Allan Town on east part of property 1759.

The procedure to sell church land was to petition the General Assembly of Virginia which was granted in 1772.  The Assembly granted the request as long as an additional burial plot would be obtained in another location.

So to purchase new property they had to stay in the graveyard business.

However, the proceeds of the land sale of 390 pounds were lost during the Revolution.

Who was Fielding Lewis?

Fielding Lewis was born into a prominent in Warner Hall, Gloucester, Va. in 1725. Fielding followed his father John Lewis to Fredericksburg who in 1746 who saw possibilities in the developing Fredericksburg economy. Earlier his father purchased 409 acres from Francis Thornton on the northern boundary of Fredericksburg. This is what is today Lewis St, Fauquier, Hawke and more. John Lewis built a store, warehouses, and a shipyard. (The Lewis store of 1749 at the corner of Lewis and Caroline stands today, a story and half Georgian building).Fielding came to apprentice in his father’s businesses and worked in the Lewis store. He married 17-year-old Betty Washington. Betty was first cousin of Catherine and 2nd cousin of Fielding and George Washington sister. She gave birth to 11 children with Fielding Lewis.

Fielding took a major role and extended his father’s property by purchasing the adjacent Royston property of 861 acres in March 1752 which brought the size of both properties to approximately 1,280 acres. Upon his father’s death in 1754, Fielding inherited the business and plantation.   His day to day business was that as a merchant who acquired substantial lands, typical for the time. He built stores, wharves and warehouses.

Lewis served off and on in the St. George’s Vestry for 26 years from 1753 to 1779.  The Vestry played a key financial role in Colonial Virginia as it was responsible for the levy – which was a required donation from every person so the Vestry could pay people for tasks.    He was appointed  warden  at least 4 times – 1754, 1768, 1772 and 1779 – a leadership position

His weakness was inattention to details or at least an ability to handle the wide scope of his affairs.  He had a “total disinterest or ineptitude in the management of his papers” as Paula Felder writes. Sales were not recorded or had the  wrong information or in some situations had no descriptions.   

The new property would have been in what is today Hurkamp park.

In 1774, 100 pounds was raised to  pay Fielding Lewis  for the 4 lot square bounded by William, Prince Edward and George Streets and then the back boundary of the town (about hallway between Prince Edward and Liberty Streets).  Try to find it in the records! Lewis never recorded the sale in the legal records.  It is presumed that this became the city-church graveyard but there are no records stating so.

In 1787, when  church and state were separated, a direct result of the American Revolution, the city petitioned for transferring the property to the City corporation.

At the August 4, 1787 meeting of the Common Council of Fredericksburg, it was ordered that a petition be prepared for the Virginia General Assembly by a committee, one member of which was James Monroe, council member, vestryman and future president,  requesting for a “division of St. George’s Parish and the vesting of the property of the old Church AND THE NEW BURYING  GROUND” (emphasis  mine)  to the Corporation. This what is today Hurkamp Park

We have no evidence this was done but in any case the city did consider this the “new burying ground. “

Other parties were interested in land near this burying ground.

In 1799, Seth Barton, buried in our graveyard, acquired from John Lewis, son and heir of Fielding Lewis 1,100 adjacent to the back boundary of the town.Part of this became Liberty Town and Barton Town. Streets were named for both. 

The lot between Liberty Street facing George and the New Burying Ground was donation to the Methodist Church and Barton.   In 1801, there was a Methodist Meeting House there and a graveyard behind the church became a cemetery. When this lot was sold to John Marye in 1853, the deed exempted the cemetery and a six foot wide access remained in the hands of the Methodist church. When the church sold this to Sears and Roebuck, the deed required remains transferred to one of two lots in Oak Hill Cemetery. There was no record who was buried there.

The church itself built over graves with the construction of Faulkner. The issue of building over graves elicited letters to the editor of the Virginia Herald. Fortunately, letters were written since that helped to date Faulkner Hall.

The city realized better boundary markings were needed. In 1811, the Council authorized $400 for enclosing the new burying ground. In 1824 a wall was built separating the burying ground from the Methodist church property. You can still see part of the wall today.

Seth Barton sold 40×120 lot to a a new Masonic Lodge #63 in 1804 which is today on property identified as 520 William Street today occupied by Coldwell Banker.

A cemetery was there. 34 stones based on list by N. M. Deaderick which had burials from 1806-1908. Sears Roebuck bought this property in 1954. Existing stones were moved to the backside of the Masonic Cemetery and can be seen today.

The city wanted the Church to begin using the new property. Earlier, the city took the step in 1815 to recommend that St. George’s no longer permit burials in the original graveyard in deference to this new property. 

The existing graveyard was also affected by the widening of Princess Anne Street in the early 19th century.

Meanwhile what we know as Hurkamp Park was not well maintained as a graveyard with damages cited in the papers to the walls and cattle and hogs having free reign in the cemetery.  Apparently the city closed the cemetery in 1853. 25 tombstones were eventually found – all the known burials between 1774-1853 and transferred to City Cemetery.  Were these St. Georgians ? Skeleton remains still were found at the original site when work was done on the property.

Here is a 1866 photograph which shows the burying ground and the Lodge burial ground:

This is from a Spotsylvania blog

From the site – Photo is “looking southwest, and was taken from the top floor of the Planter’s Hotel, on the intersection of William and Charles Street’s northwest corner, at 401 William Street.”

“Just above the wide chimney dominating the foreground, we can see the Old City Burial Ground, now the site of Hurkamp Park. On the other side of that cemetery’s western wall, is the now also moved, Cemetery of Masonic Lodge #63. Beyond that, we have a nice view of structures on Liberty Street. And, along the horizon, Hanover Street, running up the heights at left, with Brompton faintly visible among the trees. Also note the covered wagons parked on William Street at lower left. They would be sitting in front of what is today, Paymon Fine Rug Imports at 501 William Street”

What was the church’s reaction to these events ? Our Vestry minutes from 1817 to 1865 have been lost as they were transferred to Richmond and presumed burned in early 1865. However, using city records, in 1860, the wardens petitioned the Council to show what right they had to the cemetery and if they could not produce the evidence, then the Hurkamp property should be surrendered to the church. Some legal research was done but the motion “laid on the table” or set aside and never acted upon and thus died by the next meeting. So ended the church’s hope for a new property on which to build a new church and graveyard.

Today the property is known not as the burying ground but Hurkamp Park. It was John Hurkamp, a German Immigrant,  a tanner and currier by trade who cleaned up the property. His efforts led to the development of the park which was named after him in the 1881 dedication

Later history of our Graveyard

The burial record of St. George’s Church for the year 1861-1862 records the burial of 51 Confederate soldiers (50 with names; one unknown died in the woods) in Potters Field which was near the location of what became Maury School.

In 1862 with the Battle of Fredericksburg there was serious damage to cemetery- bushes, briars and weeds covered the site. A large number of graves were hidden by undergrowth.

In April 6,1891, – Ladies of the church formed the “St. George’s Cemetery Guild”  to restore the cemetery. For  $150 the graveyard cleaned, ground rolled and sowed in grass. Trees were planted, many of which could have been in photographs taken of the graveyard in the 1920’s. Tombstones were cleaned.  The present iron gate purchased

They counted 164 graves. Of these 29 graves were without stones

In 1940, George Harrison Sanford King recorded the inscriptions of the 109 surviving memorial stones and also listed the names of 35 known burials that had no tombs. If one discounts the stone cutter’s error on the tombstone of Charles M. Rothrock, which records his death in 1084 instead of 1804, the earliest legible date is 1752 on the stone of a John Jones.  The most recent dated stone is Mrs. Virginia B. Coakley Patton, who was buried in 1924. The graveyard was closed to further burials after this as it was considered full.

In 1959, McGuire Hall was consecrated which connected the church nave to Faulkner Hall. Many graves were in the way of the construction. Advertisements were posted in the Free Lance-Star for any relatives that wanted to move their ancestors. None did, not surprisingly.

In 2002 six individuals found in Market Square during an archaeological dig were interred at St. George’s. Charles Sydnor used the burial service from the 1662 Prayer Book which would have been used at the time of the original burial. A plaque was added 2007.

In 2008, burials once again took place with the beginnings of Memorial Garden. Rev. Thomas Faulkner (1946-1976 rector) had been buried here with the permission of the Vestry in the 1990’s and Mary Faulkner was buried here in 2008.

In part these steps resulted from the failure of the columbarium project. There was a movement at the time to establish a columbarium in the rear section of the graveyard, it was the third time it had been considered at the church.

In 2008, St. George’s formed a Memorial Garden Committee to construct a contemplative space where people’s ashes could be interred in ground or in niches. Benches would be provided for meditation and quiet reflection. The garden was planned to be located at the end of the current cemetery against McGuire Hall. Wil Rieley, a landscape architect, was hired and provided architectural sketches of a garden and. The committee developed policies, a brochure and gave several presentations.

The 2008 project was hampered by the developing recession coupled with a stiff price that had to be paid for the units. By March 2010, they needed 120 pledges but had only received 19.

It was decided to abandon the project and stick to burying cremains on the north side of the graveyard. Sonny Singleton in April, 2009 was the first burial in this specific area for the burial of cremains. A plaque was purchased to remember those buried here. With this step the graveyard has recovered its original purpose as a burial ground.

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