Documenting Cemeteries in Albemarle County

Albemarle CrossLynn Rainville, an archaeology and history professor at Sweet Briar College in Amherst County, created a project that catalogs and maps rural cemeteries in two Virginia James River counties. The site, African-American Cemeteries in Albemarle & Amherst Counties, provides a focus on graveyards where markers are often the first to disappear.

“A lot of these cemeteries contain un-inscribed gravestones,” said Rainville, also a visiting researcher at the University of Virginia. “If you do have them on your property, unless you start looking for it, you might very well miss it.”

As development becomes more common, Rainville said it’s going to be important that developers and landowners know where these cemeteries are.

“If they were hidden before, the bulldozers discover them,” said Scot French, a U.Va. history professor who leads the Virginia Center for Digital History.

While French said there are laws in place to deal with people who knowingly destroy cemeteries, the Rainville Web site makes it easier for developers to avoid grave sites.

Rainville connects readers to the history of slavery and segregation in Virginia, a vital resource in the wake of Virginia’s apology this past week for its role in slavery.

Rural cemeteries in Virginia are vanishing from record and memory when landowners die or when development occurs. Rainville’s project serves as vital map to a world that could easily be lost and forgotten. In that light, they are always searching for more information about historic black cemeteries in either Albemarle or Amherst County Virginia. If you have any additional information about the cemeteries contained in this website or if you know of others located within the two counties, please contact them.


"Old Joe Sweney" Death Reported 1860

Joel Walker Sweeney

Joel Walker Sweeney

The Daily Argus and Democrat in Madison, Wisconsin, reported on 8 November 1860 that “Old Joe Sweney” had died at his father’s residence in Appomattox on 27 October at age forty-five.

He had traveled extensively in Europe, and almost entirely over the United States, and probably enjoyed a greater reputation than any other man as a banjoist, having been the first white man to introduce the banjo to the public.

Joel Walker Sweeney was born about 1810 in Buckingham County in a portion that later became part of Appomattox County in 1845. Sweeney claimed to have learned to play the banjo from local African-Americans, and he is the earliest documented white banjo player as well as the first known person to play the banjo on stage (documented as April 1839). He was a black-face minstrel performer who played on stages in London, Scotland and in other European venues.

Sweeney’s younger brothers, Sampson (Sam), Richard (Dick) and his sister Missouri also were talented banjo and fiddler players.

Sweeney was buried on the grounds of what is now the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park in the Bohannon-Trent Cemetery, also known as the Sweeney Cemetery.

James Allen in 1756: Resources to Track His Travels

In pursuit of some documents for this site, I ran across a notice in the London Gazette out of Middlesex, London, UK that offers a trove of information for anyone interested in the Allen surname. The notice below, which ran on pg 3 on 27 November, 1756, a slice of life perspective on how difficult it might have been to send and receive information in a society that was – by this time – very mobile.

Pursuant to a Decree of the High Court of Chancery, James Allen, late of Appomattox in prince George County in Virginia, son of James Allen; late of the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields in the County of Middlesex, last-maker, or any Child or Children of the said James Allen the Son, are hereby required, on or before the 18th Day of December next, to be and appear before Thomas Lane, Esq; one of the Masters of the said Court, at his Office in Carey-fleet near Lincoln’s Inn in the said County of Middlesex, and claim the Residue of the personal Estate bequeathed to them under the Will of the said James Allen the father, or in Default thereof they will peremptorily be excluded all Benefit under the said Decree.

Here are the clues that can help a family historian discover more about the Allen family from this small bit of information:

  • James Allen, who last resided in Prince George County, Virginia, was the son of James Allen, who had lived in St. Martin of the Fields Parish in Middlesex. This means that James Allen junior probably migrated to Virginia from London. The bonus here is that St. Martin of the Fields Parish is what is known as an “ancient parish,” probably in existence since the 1500s. many records for this parish are available, and you can find one resource for those records at Genuki. Use these resources to determine how you can find the will for James Allen, Sr., who probably died sometime between 1750 and 1756.
  • While you might get lucky through online searches for immigration records for James Allen, junior, your best bet to find records for immigration to this country is through the U.S. National Archives. It would help, however, if you knew James Allen, junior’s birthday, as he probably waited until his late teens or early twenties to migrate from London to Virginia. That date could help you to nail down a more precise time frame for ship searches (perhaps between 1730-1750).
  • A resource for James Allen, senior, and family could be from any records saved through Thomas Lane’s Carey-Fleet offices during that time period. You may learn that Carey-Fleet actually meant an area comprised of Carey Street and Fleet Streets, and – in this case – near The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is one of four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are called to the Bar. As you can see from the map below, Fleet Street is obvious on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn. Carey Street actually is just north of Fleet Street off Chancery Lane.
Lincoln's Inn in London

Lincoln's Inn in London

  • Fortunately, you may not need to travel to London to search through Chancery Court cases. You might find some online at The National Archives. Unfortunately, you need a “ticket” that allows users to save searches, bookmarks and conduct advance ordering at that site. The only way to get one of these tickets IS to go to London. But, you still can search the catalog to see if anything interests you. Use Family Search’s research wiki on England’s Chancery Court Records to narrow down your search.
  • You also can conduct research for James Allen in Prince George County’s records in virginia. Once again, however, your search may prove laborious. Most of this county’s court records were burned during the Civil War. With that said, Virginia’s burned county records often can be found in some strange places (like attics), and many of these records have found their way into The Library of Virginia‘s resources in Richmond. If you cannot travel to The Library of Virginia, you can search their records collection online and, in many cases, order information from the library.
  • Another alternative is to contact someone at the Prince George County genealogy page to try to find someone who might look up records for you in that county. Be prepared to have concise information about who you are looking for and the records you need.
  • You might have noticed in that newspaper article that James Allen lived in “Appomattox” in Prince George County. By this, the writer meant that James Allen lived near the Appomattox River in that county. To find a more precise location for James Allen’s residence in Virginia, you might look at Prince George’s county history. You may discover that where James Allen resided in 1756 now is the independent city of Hopewell, located on the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Hopewell sits on one of the oldest sites in Virginia, so you might expect that the population was higher in this area before the Revolutionary War than in other parts of Prince George County.

The “Allen” surname was prominent throughout Virginia history, and many geneaologies have been constructed by Allen descendants. You might try to find these books or pamphlets before you begin your search online or in person, as many of these resources can lead to you the exact location of a will, a grave or other information that can carry your genealogy from the colonies back to Europe.

James H. and Virginia E. Day

James and Virginia Day TombstoneSister
Virginia E. Day
Apr 20 1906
Feb. 6, 1971

James H. Day
Sept. 15, 1904
Aug. 11, 1983


James H. and Virginia E. Day tombstone, Old Herman Methodist Church, Appomattox County, Virginia; photographed and transcribed by Michelle Reeves on 19 April 2009.

Lhee King Dies in Rock Slide

5 April 1953 – Appomattox, VA – “Lhee King, 29, was crushed to death by a 109-ton rock slide while working in a quarry here yesterday.

“King, a Negro [sic], and three other workers were drilling into the floor of the quarry when the slide rumbled down. Quarry Superintendent S. B. Kidd said. The other three men were about 30 feet from King at the time and managed to escape unhurt.”


“Man Killed In Rock Slide At Quarry,” The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Virginia), 5 April 1953, 18.

James Wellington Cawthorne Obituary

9 April 1953 – “James Wellington Cawthorne, first mayor of Appomattox and town manager for 20 years, died yesterday after a three-week illness.

“Cawthorne’s most recent job was that of police justice. He operated a mercantile business here and represented Appomattox in the House of Delegates in 1914-15. He was 80.”


“First Mayor Dies,” The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 9 April 1953, 11.

John Robert Davis Obituary

15 August 1951 – Chatham – “The funeral of James Robert Davis, 72-year-old resident of Gretna, will be conducted Thursday from the graveside in the family cemetery at Appomattox.

“Mr. Davis died yesterday afternoon in Memorial Hospital, Danville, following an illnes of one year.

“He was a native of Halifax county, but he had lived most of his life in Appomattox where he operated a store and farm. Upon retiring six years ago Mr. Davis made his home with his siter, Mrs. C. M. Andrews. of Gretna.

“Surviving with his siter are three brothers: E. M. Davis and J. W. Davis of Clarktown; and John D. Davis of Lynchburg.

“The body will rest at Scott Funeral Home until 10 a.m. Thursday when it will be taken to Appomattox for last rites.”


“John Robert Davis Funeral Conducted,” The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 15 August 1951, 12.

Albert L. Meeks Obituary

19 November 1878 – “Albert L. Meeks, an esteemed citizen of Halifax and native of Appomattox, died at Halifax Courthouse last Wednesday, aged 56 years.”


Petersburg Index-Appeal (Petersburg, Virginia), 19 November 1878, 1.