Discovering Hundreds of Graves in the “Old Cemetery”

This Sunday, May 21st at 3:00 pm, the museum is hosting a free public forum about the historic “Old Cemetery” of Friendship Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Through the use of ground penetrating radar, archaeologists have identified 567 graves in the 1.64 acre site.

Archaeologist Sarah Lowry shares GPR data with Lawrence Sneed, a lifelong member of Friendship Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.

GPR is a remote sensing technique that is non-invasive, relatively quick, and highly accurate. Thanks to a generous grant from the Jandy Ammons Foundation, the Wake Forest Historical Association was able to hire New South Associates, Inc., a company that specializes in researching, studying, and documenting historic sites.  The survey of the “Old Cemetery” was conducted in February and March.

The discoveries are fascinating. Among the most intriguing, the ground penetrating radar identified a reported mass grave that church members believe was used during the 1918 flu pandemic. The GPR supports that belief; the survey uncovered multiple individual burials within a large, unmarked, excavated area.

Deacon Elrie Walton is among the church members familiar with the history of the cemetery, including the existence of a reported mass grave.

Located in the woods between two major developments in the Rogers Road area, the cemetery dates to the period before the Civil War and originally served as a nighttime gathering place for Christian slaves who met to worship in secret.

Following Emancipation, freed slaves from the Forestville area worked alongside leaders of Forestville Baptist Church to form their own congregation. This became Friendship Chapel, named for the cooperation surrounding the joint effort. By the 1880s, the members of Friendship Chapel had constructed a church building a short distance away. The original meeting place was dedicated as a cemetery. It was used for burials for approximately seventy years, ending in the late 1940s or early 50s when it was deemed full and a new cemetery was started behind the church.

The older, wooded site fell into disuse. But it was never forgotten. The congregation of Friendship Chapel Missionary Baptist Church has continued to guard the property. They are well aware of its presence, its general boundaries are known, and a number of stone or concrete tombstones remain. Many have family members buried there.

Program presenters will include archaeologist Sarah Lowry, who conducted the GPR survey and compiled the report, and historian Ellen Turco, responsible for creating an online “Story Map.” This educational component will combine the survey findings with church records and photographs to put the cemetery in historical context for a wider audience. Details of the chapel, its congregation, and their unique history will be shared by the Reverend Enoch Holloway, Deacon Elrie Walton, and other church leaders.

All are invited to attend.

Discovering Hundreds of Graves in the “Old Cemetery”: A GPR Survey Report

  • WHEN: Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm
  • WHAT: Free public forum
  • WHERE: Wake Forest Historical Museum, 414 N. Main Street, 919-556-2911
  • WHO: Experts from New South Associates, Inc., and leaders of Friendship Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

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