"Death Reflects Life"

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Cemeteries

The Old Methodist Burying Ground (today’s Mount Zion Cemetery) and the Female Union Band Society Cemetery are two of the oldest Black ancestry cemeteries in Washington, DC. They are a physical reminder of the heritage, contributions, and sacrifices made by enslaved Africans, their enslaved descendants, and free Blacks during their lifetimes. They also provide insight into their families and the community in which they lived during a time of deep segregation. 

Welcome to the historic Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society burial grounds!

​​​The Old Methodist Burying Ground is the oldest truly biracial burying area remaining within the District of Columbia and the only cemetery of that distinction located in Georgetown.  Together, they are the only two cemeteries remaining in the District which were specifically maintained for the burial of enslaved and former enslaved persons. They are among the few black history landmarks remaining in Georgetown, a community whose population was between 35 and 45 percent black during the late Nineteenth Century.

These burial grounds are a memorial park - serving as a place to promote unity, appreciation, and to educate. This tour will introduce you to our two cemeteries and acquaint you with some of the individuals for whom this sanctuary is their final resting place. The walking tour takes about 30 minutes to complete - you are welcome to stay for as long as you choose to reflect and continue to learn about this special place.  We encourage you to share feedback about your visit using the form at the end of the guide.  We hope your visit creates new personal awareness, and a thirst to continue your education.

This guide offers underscored bold font links to additional information about cemetery history, persons buried here, and the vibrant Georgetown community in which these individuals and their families lived and worked. 

Please keep in mind that the cemeteries are private property sanctuaries.  Please understand and respect that thousands of burial sites exist throughout the open and wooded areas of the memorial park, and most are not defined by a headstone or other marker. The memorials and artifacts that exist are fragile - do not walk on memorials or make 'rubbings' of stone engravings.  All dogs must be on a leash and are not allowed on artifacts or memorials. Their waste must be removed from the cemeteries. Regular visitors with furry friends are encouraged to become cemetery Ambassadors.

Your tour begins at the Cemeteries' National Register of Historic Places plaque located at the junction of 27th Street and Mill Road NW

The two cemeteries are adjacent, but separate in history and property legal definition, and comprise roughly equal-sized halves of the approximate three-acre grounds. The park-like open spaces, wooded hillsides, and monuments areas are the final resting place for literally thousands of enslaved, freed, free Blacks, and their descendants, as well as early white European settlers and their descendants who lived and worked in Georgetown from the 1700s to the middle of the last century.

Black Georgetown was not only an integral element of the economy of Washington, it was a fully formed community of its own. The more than 100 occupations held by Black citizens described in the 1874 edition of Boyd’s Georgetown Business Directory, and confirmed by annotations on Mount Zion Methodist Church death records, reveal the extensive participation of the community in Georgetown daily life.

 

The Female Union Band Society (FUBS) Cemetery lies before you - its open plateau, hillside beyond down to Rock Creek Park, and sloped grounds to the left (bordered by the unimproved old Lyon Mill Road public path) are all sacred burial grounds.

 

The Mount Zion Cemetery, the location of the Old Methodist Burying Ground (the oldest burying ground in the two cemeteries), directly adjoins the FUBS Cemetery and is denoted by the several groupings of headstones and memorials located on the rise directly to your right.

What is the "Female Union Band Society"?  In 1842, a group of formerly enslaved women, led by Mary Turner, originally from St. Mary's County, Maryland, founded the Female Union Band Society.  The Society's constitution, dated 1859, defines the Society as a cooperative benevolent association of free Black women whose members were pledged to assist one another in sickness and in death. In exchange for membership and payment of dues, the organization provided a member $2 per week when she was ill, and a grave and $20 for burial expenses upon death. The document proscribed that membership was restricted to women of "good moral character" who were "recommended by two members of the society." Provisions existed to expel any member "convicted of immoral or disgraceful practices," as well as those who did not pay their dues or who were "disagreeable to a majority of the Society, either by words or actions."

To fulfill the goal of providing graves for its members, the Society acquired this property adjacent to the Old Methodist Burying Ground.  As Black women at the time were not legally permitted to own property, the land was purchased in trust for the Society by Joseph Mason for $250 on October 19, 1842, with the deed recorded on August 8, 1843. 

Proceed across the lawn toward the prominent Logan memorial and other gravestones 

Anonymous poem found inscribed on a placard nailed to a tree near the Lyon Mill dirt road dividing the black Female Union Band Cemetery from the predominantly white Oak Hill Cemetery (the numerous gravestones and monuments on the hillside visible through the trees on your left).

"I understand thousands of persons are buried in these cemeteries, but I do not see that many gravestones. Why is that?"   This is an accurate observationRecent research identified 310 surviving grave and monument stone artifacts. While this figure omits many undocumented memorials for persons interred on the cemetery hillsides, stone artifacts that have sunk or become buried under vegetation, and those removed from the grounds by families or thieves, it bears no correlation to the thousands of recorded burials in the two cemeteries. For example, Mount Zion Methodist Church death records for1863-1931 identify 2,769 persons as buried in the Mount Zion Cemetery, and 6,313 burials are recorded in 1880-1930 death records of the Health Office of the District of Columbia (the Health Office figure is commonly accepted as a combination of burials in both cemeteries).

Gravestones provide an incomplete accounting of the interred

Given the early 1800’s origin of the oldest burial areas of the two cemeteries, grave markers for many of the earliest interred working-class whites, enslaved or freed blacks were made of easily sourced and inexpensive wood, sandstone, or concrete, with details about the deceased painted or lightly inscribed on the artifact.  The burial plots for enslaved, paupers, and transients may not have had formal markers at all; their graves honored with ballast stones, flowers, or tree saplings.  While a few surviving wood markers are held at Mount Zion Methodist Church, and remnants of some early concrete and sandstone markers still exist on the grounds, many early markers have been consumed over time by the forces of nature.  Some of the older stone artifacts you will encounter were fashioned from more durable and expensive Virginia 'blue stone'. 

The images below are the results of ‘ground-penetrating radar’ and ‘magnetic gradiometer’ scans of unobstructed areas of the plateau area of the two cemeteries. The scans depict significant disturbance of soil throughout the property, as well as the presence of numerous metal objects as would be expected in a burial ground (likely coffin nails, handles, ornamentation).  The results confirm written and oral records of the two cemeteries:  the park-like plateau and hillsides are, in fact, the sacred final resting place for thousands of deceased persons.

As you approach the tall Logan family monument, look for the distinctive headstone marking the grave of Louis Cartwright.  Lewis, born in 1817 or 1818, was enslaved by Presly and Mary Saunders until purchased by his father, the Reverend Joseph Cartwright, Sr. on April 17th, 1837 for $600.  The Rev. Cartwright, one of the first Black pastors of Mount Zion Methodist Church, also purchased his enslaved wife Susanna, son Joseph Jr, and daughter Norah Cartwright (Brown) from their respective owners.  The Reverend manumitted (freed) his three children, with their freedom legally recorded September 23, 1839.

The U.S. Census of 1860 lists Louis [Lewis], aged 43, as a laborer, owning real property valued at $800. Church records and City Directories inform us that Lewis was a Sexton at Mount Zion Methodist Church, a grocer, and resident at 41 West Street (present day P Street NW). Lewis died on March 4, 1875. 

Please note: the ‘chain links’ carving at the top of Louis's headstone is often misinterpreted as having an enslaved connotation. In fact, the symbol denotes Louis membership in the “Grand United Order of Odd Fellows” black men's society founded in the U.S. in 1843.

Within the Logan family burial plot lies the granite memorial to Franklin Jennings (1836-1926) and his wife Mary Logan Jennings (1850-1950).

Franklin Jennings, of Orange, VA, at age 26 traveled to Washington, DC, where on May 12, 1864, he enlisted as a Private in the Union Army and was assigned to the 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Colored Cavalry (see Franklin's enlistment document). His Civil War military assignments included guarding Confederate prisoners, participating in the battle of Petersburg, VA, and being one of the first Union regiments to enter Richmond in the capture of the city. Franklin survived the war, became a farmer, and married Mary Logan.

Mary Logan, a past President and Trustee of the Female Union Band Society, was the last person to be buried in either cemetery.

Note: the two cemeteries are the resting place for a number of  Blacks who served in the Union Army, as well as White and Blacks who served in militias or regular forces of the United States.

Franklin Jennings (1836-1926) and his and his wife Mary Logan Jennings (1850-1950)

Rev. Joseph Cartwright was one of the first black preachers at Mount Zion Methodist Church while it was still under the charge of white ministers of the Montgomery Street Methodist Church. Rev. Cartwright purchased and later manumitted his enslaved wife Susanna, sons Lewis and Josesph Jr., and daughter Norah. (bluestone vault top slab)

Though little is known about Nannie, a child buried in the grounds, her gravestone creates a connection with many visitors to the cemeteries. It is not uncommon to find birthday cards, ribbons, toys and other momentos left to honor her.  (a bluestone slab style headstone (no base) with crown carved in the style frequently found in the Old Methodist Burying Ground)

d. 1851

May 26, 1848  -  May, 18, 1856

Volunteers, enabled by generous donations, perform restorative cleaning, mending, and remounting of gravestones such as Matilda Cartwright’s, daughter of freed slave, Louis Cartwright.

Our next stop is the cemetery brick vault.

Walk along the hillcrest  woods border of the Memorial Park  until you reach the Cemetery Vault marker. Carefully walk down the stairs until you arrive at the entrance of the vault. 

 If the door is closed, feel free to open the door (some strength is required as the door is heavy)

The vault was used to hold remains of deceased persons until their burial plots had been prepared (delay due to inclement weather or when the burial ground was too frozen to be opened).  Although having been repaired at different times, the vault is believed to have existed since the early 1800s. 

The vault, and the cemetery grounds more generally, are believed to have served as a way point for slaves making their way to freedom on the Underground Railway.  With guidance, sustenance, and supplies received from empathetic persons in the community, it is thought that enslaved persons would travel north along today’s Rock Creek, through Maryland to relative freedom in Pennsylvania.

 Pennsylvania was attractive to Blacks seeking freedom given their 1780 adoption of ‘gradual abolition of slavery’ laws, and the population being generally indifferent to enforcing the federal Fugitive Slave Act which required repatriation of runaway slaves.  Pennsylvania’s abolitionist position strengthened in 1820 with the passage of personal liberty laws which imposed fines and jail sentences for kidnappers of suspected fugitives, and required judges to file reports any time they deemed someone a fugitive and returned him or her to slavery.

Before leaving the vault area, scan the wooded hillside from far left to far right - while steep, this land is known to be the burial place for many persons. If you walk about the hillside you will discover burial plot markers, headstones, and other artifacts (most covered with vegetation, and some large stones shifted downhill by the force of gravity).

Proceed toward the large Doughty family obelisk located in the middle of the Cemetery

As you approach the tall obelisk, take a moment to visit the collection of graves and gravestones on your left.

Some of the memorials in this grouping were placed here for safekeeping while the grounds of the two cemeteries experienced significant restoration required after being untended for several decades.  Where sufficient historical documentation exists, it is intended that memorials will be returned to their original grave locations.

Grave markers and memorials reveal history -  Materials used, stone carving designs, and inscriptions on grave markers provide useful indicators of the social status and relative wealth of the deceased (or the persons paying for the burial), as well as the timeframe of burial (add actual image examples). Many individuals buried in the cemeteries, given their enslaved lives or working-class economic status, were honored with modest wood, sandstone, or concrete memorials - materials that did not stand the passing of time. While some memorials were fashioned and had their dedications carved by stonemasons, many had memorial details of the deceased painted, traced in wet cement, or lightly carved by family or friends.  Some of the oldest remaining artifacts you will encounter were fashioned from more durable and expensive Virginia 'blue stone'.  These take the form of large rectangular slabs that topped in-ground vaults, and arched crown 'slab headstones' (directly buried 18 to 24 inches into the ground, as opposed to later headstones which were placed on a stone base).  

These factors determined burial plot locations and sizes, as well as the choice of materials and level of artisan craftsmanship of monuments.   

More durable and elaborately shaped ‘slab’ gravestones from the 19th century are also common.      

 

As the means to transport raw materials within the colonies expanded, together with the increased wealth of an expanding middle class, the use of much heavier and more expensive to quarry and carve, marble and granite stones became popular. You will also find larger, more modern design, headstones gifted by decedents many years after an individual's death).  It is also worth noting some gravestones are repurposed former military cemetery burial markers. As federal military cemeteries chose to replace the variety of original headstones with the standard design seen today, discarded markers were purchased by monument companies that in turn offered them as more affordable headstones to less affluent customers. Julia Johnson’s memorial in the Mount Zion Cemetery (shown) was fashioned from a headstone that once honored veteran J.D. Robie, buried in Arlington Cemetery.

The large obelisk-topped Doughty monument and associated family gravestones are examples of the latter.  William Doughty, born in 1772 and died on August 19, 1859, was a master shipbuilder. In 1812 he built the 363-ton capacity sailing ship "General Lingan" at Georgetown for merchants Washington Bowie and John Kurtz.  Doughty Family members and relatives include Sarah (wife) who died November 19, 1856, aged 62 years; Eliza Doughty (wife of William D. Doughty) who died April 4, 1853; Emma Rebecca (daughter of William and Eleanor/Ellen Doughty) who died in 1812, aged 6 months;  Robert Doughty (son of William and Ellen Doughty) born July 7, 1811, and died April 2, 1865; Margaret Doughty, died 1810 (or 1819), aged 57 years; and Rebecca Doughty (consort of Rich Beck), born November 1842, died Sept 7, 1843, aged 28 years (those with memorials are in bold font).alled upright C.E. Robie’s details would be hidden buried in the ground.  Notice when Julia’s stone was flipped top to bottom, the flat former bottom end of Robie’s headstone became the top of the new marker - with no stone cutter expenses incurred to give the top an arched shape.

Impact of the Global Spanish Flu Epidemic 1917-1919  Cemetery headstones, Mount Zion Church death records, and Health Office of the District of Columbia death and burial records give testimony to how flu death disproportionately affected younger individuals in Georgetown's Black community. The global flu pandemic broke out near the end of World War I.  In the United States, the illness was first identified in returning military personnel in the spring of 1918.  By the fall of 1918, Washington, packed with federal war workers and military servicemen, had become one of the most affected U.S. cities. The first case in Georgetown was identified on September 26, 1918.  By the end of the epidemic, 33,719 District residents had fallen ill, and 2,895 residents had died.  The Report of the Health Office of the District of Columbia for the years 1880 - 1930 recorded 437 and 304  burials of persons in the Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society cemeteries, respectively, in the epidemic years of 1918 and 1919 (the death counts, approximately double the average of other years, are attributed to the epidemic). 

Several feet from the Doughty monument you will see grave markers located in the "Old Methodist Burying Ground" - the first formal cemetery established on the property

Present-day Mount Zion Cemetery exists as the result of several property use agreements and changes in ownership, as well as the founding of the Mount Zion Church itself. The original Old Methodist Burying Ground property was acquired by Ebenezer Eliason in 1808 on behalf of Montgomery Street Methodist Church (Inscriptions on gravestones in the grounds indicate burials were taking place as early as 1804, before the acquisition was formalized). The churchyard cemetery is approximately one-half mile from the location of the Montgomery Street Meeting House, located on historic Montgomery Street (today's 28th Street NW) between Bridge (M Street NW) and Olive Streets.

The Old Methodist Burying Ground was originally intended to bury white parishioners and their slaves, though this provision expanded to include free blacks as the latter soon comprised nearly half of the church membership. Dissatisfied with segregation policies and practices of the Montgomery Methodist Church, desirous to have their own pastors, and a church that more meaningfully reflected the black community, in 1816, 125 Black members left to establish their own church - Mount Zion United Methodist Church.

Although the two burial grounds are often characterized as being ‘Black cemeteries’, in truth, the original Old Methodist Burying Ground is the final resting place for White community leaders and working-class persons of European ancestry, enslaved Africans and their enslaved descendants, free blacks, and persons with Native American ancestry.  ** Replace photo with image of Daughty monument as viewed from the brick vault area**

Meanwhile, Montgomery Street Methodist Church acquired additional land in 1822 which approximately doubled the burial ground’s original size. The expanded cemetery continued to host segregated burials with plots selling for $15. The burial ground became “Mount Zion Cemetery” in 1879 when the Montgomery Street Methodist Church, now Dumbarton United Methodist Church, leased the property to Mount Zion Church for 99 years. Not all Dumbarton church members supported the lease agreement, and as a result, some had deceased family members disinterred and reburied in the new nearby Oak Hill Cemetery. The Mount Zion Church assumption of the lease and the disinterments contributed to the cemetery becoming identified as "the colored cemetery" - a burial place for Georgetown’s black community (transients and anonymous paupers also buried within the grounds). In 1978, the lease ended, and legal control of the property reverted to Dumbarton United Methodist Church.  By Special Warranty Deed, on Feb. 9, 2017, Dumbarton United Methodist Church transferred all right, title, and interest in the cemetery to the Mount Zion Church.

To fully value the cemeteries and the thousands of individuals buried within their grounds, it is necessary to understand their history, and as well the lives and contributions of the enslaved Africans, their enslaved descendants, and freed Blacks to the establishment of Georgetown from its earliest days as a frontier port to the present, and to the transition of the United States to a post-slavery era.

 

We hope your visit created new personal awareness, and a thirst to continue your education.

Within the nearest bordered burial area you will see a stone marker for Julia Johnson [ picture]. Let’s take a moment to understand a bit more about headstone traditions.

As noted at the beginning of the tour… inexpensive and easily carved wood, sandstone and concrete memorials were common.  It would also not be uncommon for working-class families or friends of limited economic means to acquire and repurpose a surplus headstone previously engraved for another person.  Military cemeteries, as they standardized grave markers to a standard headstone material and form, would sell the original markers to grave monument companies or other persons desiring such material. 

An example of a repurposed military headstone is the memorial marker for Julia Julia Johnson.  Her marker, pictured here, originally was the headstone for the Arlington Cemetery grave of Chief Engineer J.D. Robie, United States Navy (Arlington cemetery records indicate C.E. Robie was always buried at Arlington - this gravestone replaced at some point by a ‘military standard’ gravestone, and the orphan stone sold as military surplus. 

 

Mt. Zion Methodist Church burial records, Mt. Zion Cemetery burial plots map

By examining the transformation of C.E. Robie’s stone to Julia’s, we can further confirm that her family and friends, while desiring a nice stone memorial, likely had limited money to invest in the headstone.

In addition to the headstone being military surplus, Julia’s engraved details are a modest carving work when compared to the more elaborate relief lettering and shield design of Robie’s reverse.  Additionally, the repurposed headstones was not only turned over, it was ‘flipped top to bottom’ - if Julia’s marker was installed upright C.E. Robie’s details would be hidden buried in the ground.  Notice when Julia’s stone was flipped top to bottom, the flat former bottom end of Robie’s headstone became the top of the new marker - with no stone cutter expenses incurred to give the top an arched shape.

 

Matilda CARTWRIGHT, Died January 29, 1863

Mamie CARTWRIGHT, Died May 26, 1906, aged 24 years

Julia CARTWRIGHT,  Daughter of Gracy Duckett

Other nearby points of interest (click here for detailed information)

"Herring Hill" defines the area south of P Street NW, between 29th Street NW and Rock Creek. Herring Hill was the nucleus of the historic black community in Georgetown. 

Alfred and Hannah Cole Pope Residence, 2900 O Street NW 

Emma V. Brown Residence, 3044 P Street NW

Mount Zion United Methodist Church 1334 29th St., NW  

Holy Rood Cemetery, 2126 Wisconsin Avenue NW

John H. Fleet Residence, 1208 30th Street NW

First Baptist Church, 2624 Dumbarton Street NW

Patrick Francis Healy Hall, Georgetown University

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