Although the names of 57 individuals who were once slaves in Hanover are unknown, their lives are not forgotten.
Sunday afternoon, more than 100 people recognized their place in the county’s history during a candlelight ceremony in front of the old Timberlake Home in Mechanicsville’s Rutland community.
“Usually whenever there’s something about slaves, it’s always on the back of something else, but for once I wanted to see a memorial service that would show the important contributions that the slaves made,” said Darshell Fox-Miller, of the group Hanover Heritage Alliance.
The organization was formed in 2012 with the primary goal of encouraging interracial understanding as well as preserving and protecting items, artifacts and stories from Hanover’s past.
The slave burial grounds were uncovered after a first cemetery containing Timberlake family members was discovered before the Rutland development was built.
Fox-Miller suggested the group and master-community developers HHHunt hold a candlelight vigil for those lives, because she was told the builders wanted to host an event in honor of Black History Month.
“This event is giving back to Hanover County by remembering these lives,” she said.
Fox-Miller also emphasized the importance of not forgetting ancestors.
When Rutland was developed in 2008, archeologists first discovered a gravesite, with 20 coffins, that belonged to the Timberlake family. Dan Schmitt, president of HHHunt, said the corporation learned about the cemeteries not too long after buying the land in 2004.
“We felt there’s a very substantial story to tell of the Rutland community,” Schmitt said.
Family members of those buried in the first cemetery wanted the burial sites to be moved to Hollywood Cemetery.
Then the archeologists, hired by HHHunt, found another burial ground of both children and adult slaves, who worked for the family and lived near the Timberlake’s house. Archeologists also found remnants of the slaves’ quarters.
Along with the coffins were a number of artifacts related to the burial that dated back to the 1800s including metal nails and glass viewing plates.
Schmitt said the dig took almost an entire year and was costly, but they moved the slave cemetery and the Timberlake House, which is now called the Rutland House and acts as the community’s clubhouse, to a new location.
“As developers, we change the land and a lot of times completely change the landscape and often erase the previous history of land,” Schmitt said.
But Schmitt said that this ceremony and the memorial garden allow him and his employees to share the stories of those 57 individuals and let people “connect to the history that came before us.”
Now the cemetery is situated in front of the Rutland House with a fence surrounding it.
“They’re right where they should be. Right next to each other,” he said.
There is also a plaque located on the memorial garden to tell visitors about its significance.
Fox-Miller believes there could be more slave cemeteries around Hanover.
“Of course, we know there has to be more cemeteries somewhere,” Fox-Miller said.
“They could be buried anywhere,” she added.
Fox-Miller said recognizing this cemetery is important and should be done everywhere. While there are a number of Black History Month events and programs this time of year, Fox-Miller said Sunday’s event had special meaning.
“But this significance here is that this is the only place that I can think of in Hanover County that there’s a slave cemetery and it’s been protected, gated and taken care of,” Fox-Miller said.