Enlighten Me: Newark Union Cemetery
Last month, we met Bob and Anne Daly, a retired couple working preserve the Newark Union Church and Cemetery. That story focused on their effort to restore the church, but the adjacent cemetery also offers a story - a story of history hiding in plain sight.
Contributor Larry Nagengast takes us back to the Newark Union Church and Cemetery this week to tell that story.
It’s almost an embarrassing admission but it demonstrates Delaware’s unique ability to keep some of its secret treasures under wraps.
Historian Kim Burdick, the author of “Revolutionary Delaware” and resident curator of the Hale-Byrnes House near Stanton, where George Washington and his aides met to plan strategy between the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge and the Battle of the Brandywine, lived in Brandywine Hundred from 1979 to 2008.
But it wasn’t until last year that she learned of the Newark Union Cemetery, a four-acre burial ground with some grave markers more than 330 years old and the remains of seven men who fought in the Revolution.
The cemetery in Brandywine Hundred is less than a mile from Philadelphia Pike, a key segment of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, the path Washington followed to Yorktown, Virginia, for the final battle of the war. Fifteen years ago, Burdick led the commemoration of the 225th anniversary of that march in both Delaware and along the Eastern Seaboard. Still, she says of Newark Union, “I never knew it was there.”
Burdick is not alone her experience.
“Until two years ago, I’d never been here,” says Brandywine Hundred historian and preservationist James R. Hanby Sr., some of whose ancestors are buried in the cemetery.
Forgotten by some and overlooked by many more, the cemetery is now getting fresh attention, due in large part to the efforts of Bob and Anne Daly, who last year took over as president and treasurer of the Newark Union Corporation, the nonprofit responsible for both the cemetery and the adjacent Newark Union Church, a nondenominational house of worship with Quaker roots that was built in 1845 and has been largely unused for the past 50 years. Both the church and cemetery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Dalys, DuPont Co. retirees who moved into a house across the street from the church three years ago, are now managing the transformation of the church into a meeting and event venue, and a restoration of the cemetery, whose most obvious needs were repairs to portions of its stone walls and raising more than 200 fallen headstones.
“It’s beautiful, bucolic, tucked away, serene,” says New Castle County Councilman John Cartier, an enthusiastic supporter of the restoration efforts.
The project is relying heavily on volunteer support and grants from government agencies, foundations and nonprofit organizations. “The corporation has an investment account that maintains the church and cemetery property, but it’s not significant enough to cover repairs and restoration, so we need donations and grants,” Anne Daly says. The corporation received certification early this year as a nonprofit organization, so it is now in a better position to solicit grants, she says.
The Dalys took over leadership of the corporation from Ray and Jean Weldin, part of an iconic Brandywine Hundred farming family whose name is attached to roads, housing subdivisions and at least one historic home in the area.
Members of the Weldin family have been associated with the church since 1845, Anne Daly said, but their association with the cemetery dates back even longer.
Two Weldins – George, who died in 1796, and Jacob, who died in 1844 – and a Weldin in-law, Andrew Gibson, who died in 1802, are among the seven Revolutionary War veterans buried there. The first member of the family to have been buried at Newark Union was Joseph Weldin, who lived from 1722 to 1783.
By the time Joseph Weldin died, the cemetery was nearly a century old. In 1682, William Penn granted 986 acres stretching from Shellpot Creek west to the Blue Ball area along Concord Pike to Valentine Hollingsworth, a fellow Quaker. Six years later, while his home served as a venue for Quaker meetings, Hollingsworth donated a portion of his land grant for use as a Quaker burial ground.
The cemetery has been in continuous use, by now the final resting place for more than 900 people, including members of families whose names are familiar to current residents of Brandywine Hundred –Forwood, Carr, Grubb, Wilson, Talley, Day, Beeson, Sharpley and Miller, in addition to more than 60 Weldins.
There are now three or four burials a year, Bob Daly says.
The cemetery restoration began last year with a $15,000 grant from the state’s Distressed Cemetery Fund, plus a $15,000 match from an anonymous donor, to help pay for resetting about 70 headstones and repairing deteriorating portions of the stone wall at its entrance.
Some of those headstones, Bob Daly says, had been underground for 100 to 150 years.
Also last year, New Castle County Council approved a $1,518 grant to purchase medallions and flags to mark the graves of the 64 veterans buried in the cemetery.
After visiting military and other church cemeteries in the area, the Dalys decided it would be appropriate to add a military memorial in the center of the cemetery. Cartier, whose district includes Newark Union, sponsored legislation this year to provide $2,375 for medallions engraved with the insignia of the five military branches – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – in which men buried in the cemetery served. Daylight Electric, owned by members of the Day family, whose ancestors are buried here, has donated a flagpole and solar lighting for the memorial. The installation will be completed by the end of the month and Watson Day, a 96-year-old Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, will participate in a dedication ceremony, Anne Daly says.
The Dalys have other ideas that are still in the planning stage and will require additional donations or grants.
One is to erect a series of informational signs to help tell the story of both the church and cemetery. Bob Daly would like the signs to include QR codes that would direct visitors to an online link that would provide an audio narrative suitable for self-guided tours. He is already working on some of the script.
There are plenty of fascinating stories to tell, including some about the soldiers interred in the cemetery.
One that the Dalys enjoy telling concerns George Mousley, who is buried next to his wife, Catherine Poulsen Mousley, in the shadow of the church in the southeast corner of the cemetery. According to the Dalys, George Mousley, who was born in 1757 and lived near Downingtown, Pennsylvania at the start of the Revolution, wanted to serve in George Washington’s army, but both his mother and the owner of the flour mill where he worked were Torys and refused to let him enlist. On New Year’s Day 1778, Mousley’s master asked him to deliver a wagon full of flour to British troops nearby. Mousley ignored his employer’s instructions and promptly hauled the wagon to Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge, where he dropped off the flour and immediately joined the Continental Army. Mousley’s patriotic spirit endured through the War of 1812, when he drove wagonloads of gunpowder from the DuPont powder mills on the Brandywine to American troops fighting the British near Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, the Dalys say, no other Mousley family members of that generation are buried at Newark Union, perhaps because all of George and Catherine’s relatives were British sympathizers. “That division was about as big as the North vs. South split in the Civil War,” Bob Daly says.
Also buried at the cemetery is Thomas Babb, the owner of three farms in Brandywine Hundred who was nearly 50 years old when he enlisted in a militia unit in 1777. He fought in the Battle of the Brandywine in September of that year, participating in a strategic fallback maneuver that slowed the advance of British troops from Kennett Square to the Brandywine Battlefield.
The Weldin military veterans, Bob Daly says, include George W. Weldin, born in 1840, who at first was not permitted to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War because he was the oldest male in his family, even though Union troops were mustering on the Weldin Farm along Philadelphia Pike. By 1863, however, he was allowed to enlist, and he spent his service time guarding Confederate prisoners at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.
The cemetery is notable for more than the servicemen buried there.
Descendants of Valentine Hollingsworth, who died about 1711, were the owners of the famed Harlan & Hollingsworth Company on Wilmington’s Christina River, the builder of iron-hulled ships before and during the Civil War and railroad cars after that, until it was acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1904. A monument to Hollingsworth, erected in 1935, has a prominent position near the graves of his family members.
In the older portion of the cemetery, closest to the church, family members are buried side by side – a row of Forwoods, a row of Beesons, and so on.
The gravestones themselves represent three centuries of evolution in design and iconography, according to the site’s nomination papers for the National Register of Historic Places.
Permanent markers from the late 17th and early 18th centuries remain unidentified, consistent with Quaker tradition. The earliest dated tombstones are those of Dinah Cartmell (1757) and her husband Thomas (1759). Thomas Cartmell was the son of founding members of the Quaker Meeting at the site.
From the late 18th to early 19th centuries, more decorative baroque shapes became common, while tombstones from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries favored Victorian or classical design motifs.
One of the most attention-getting markers is the 1855 bedstead-style marble marker of Joseph Carr. A lily garland drapes over the top of the headstone and a vigilant but relaxed dog lies at the foot of the marker. A low, raised stone curb sets the entire Carr family plot apart from those nearby, perhaps an indication of the family’s wealth or status in Brandywine Hundred. (Carr Road, which runs parallel to Interstate 95 between Silverside and Marsh roads was named for the Carr family. The current Baynard Boulevard, which runs just south of the cemetery between Shipley and Marsh roads, was previously known as Carr Road.)
There’s a story behind Joseph Carr’s death too. “He was found dead while hunting. We don’t know whether it was an accident or a murder, but the payroll money that was said to have been in his pocket has never been found,” says Cindy Davis, secretary of the Newark Union Corporation. “We heard that his dog was with him when he died,” Anne Daly adds.
Hanby, whose ancestors buried at the cemetery include members of the Forwood, Husbands, McBride and Grubb families, is impressed with the work the Dalys and other volunteers are doing.
“The first day I came over, they were lifting footstones, at the William Husbands and James McBride graves. They were my fourth great-grandparents,” Hanby says. “They’re doing a magnificent job pulling the stones up out of the mud, cleaning them off, stabilizing them.”
Seeing those linkages helps the Dalys appreciate the value of their efforts. “We just wanted to fix this place up,” Anne Daly says, “and now we’re connecting people back to their ancestors.”
“They’re doing a fantastic job,” Cartier say. “It’s a place we can go to, learn about our heritage and enjoy the serenity.”