Bucks County’s Black cemeteries honor history of those buried there
Saturday marks the 156th year since African Americans were emancipated from slavery — a date always celebrated but only recently widely recognized.
For Bucks County, that painful history is still ever-present in infrastructure, culture and even in some of its oldest graveyards. Here is a list of Black cemeteries and burial sites that are still standing, holding those memories and lives.
Bensalem African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church Cemetery: 1200 Bridgewater Road., Bensalem
Established in 1820 — in part by Richard Allen, the founder of African Methodism — the Bensalem AME Church stands as one of the oldest Black churches in the U.S. and was the only Black church in Bensalem for 110 years.
While African Americans were still enslaved in the South, the church’s secure and hallowed grounds became a stop on the Underground Railroad as well as a safe burial site.
One such refugee, Union Army veteran and formerly enslaved person Leroy Allen, found shelter in Bensalem and is now buried in the church’s cemetery. Now, this cemetery protects the remains of its Black congregants and marks centuries of resistance, spirituality and safety.
Preserving history: Leaders look to repair Bensalem AME Church after storm
Buckingham Friends Cemetery: 5684 York Road, Buckingham
Friends Meeting House Cemetery: 453 W. Maple Ave., Langhorne
Quakers used this site to bury their deceased since 1705–15 years before the church was formed. It wasn’t until the early 1800s, after the cemetery was expanded, that African Americans were buried on the grounds, albeit, in an area segregated from other burial plots. By that time, the Quakers had begun using gravestones, meaning all of the African Americans buried here were honored with a marker and acknowledgement of their lives.
Also known as the Middletown Friends Meeting Cemetery, this was the site where both Quakers and deceased enslaved people — in a so-called “Negro Burying Ground” — were laid to rest. However, the death of just one Black person, a free man named Cato Adams, was documented in 1812.
Middletown Friends allowed members to bury their slaves within the meetinghouse’s common cemetery beginning in 1693. Ten years later the practice was abruptly halted after some objected to both races within the cemetery. The burial ground became segregated behind a stone wall, according to local historian and columnist Carl LaVO.
Although Quakers, too, did not have headstones until the 19th century, the Black laborers they owned did not even receive death certificates. From 1693 to 1703, enslaved people worked and died on Quaker land, buried in unmarked graves. But those lives were honored over 300 years later when, in 2018, a memorial plaque was placed in the cemetery to commemorate the “forgotten slaves” resting there.
Lighthouse Hill Cemetery: 136 N. Congress St., Newtown
After a fire in 1840 burned the John Wesley AME Church, seated atop a hill, the site became known as Lighthouse Hill — a literal beacon for all of Newtown. The church, now named the St. Mark AME Zion Church, is still standing, despite surviving a second fire, and still manages its cemetery. This small site has about 125 people buried there, with the first-known burials taking place as early as 1820.
Mount Moriah AME Church Cemetery: 12 Stoney Hill Road, New Hope
When the church property was first acquired in 1837, the deed stated that the church and its cemetery on the grounds be solely used by Black parishioners.
Once known as the New Hope Colored Churchyard, Mount Moriah shut down in the 1930s, as Black New Hope residents began moving out of the area around 1880 and onward. But in the cemetery lies a number of notable African American men and women, including Charles Fields, who fought for the US Colored Troops in the Civil War and is remembered with one of the largest tombstones on site.
What was then a spiritual center for the nearly 100 African Americans then living in the town has remained a landmark, memorializing a small community who owned and operated the site.
Slate Hill Burial Ground: Mahlon Drive & Yardley-Morrisville Road, Lower Makefield
In Lower Makefield sits one of the oldest cemeteries in Bucks County, with tombstones dating back to 1698.
Containing up to 500 or more graves, representing mostly Quakers, Slate Hill also devoted a section of its property for African Americans. It was here, too, where six Black Americans who fought for the Northern Army in the Civil War were buried.
The cemetery is now recognized for its significance, in Bucks County and beyond, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally published at https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com.