Approaching the National Register – Shockoe Hill

The Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground — what I had referred to as Richmond’s “second African Burial Ground” in my earlier publications — has been increasingly gaining publicity. This is largely due to the untiring efforts of descendant/researcher Lenora McQueen, who has enlisted valuable support from Preservation Virginia, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, the City of Richmond, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and other preservationists near and far.

As part of this effort, a small group of us has been working toward the goal of achieving recognition for the site via the state landmarks register and the National Register of Historic Places. In September 2020, our Preliminary Information Form for the Shockoe Hill Burying Ground Historic District was unanimously approved by the state architectural review board.

We are happy to announce that we have now submitted our completed National Register of Historic Places nomination for this historic district to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for their review and approval. The nomination is the work of many hands, including co-authors Lenora McQueen, Steve Thompson, and myself, but especially of our primary author, the estimable L. Daniel Mouer, who kept the project moving forward with passion, knowledge, and experience.

We invite public review of the draft nomination, which can be found here:

ShockoeHillnominationpublicreview [outdated file deleted – see final, approved nomination here]

The nomination is important because it attempts to show a more complete history of the district, which encompasses 43 acres. The district’s use as a municipal site began in 1799, when the city of Richmond purchased a 28.5 acre tract for use as a burying ground and for other purposes. That initiative would expand to include a powder magazine, a poorhouse/almshouse, a gallows, and a public hospital, among other later developments. At its core sat three expansive cemeteries — Hebrew Cemetery, Shockoe Hill Cemetery, and the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground. Only the first two are recognized on the National Register today and in public signage. Our nomination seeks to re-frame the entire district in terms of the historic relationships across all of these sites. As the nomination concludes, “While there is much to admire and enjoy in the well designed and purposefully curated visible properties of the District, historical significance now resides equally in the partial destruction, often deliberate, of a highly meaningful, emotionally charged, and racially fraught landscape. This nomination seeks both to recognize its full extent and to expose the great disparities that have characterized efforts at preservation and historical valorization across this public place.”

If all goes well, our nomination could go before the state architectural review board at its December 2021 meeting [*see below], after being vetted by the Department of Historic Resources. Until then, we invite comments, as well as letters of support. Letters can be sent to Julie Langan, Director, Department of Historic Resources, 2801 Kensington Avenue, Richmond, VA 23221.

We had linked here to some maps and images related to the district made available for public meetings – more images may be found in the .pdf file of the full draft above.

* edit on the above: the DHR has notified us that the review hearing for the nomination will need to be pushed to March 17, 2022. The public is invited to attend. For information, see: