Family yards

The Sheilds-Robinson plot at Byrd Park

For a long time, Virginians expressed a preference for burial on private land. With the colonists’ initial dispersal from Jamestown in the early 1600s, families and servants began a tradition of burying on home properties. Until the modern era, this tradition would compete with authorities’ insistence on centralized churchyard burials.

In 1724, the minister Hugh Jones lamented that in Virginia:

“The Parishes being of great Extent (some sixty Miles long and upwards) many dead Corpses cannot be conveyed to the Church to be buried: So that it is customary to bury in Gardens or Orchards, where whole Families lye interred together, in a Spot generally handsomely enclosed, planted with Evergreens, and the Graves kept decently.”

Even in a populous town like Richmond with its churchyard, many residents continued to prefer home burials. One of the most prominent of these family burial grounds was that of the Adams and Carringtons, established in the early nineteenth century on the north side of Marshall Street at Twenty-third Street, near St. John’s churchyard. It would grow to encompass at least fifty-eight burials, including patriarch Richard Adams and his wife Elizabeth. Revolutionary war veterans, plus William Marshall, brother of the chief justice, were buried there. It encompassed about one-half an acre within brick walls. The Pickett family established an adjoining burial lot until all on the block were removed to Hollywood Cemetery in 1892.

Such private burial grounds could be found in pockets throughout the early city, such as one on Tenth Street and another near Rocketts Landing, associated with the Prosser and Wright families.

Later family burial grounds, to be engulfed by the expanding city, include the William Catlin family graveyard at 2917 M Street; the Harvie family plot inside Hollywood Cemetery, and the Sheilds-Robinson family plot at present-day Byrd Park. The latter yard, which served the family’s country house titled Poplar Vale (no longer standing), was in use from 1823 through the mid-twentieth century.

For more information, see:

Peyton R. Carrington and Sarah J. Carrington v. Ellen Price et al, Chancery Cause in the city of Richmond, 1890

Harry Kollatz, Jr., “Who Lived and Died Upon This Land: The Robinsons, the Sheilds and Byrd Park,” Richmond Magazine (June 2006): 24

Mary H. Mitchell, Hollywood Cemetery: The History of a Southern Shrine (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1999)

Tricia Noel, “The Lost Cemetery of Church Hill,” The Church Hill People’s News (October 24, 2014)