Shockoe Hill Cemetery
An innovation at the time of its founding, Shockoe Hill Cemetery presented an ordered, secular burial ground operated by the city. Land for the site was purchased in 1799, but the city did not open the burial ground until around 1822, the year of its first interment. Located on the north side of town, between 2nd and 4th Streets, it anchored a neighborhood then being populated by the newly established Barton Heights Cemeteries, Hebrew Cemetery, a municipal burying ground for free blacks and slaves, and a potter’s field for poor whites. The city’s poor house was located across the street from the cemetery grounds.
Initially called the New Burying Ground, Shockoe Hill Cemetery spread over four acres enclosed by a brick wall. City surveyor Richard Young employed a grid layout for its design, with decorative plantings throughout the grounds. White Richmonders could buy plots or sections of plots for their families (it was closed to blacks). The city expanded the cemetery twice in the mid-nineteenth century until it reached its present size of just over twelve acres.
In 1852, a letter from a traveler published in the Southern Literary Messenger noted that “the regular walks, the exact division, the ornamental trees, and the handsome monuments, render this a place of some beauty.” In turn, one local editor advocated for the opening of a public park in the thriving neighborhood, “to arrest the tide which now flows into the Shockoe Hill Burying Ground” purely for pleasure.
During the Civil War, the city leased the poor house to the Confederate government for use as General Hospital Number 1. Confederate soldiers and Union prisoners of war received burial around the cemetery grounds. After the war, the federal government removed the Union burials to Richmond National Cemetery.
Shockoe Hill Cemetery maintained its popularity until the early twentieth century, when it neared capacity and faced increasing competition. In 1904, articles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch declared that the grounds were “seldom visited” and “falling into pitiful decay.” Vandalism and decay continued after highway construction divided the neighborhood from the center of town in the 1950s. Although the cemetery has always been owned and maintained by the city, in 2006, a nonprofit group formed – The Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery – to help care for the site and promote its history.
Podcast for Peter Francisco (heroic soldier in the Revolutionary War), 1760-1831, by Molly McCoig and Brandon Seal:
Podcast for Ann “Nannie” Caskie (overseas traveler and angel’s friend), 1831-1893, Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Podcast by Aidan Heffron and Chloe Kindley:
For more information, see:
Alice Bohmer Rudd, Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia: Register of Interments, April 10, 1822 – December 31, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: A. Böhmer Rudd, 1960).
Alyson L. Taylor-White, Shockoe Hill Cemetery: A Richmond Landmark History (History Press, 2017)
Melissa Scott Sinclair, “That Hidden Place” Richmond Magazine (August 5, 2018): http://richmondmagazine.com/news/sunday-story/that-hidden-place/
Harry Kollatz, Jr., “Some Are Dead, Some Are Living.” Richmond Magazine (July 2010): http://www.richmondmagazine.com/articles/some-are-dead-some-are-living-07-12-2010.html
Katheryn L. Whittington, “NRHP Report on Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia,” 1995. Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Interview with Jeffry Burden, president of Friends of Shockoe HIll Cemetery, HistoryReplaysToday podcast, February 2014
Jeffry Burden, The Soldiers of Shockoe Hill