LOWER MAKEFIELD >> In the quiet solitude of the Slate Hill Cemetery, residents and community leaders gathered on Sept. 25 to rededicate six Civil War tombstones, two that had faded with time and four that were stolen, destroyed or never placed.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6393 Commander Russ Davidson officiated at a ceremony held to unveil the new stones and to honor each veteran for their contribution and sacrifice during the Civil War, America’s deadliest conflict with close to 500,000 killed.
The rededication culminated years of research and work by the Lower Makefield Historic Commission, which spearheaded the replacement of the stones through the U.S. Veterans Administration. The VA provides free replacement tombstones for any US veteran with a worn, missing or dilapidated grave marker.
“Today we gather to recognize six Civil War veterans,” said Davidson, standing amidst a field of worn gravestones, all representing a life lived in the formation of the community. “We might consider how great a conflict they fought and how divided and yet unified their individual and collective purposes stood. In a letter to Horace Greeley in 1862 President Lincoln wrote, ‘My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union.’ Thankfully for us, President Lincoln’s objective was met.”
Following an opening prayer by VFW Adj. Chaplain Al Winger, the ceremony continued with the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by Amber Guidotti.
To mark the occasion, U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick presented an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to the Commission in honor of the six Civil War veterans.
“It’s good to see so many people here today to honor and never forget,” said Fitzpatrick. “There have been so many people who have done the unthinkable. They made the conscious decision to put their physical health on the line, all in the name of serving a cause bigger than themselves. And many made the ultimate sacrifice. We’re here today to honor six of those people,” he said.
“Of the 20 Civil War soldiers buried here many were farmers, some were merchants, some were quarry workers, many were African Americans who fought alongside soldiers in the Union Army to free our country and to stand by the concept and principle of liberty and justice for all,” said Fitzpatrick.
State Senator Steve Santarsiero spoke about the Civil War and its goal of doing away with America’s greatest sin - slavery - and the example these men set for future generations to come.
“We are here not only to rededicate the graves of brave men who fought in the Civil War and made the rebirth of freedom possible, but also to make a point that the work of freedom, that the work of providing rights to all people in this country is work that every generation is called upon to fulfill.
“Every generation,” he continued, “is called upon to stand up whether it’s on the field of battle in fighting our enemies to preserve our liberty, our freedom and our country, or whether it’s standing up here at home for those rights we hold dear when we see they are under threat.
“Everyone of us has that obligation,” continued Santarsiero. “Just as these men, who are buried in this scared place and whom we are honoring today, stepped forward to preserve the Union, abolish slavery and to set our country on a new course, we have an obligation to continue to fight for and stand up for those ideals that are enshrined in our Constitution,” he said.
“The best way to honor these men is to rededicate ourselves to making sure that the proposition that all of us are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, is something that does not perish, that does not fade from our country and that forever will be held as a core of who we are as Americans,” he said.
State Rep. Perry Warren also addressed the gathering, thanking the veterans for organizing the ceremony and the commission for its work in securing the new stones.
Warren recognized the importance and longevity of the Slate Hill Cemetery, which was established in 1690 and is now well into its fourth century of existence.
“This treasure,” he said, located on one the the area’s main thoroughfares, “is a great reminder to reflect upon what it means to our history, to our society and the growth of our nation.”
Lower Makefield Supervisor Dan Grenier spoke with great pride about another Civil War veteran - Joshua Chamberlain - from his home state of Maine - who heroically fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, presided over the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox and eventually became president of Bowdoin College and then Governor of Maine.
“That’s who we learned about growing up,” he said. “What we don’t learn about are the privates, the corporals, the sergeants, the enlisted folks that never get statues or their names in the history books. Their histories aren’t remembered.
“Most of the folks who are buried here come from the farms, the fields, the factories of small towns and cities. We have to remember every day to not only honor those who are generals and presidents, but the folks who do the grunt work. And for the folks who do the every day work, let’s never forget to honor them.”
The Reverend Charles Arnold conducted the official rededication ceremony by sharing several scripture passages and reading aloud the names of the deceased followed by TAPS played by Joshua Johnson.
“We are born. And then we die,” said Arnold. “It is what you do between your birth and your death that brings meaning to your life. Serving God, serving your family and serving one another. There’s nothing more important.”
Arnold then led a prayer, thanking God for each of the veterans being recognized.
“I am so excited to mention these names because they are part of our history and we thank you for each one,” he prayed.
Local Scouts were given the honor of unveiling the new granite white markers, standing in stark contrast to the weather-beaten stones inside the four-century-old hallowed burying grounds.
The stones bear the names of two veterans whose stones were faded by the passage of time: 1st Lt. Moses Harvey Subers and Private Samuel Harman.
- 1st Lt. Moses Harvey Subers, 20th Regiment PA Cavalry, Company L, is the only Civil War soldier buried at Slate Hill who died of wounds received in battle. He enlisted July 4, 1863 at the age of 30 as a private. He was promoted to lieutenant by July 31, but died of wounds Oct. 3, 1863 at a hospital in Philadelphia.
- Private Samuel Harman, United States Colored Troops (USCT), 24th Regiment PA Volunteers, enlisted Feb. 1865 at age 19 (probably 16) and was listed as a drummer. He was honorably discharged in October 1865. He married, had children and died falling from a trolley in front of Slate Hill Cemetery as he returned from work in Trenton in July 1902.
The other four Veterans are receiving stones because their previous stones were stolen, destroyed or were never issued. The Commission discovered the soldiers were buried in the cemetery from references to the soldiers’ Civil War burials found in old newspapers, and by researching a 1926 map of the cemetery.
New headstones now mark the graves of:
- Private Lewis Frame (USCT), 25th Regiment, Company G. He enlisted in Feb. 1964 at age 26 and was listed as a bugler and cook. He was honorably discharged and died in 1908 at the age of 70.
- 1st Sgt. William Brogden (USCT), 32nd Regiment PA Volunteers, Company H. He enlisted in Feb. 1864 at the age of 36 and was promoted to sergeant after horrific fighting at Petersburg. He was honorably discharged in August 1865. He became a local minister and died in 1899.
- Private George Worthington, PA 174th Regiment, Company G. He was drafted in November 1862. His unit was sent to build camps in South Carolina. He was honorably discharged in 1863 and died in 1903.
- Private John S. Vansant, 11th PA Volunteers, Company A. He enlisted in Sept. 1861 at the age of 21 as a replacement soldier in a decimated unit. Wounded four times, he was placed in the Invalid Reserve to guard prisoners. He was honorably discharged on July 7, 1865. He married, had a son and died in 1889 at age 60.
Scouts and other volunteers assisted with the placement of the actual stones earlier this year.
Upon researching and confirming the service records of the six soldiers, township historians have found that 20 Civil War soldiers are buried at Slate Hill, nine of whom were men who served in the United States Colored Troops, regiments comprised primarily of African American soldiers.
After the war, they returned to work on Lower Makefield farms and are now resting in what was called the segregated or public section of the graveyard.
The 11 other soldiers were white farmers, merchants and hired hands who worked in the quarries, on the Delaware Canal or at local farms. One was killed by a sniper in battle.
The Falls Friends Meeting donated their two sections in the cemetery, along with the third section and the original deeds, to Lower Makefield in 1992 as part of the township’s Tri-Centennial Celebration. The cemetery was listed on the National Register later that year and is now under the care of the township’s Historical Commission.
The Commission continues to research those buried in the cemetery and maintains the cemetery’s walls and grounds with the help of Public Works, youth groups, Veterans organizations, and clubs and organizations, such as the Martha Washington Garden Club and Comcast Cares.
Currently they are planning an evening of Civil War-themed Ghost Tours in 2021. Proceeds from the tours and donations will gladly be accepted to re-point walls, lift stones, and pay for a State Historical Highway Marker, if accepted as part of next year’s PHMC (Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission) program.
About Slate Hill
The Slate Hill Cemetery is possibly the oldest burying grounds in Bucks County. It was established in 1690 and its earliest marked gravestone is dated 1698.
There are a number of unmarked graves, for which dates are unknown. These unmarked graves are believed to be the final resting-places of a number of the early settlers in Lower Makefield.
The cemetery was created in three sections: a plot granted by Thomas Janney in 1690; a section granted by Abel Janney in 1721 immediately to the northwest along the Yardley-Morrisville Road; and the last part granted by Joshua Anderson in 1788 further to the northwest along the Yardley-Morrisville Road.
Most of the graves are 18th century and represent the early Quaker settlers in the area; the Friends section contains 487 graves, of which 185 are marked. Most of these burials pre-date 1800, according to a Federal Works Project Administration survey sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission in 1941.
The early gravestones in this cemetery are significant examples of early Bucks County gravestones. Three types of markers are found in the Friends section. Over 80 percent are brownstones. Another approximately two dozen markers are wood painted white or wire wickets.
The Friends section has the only 17th-century gravestone (dated 1698) in Bucks County. The cemetery also contains the graves of six free African Americans who served in the Northern Army during the Civil War. The dates of burials in the cemetery date from 1698 to 1918, the last of whom is Martha E. White.
The Slate Hill Cemetery is located at Yardley-Morrisville Rd. at Mahlon Dr. in Lower Makefield. It is open to the public.