On Veterans Day, Civil War-era African American cemetery in Hampton appears to be left behind

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Every day, veterans of the armed forces deserve recognition and our thanks. It’s especially important on Veterans Day.

Their sacrifice should never be forgotten — but one African American cemetery dating back to the Civil War has the appearance of being left behind.

“Discarded, hurt, rejected, and sad,” said Cornell Burke, who visited Thornton Cemetery with his mother, author and historian Veronica Davis.

Davis has made it her life’s mission to remember cemeteries like Thorton Cemetery, which is at Mercury Boulevard and Woodland Road.  

Davis said she has found the cemetery holds the remains of African American Union soldiers who were in Hampton fighting the Confederate forces.

So, it’s so sad to see the state of Thornton cemetery. It defies the respect the people buried here deserve.  

It’s tough to walk through the cemetery. While walking, 10 On Your Side actually fell into a grave that had collapsed. Some stones are faded by over 140 years of sun, lack of care and indifference. 

The mother and son are moved by what they see.

“It makes me feel real hurt,” said Burke.    

“It makes you want to regurgitate,” Davis added. 

The Hampton cemetery was owned by William Thornton whose house was where the 7-Eleven sign now stands on Mercury Boulevard. Yes, that area was once a farm owned by Thornton, who was a former slave. He founded Zion Baptist Church in 1863.    

“This particular land is what he purchased for soldiers and their families, their children who were dying during reconstruction,” Davis said. 

In 2016, WAVY News reported how volunteers had cleared the neglected land. 

We found city records showing there’s no property owner because there are no surviving Thornton family members. 

So, responsibility falls on no one — except volunteers who will hopefully come forward.  

“I thought I had passed the torch to two men take to make sure they keep I up, keep it trimmed.  I guess they had something else going on in their lives,” Davis added. 

They are going on with their lives — but who’s going to step up to remember the lives of those no longer with us, and their graves that are situated among the trees, limbs, and thick brush?

“We need them to come back and volunteer time on these hallowed grounds where our nation’s cherished possession, our African American soldiers, are buried.” 

If you would like to help or volunteer or if you have ideas on how to restore the Thornton Cemetery, email Veronica Davis.

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