Margaret Lane Cemetery

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Margaret Lane Cemetery

Only three gravestones remain – encased in brick – to mark the burials of an estimated 300 Black people at the Margaret Lane Cemetery in Hillsborough.

The cemetery, sometimes called the Old Slave Cemetery, first appeared in written records in 1885. Peter Brown Ruffin bought the land in 1854 to bury people enslaved by him and his neighbor, Cadwalder Jones. Some graves may even be older, and the cemetery continued as a burial site for Black people until 1931.

Margaret Lane Cemetery is located in a part of town that was not safe for Black people during and after Jim Crow. Black families were unable to visit or maintain gravesites. Gravestones were destroyed or removed. ( Stones were stolen from the cemetery and used in foundations of surrounding houses).

In the 1980s, Hillsborough created the first of several committees to restore the cemetery. Archeological work in 2006 identified about 170 grave sites. Recent restoration efforts include trees, a memorial plaque, and a brick monument.

Oak trees befit a Black cemetery, particularly one that has graves of enslaved people, said Beverly Scarlett, a retired District Court Judge and descendent of at least one known person buried at the cemetery.

While loved ones might not be able to provide an expensive headstone, they sought to lay their relatives to rest where there was an oak tree. The shady tree represented rest, peace, and solace from the hot fields where they had toiled.

“So for a lot of black burial spaces, particularly old slave cemeteries, you will find these massive old oak trees. The significance of an oak tree is that there is rest, peace and shade. Because when you’re in that heat, working all day, you go to the shade to get your rest. And so slaves would be interred in areas where there was shade, indicating here is my resting place.”
Beverly Scarlett

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