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City Council to receive report on possible slave graves at Pen Park

An archeological firm has identified 43 possible unmarked graves near a family cemetery in a Charlottesville park and the City Council will start considering how to protect the area.

The council will receive an update on a survey of the cemetery at the Meadowcreek Golf Course during its meeting on Monday.

The cemetery is about 800 feet southeast of the clubhouse of the golf course, which is part of the city-owned 280-acre Pen Park.

In December 2019, the council allocated $9,319 to fund an examination of the cemetery.

The city hired Rivanna Archeological Services to conduct the survey in July. Radar indicated the 43 likely unmarked and unrecorded graves outside the walls of the three family plots.

The park is part of land that was originally a 400-acre tract first owned by Charles Lynch in 1733, according to the archaeological report.

Researchers didn’t find a source indicating when the cemetery was established and expanded. The first reference to it was in an 1812 record.

Online sources identified at least 37 individuals, members of the Gilmer, Craven and Hotopp families buried within the Pen Park cemetery. Each of the families have distinct sections of the cemetery.

Lynch sold the land and the adjacent 245 acres to Robert Adams in 1748. Adams sold it to John Harvie in 1773. Although the three men aren’t believed to have lived on the property, records indicate it started being cleared and cultivated in the mid-to-late 1700s.

Dr. George Gilmer, who was Thomas Jefferson’s physician, purchased the property from Harvie in 1786 and soon after settled there. He apparently named the land Pen Park after the name of the Bristol, England, estate of a family friend.

Gilmer’s grave is the oldest at the property, with his burial occurring in 1795.

Albemarle County tax records indicate that Gilmer was charged taxes on 50 enslaved people in 1787. Of those people, 18 were over the age of 16 and 32 were younger than 16. He was charged taxes on 27 enslaved people in 1790 and 34 people in 1795. After his death, a court divided 57 enslaved people among his children.

Richard Sampson bought the property in 1812 and sold it to the Craven family in 1819. The 1820 Census listed Craven as owning 44 enslaved people. He was taxed for 37 enslaved people in 1830 and the 1840 Census noted 53 enslaved people.

The park changed hands several times after Craven died in 1845 before the Hotopp brothers purchased it. Wilhelm and Heinrich Hotopp were immigrants from Germany who acquired the land in 1869.

The family ran a vineyard on the property and records indicate African Americans were workers and servants on the land.

When the family sold the land in 1904, the deed did not include the graveyard. The land was divided and sold off over the years before it was sold to the city in 1971.

According to a staff report, a member of the Gilmer family contacted the city with concerns about conditions at the cemetery.

City staff weren’t familiar with the site and searched it, finding two reports that suggested the possibility of burials of enslaved people outside of the family plots.

The majority of the unmarked plots are near the Gilmer and Craven sections of the cemetery. The staff report indicates the families enslaved people and evidence suggests those people are likely in the unmarked graves.

There are four apparent graves outside of the Hotopp section of the cemetery, possibly representing enslaved people or people who did not live on the property.

Previous city studies indicate it was a common practice to bury slaves outside of the boundaries of the family cemetery.

Determining the exact number and location of the graves would require physically disturbing the grounds. City staff recommended protecting the area and said further investigation wasn’t necessary.

The Parks and Recreation Department has started making sure golf carts are not driven in the area. City staff plans to formally record the location of the graves to make sure they are not disturbed by any future projects.

The city plans to seek information about who may be buried in the unmarked graves by coordinating with several historical groups in the area.

The staff report asks the council to consider further examination of the area at some point and determine a way to memorialize the site.

The City Council meets Monday at 6:30 p.m., following a closed session that starts at 5 p.m. To register to participate, visit


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