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City to examine possible slave graves at Pen Park

The Charlottesville City Council has reallocated $9,319 to fund an examination at a family cemetery at a city park.

The cemetery is about 800 feet southeast of the clubhouse at the Meadowcreek Golf Course. The course is part of the city-owned 280-acre Pen Park.

At least 30 people are buried in the cemetery, which has three sections. Each section is home to a family that owned the property. The grave of Dr. George Gilmer, Thomas Jefferson’s friend and personal physician, is the oldest at the property, with his burial occurring in 1795.

The Gilmers occupied the property from 1786 to 1812; their holdings stretched across 4,000 acres and included land worked by enslaved people, according to an 1897 book about the family. The Cravens owned the land from 1819 to the mid-1800s and the Hotopps lived on a smaller portion of the property from 1866 to the early 1900s.

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

City staff wasn’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.

A group of archaeologists visited the site and noticed six to eight depressions to be studied.

The city plans to use ground-penetrating radar to examine the area and determine if anything is in the depressions.

Jeff Werner, the city’s preservation planner, stressed in the staff report that the study would only confirm if human remains exist. It would not remove them or determine their identity or race.

If graves are discovered, the city plans to take measures to ensure they are not disturbed.

The staff report cites two previous city studies that indicate the possibility of slaves being buried on the site. The studies indicate it was a common practice to bury slaves outside of the boundaries of the family cemetery.

Werner wasn’t sure when the work would start, but estimated it would only take a few days.


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