Burials of Enslaved Persons
From the founding of the cemetery in 1806 to Emancipation in Virginia in April 1865, nearly all of the city’s enslaved population was buried here. Some of these individuals’ graves were simply marked with a ﬁeld stone or wooden marker, while others may have never had a marker at all. In some instances, a more elaborate stone was procured either with funds left by the deceased or by the pooling of funds of family and friends. In rare cases, the enslaver purchased a stone for the deceased.
Today, most of the enslaved individuals’ graves are unmarked and invisible. However, OCC is fortunate to still have approximately 50 standing legible stones bearing the names of enslaved people. The area directly in front of you contains several such stones.
Half of the grave markers for enslaved individuals were carved by William Henry Tayloe (or Taylor) between 1840 and 1865. He carved another 20 or more stones for local free people of color buried here. Tayloe was born enslaved in Amherst County in 1815, just across the James River. He was the son of Salley, a slave of Sally Taylor, a wealthy woman who ran a well-known tavern at the intersection of what are now Rocky Hill Road and Lynch’s Ferry Road in Madison Heights. Sally Taylor owned several slaves and emancipated them individually over time in the two decades prior to the Civil War. It is not known when William Henry Tayloe was freed, though Sally Taylor’s will directed that he be emancipated upon her death, which occurred in 1862. William Henry married sometime between 1853 and 1860. He changed his name to Jefferson around 1853, but it is not clear whether the change was prompted by his emancipation, marriage, the death of his mother in 1853, or something else. He died in 1885.
Taylor’s headstones were carved from schist or gneiss quarried in Amherst County along the James River. They were of characteristic shape and workmanship, featuring a wide variety of designs that included fruits, flowers, geometric shapes, and even coffins. They were signed “H. Tayloe” or, after 1853, “W.H. Jefferson.”
Reminiscences Of Tom Jefferson, The (Lynchburg, Va.) News, Sept. 13, 1936
Delaney, Ted, Sally Taylor (ca. 1775–1862) & William Henry Jefferson (ca. 1815–ca. 1900): Biographical sketches, Nov. 7, 1999, on file at the Old City Cemetery.
Crews, WC, Sally Taylor’s Tavern, Works Progress Administration of Virginia Historical Inventory, Oct. 30, 1936.