Grave Coordinates: (37.4148376, -79.1556301)
Martha Edley was born enslaved in Amelia County, Virginia, in 1826. At age 24 she was sold to David Edley Spence, a lawyer, judge, and bank president who resided with his wife, Sarah, at 707 Church Street in Lynchburg. Martha’s role was to be a personal maid for Sarah and a nurse for Spences’ infant daughter, Mary. Martha married George Edley who was enslaved by David Rittenhouse Edley, a local lawyer, and plantation owner. George and Martha had and buried three children. Because their lives were relatively stable, they knew where their children were buried, a privilege not afforded many enslaved people of that era. George died on October 8, 1862, at age 35 and is buried in this cemetery near his three children. Martha never remarried and had no other children.
Early in the Civil War, socially prominent Lynchburg women formed the Ladies Relief Society to provide uniforms and bandages to the war effort. As the war’s casualties mounted and Lynchburg became a major hospital center, Lucy Mina Otey, assisted by Sarah Spence and other women, opened the Ladies Relief Hospital in the Union Hotel on Main Street. This well-run hospital, the first established and run by women, had mortality rates much lower than others in the city and received many of the direst cases. Many of Lynchburg’s enslaved and free Black residents provided the labor necessary to operate the wartime hospitals here. Martha was pressed into service as a nurse at the Ladies Relief Hospital.
Even as she progressed through slavery, emancipation and freedom, Martha continued to serve three generations of the Spence family. After the death of David (1891) and Sarah (1908), Martha worked for their daughter, Mary Spence Gish and her husband, Robert, who continued to occupy the Spence home on Church Street. The Gish children fondly recalled her as “Aunt Martha” and as a “witty and loyal member of the family.” Upon her death, the local newspaper published an obituary, entitled “Colored Woman Buried,” at the time an uncommon tribute to a Black person. Martha’s headstone features a quote from Letter to the Ephesians: “With goodwill doing service, as to the Lord.”
Gish, Mary S., Family History (“A second chapter of family history”), December 1935. at JML
Gish, Elizabeth, Mistress and maid: Two women of the Confederacy, for Women of the Confederacy, (Ms. 43 [wars] Index 1218 [Stories of Civil War])
Delaney, Ted, Martha Spence Edley, News & Advance 2/20/2008.
Obituary, Colored Woman Buried, The (Lynchburg, Va.) News, 4/1/1920.