African Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery
| Click on image titles for larger views. || |
The first recorded owner of the Branchester Tract (main campus of Jacksonville University) is listed as Francis Richard, 1816. In 1847 the recorded owner was Anna Madegigne Jai, the African wife of plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley. The Kingsley's were slave owners who held the property for two years. It is assumed the plot of ground was used for the burial of their slaves. In 1873, one acre of land was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Church for continued use as a cemetery. Because slaves, and later freemen and women, were interred there no official records were kept. For the most part the black population could not afford headstones, so simple wooden crosses were used and, over time, rotted away. The land passed into the hands of the Benniwies family, and the cemetery was the burial site for members of their family beginning in 1883. In 1991 a head stone was found for Corporal Willie Johnson, but the marker has since disappeared. Records show that Corporal Johnson was in Company F of the 33rd U. S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War. In 1994, Mr. Daniel Schafer, University of North Florida historian, stated that the 33rd was the first black regiment officially mustered into Union Service. The troop was based in Jacksonville, and after the war Corporal Johnson left the military to become a farmer in the Chaseville area. This area was a black community just north of what is now Jacksonville University. The Chaseville Road Baptist Church, which burned to the ground in 1920, was the last owner of the cemetery prior to the area becoming the university campus. The last known individual buried at the site was Nathaniel S. Brannen, a two year old child buried in 1922.
In 1950 Ms. Lucy Ames Edwards, a private citizen, did research work on cemeteries in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Historical Society is the repository of her notes, which reflect the burial of members of the Benniwies family from 1883 to 1918. A marker erected by the Arlington Rotary Club states that the cemetery began in 1860. The university will continue with the historical research on this plot of ground and take necessary steps to protect and preserve the area, as it is the best remaining resource as evidence of the black community once living here.
Bald, Ralph D. 4 Decades of Growth. Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville University Office of Public Relations, 1975.
Bald, Ralph D., Jr. A History of Jacksonville University, The First Twenty-Five Years, 1934-1959. Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville University, 1959.
Hallam, George. Our Place in the Sun, A History of Jacksonville University. Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville University, 1988.
"History of Jacksonville University. Descriptions of the University--Photographs." [n.d.] Carl S. Swisher Library, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL.
Middleton, Bill. "McGully's Gulch: Where It Began." Florida-Times Union, October 23, 1951.