By John R. Barrows
On August 29, 1900, Charles Reeves died, age 80, in Lincroft. A former slave, he lived his entire life in the Middletown area, and was laid to rest in Cedar View Cemetery. Charles Reeves was considered “one of the best known colored men in Middletown township” according to a front-page story in the Red Bank Register. This is the earliest reference in newspapers to Cedar View Cemetery in Lincroft.
Newspaper references to burials at Cedar View Cemetery in Lincroft (there are numerous other cemeteries called “Cedar View” in New Jersey and elsewhere) appeared sporadically over the decades following the passing of Charles Reeves, with a final reference in 1955.
And then somewhere along the line, Cedar View was largely forgotten. Abandoned. Left to the forces of nature for more than 50 years. Hardly anyone was even really aware of what seemed like a vacant lot behind the Saint Leo the Great complex on Newman Springs Road.
But some people remembered, and placed American flags on some of the gravestones on Memorial Day. And then others saw the flags and realized the vacant lot was not just a graveyard, but a final resting place of American military veterans. In fact, there are at least ten men interred at Cedar View Cemetery in Lincroft who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. African American men who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), and served in various campaigns in the South in the final year of the war. Some returned home, others were not so lucky.
Cedar View Cemetery in Lincroft is a two-acre 19th century burial ground that was created specifically for African American families in the Middletown-Lincroft area, including freed slaves as well as persons of color born free.
“Historical records show that on November 14, 1850, a prosperous Monmouth County farmer named John Crawford sold the land to 14 Black men,” according to a story in the Asbury Park Press. John Crawford was a former slave owner, and the parcel was divided into 24 equal lots. It is now considered to be among the few intact African American burial grounds in Monmouth County, and a major effort has been made over the past several years to restore the cemetery to its original condition as much as possible, and make it accessible to visitors.
As a burial ground for Black Americans, Cedar View Cemetery was omitted from maps of the time, even though cemeteries for White people – even tiny little graveyards with just a few headstones – can be found easily on maps of that era. Since the cemetery was not recorded on maps, the Middletown municipal authorities erroneously attributed the land as being a part of Saint Leo’s on tax records, all of which contributed to its being largely forgotten.
The Homecoming of Silas Reeves
Silas Reeves (not known to be related to Charles Reeves) was born in 1845 and died in 1910 and was laid to rest in Cedar View Cemetery. Silas left home at age 18 to join Company B of the 41st Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry, where he took perhaps the ultimate risk as a free Black man. Blacks in the Union army who were captured by the Confederate Army were typically sold into slavery or summarily executed on the spot. While White Americans had to be conscripted to fill out Union Army rosters, Black American leaders such as Frederick Douglass had to lobby President Abraham Lincoln to allow African Americans to join the Federal Army as volunteers.
Silas was mustered into the 41st Regiment on September 13, 1864, and was discharged September 30, 1865, at the expiration of his term. While enlisted, Silas and the 41st initially handled guard duty at the First Battle of Deep Bottom, Va., till October 20, 1864. The unit then moved to Fort Burnham on line north of James River, before Richmond, October 27 and took part in the Battle of Fair Oaks, October 27-28. Silas and the 41st were in the trenches outside Richmond, and on picket duty on Chaffin’s Farm, till January 1, 1865. They fought in the Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9, the Battle of Hatcher’s Run March 29-31 and the fall of Petersburg on April 2. The 41st was in the thick of things right up to the war’s end.
After the war, Silas and the 41st embarked for Texas for border guard and provost duty there until he was eventually mustered out at Brownsville, Texas, November 10, 1865. The 41st Regiment was disbanded at Philadelphia, Pa., on December 14, 1865. And then Silas Reeves came home. His brother was among those who did not return, dying in a field hospital from disease, which some believe was the source of more deaths during the Civil War than from battle wounds.
Another volunteer in the USCT, George Ashby, was the last surviving African American veteran of the Civil War when he died in 1946; he is interred at the Allentown A.M.E. church cemetery, now the Hamilton Street Cemetery.
Preservation and Awareness
Today, an organization called the Friends of Cedar View Cemetery is responsible for raising funds and awareness, and helping maintain and preserve the site. The Friends work ensures the solemnity of the hallowed ground and brings increased awareness of its historical and cultural value.
If You Go
If you want to visit Cedar View Cemetery, please note that there is no on-street parking on that stretch of Hurleys Lane, it is a tow-away zone, as are the private parking lots nearby. On-street parking is available on Westwood Drive just a bit north of the Cemetery entrance, but note that parking between white lines isn’t allowed (LFAD).
Other old cemeteries for Monmouth County African Americans include:
- African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Hamilton Street, Allentown
- Midway Green Cemetery, Reids Hill Road, Aberdeen
- Union Prospect Cemetery, Lloyd Road, Aberdeen
- St. James A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery, Johnson Ave., Matawan
- White Ridge Cemetery, 246 Wall St, Eatontown
- Mount Prospect Cemetery, 2600 Heck Ave, Neptune City
- Pine Brook Cemetery, a.k.a. Shadow Rest Memorial Park Cemetery, Ruffin Court, Tinton Falls
- St. James A.M.E. Cemetery, 232 Smithburg Rd., Manalapan (1836) (church adjacent)
- Bethel A.M.E. Church Cemetery, 63 Ilene Way, Freehold
- Schenck & Couwenhoven Cemetery, a.k.a. Pleasant Valley Historic Cemetery, Canyon Woods Court, Holmdel
- Crystal Stream Cemetery, a.k.a. A.M.E. Zion Church of Riceville Cemetery, a.k.a. Quinn A.M.E. Chapel Cemetery, 109 Prospect Avenue, Atlantic Highlands
- Enslaved Blacks Burial Ground, Tinton Falls Ironworks, Water Street & Tinton Ave., Tinton Falls
41st Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. (2022). Battle Units, The Civil War. National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database. Available: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units.htm#sort=score+desc&q=41st+Regiment+USCT.
Carino, Jerry. (2019). Forgotten Cemetery Needs a Boost. Asbury Park Press, September 9, 2019, P. 1-2.
Death of an Old Slave. (1900). Red Bank Register, Red Bank, N.J., September 5, 1900, P. 1.
Friends of Cedar View. (2022). Facebook.com. Available: https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Cedar-View-106856511578480
Kaulessar, Ricardo. (2021). Database Maps African American Cemeteries in N.J. Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., August 15, 2021, P. 3.
Walker, Lawrence E. (2019). Historic African American Churches & Historic African American Cemeteries from the 1700’s – 1800’s. Lawrence E. Walker Foundation Collection, PureHistory, Available: https://purehistory.org/historic-black-churches-historic-black-cemeteries/
Image Credit: The Homecoming of Silas Reeves, ©2022 Sharifa Patrick, commissioned by Monmouth Timeline.