Shockoe Hill African Burial Ground, Richmond, VA



United States

Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground


In 1816, the city of Richmond opened a public burial ground on Shockoe Hill at the corner of Fifth and Marshall Streets, east of what would soon become Hebrew Cemetery. The burial ground, divided as “one acre for the free people of colour, and one for the slaves in the City,” replaced an earlier burial ground in nearby Shockoe Bottom. At its peak, more than 22,000 people were interred at Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, likely making it the largest burying ground for free and enslaved people of color in the United States. In 1879 the city redirected interments to the segregated Oakwood Cemetery and closed the overcrowded Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, a series of construction and infrastructure projects dramatically altered the landscape’s topography and desecrated the burial ground. In the twentieth century, the burial ground acreage was divided, with some areas of the north and south ends becoming part of the Hebrew Cemetery, and other parcels sold into private hands. Today the cultural landscape is dominated by surrounding industrial sites and public housing developments along with intrusive transportation infrastructure. An abandoned gas station sits atop a slope in the hill overlooking Interstate 64, which passes across the eastern side of the burial ground site. A railroad track laid in 1900 crosses the area at the north and east base of Shockoe Hill.  Of the original burial grounds—comprising the Hebrew Cemetery, Shockoe Hill Cemetery, and the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground—only the first two are presently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In the twenty-first century, research conducted by a descendant of enslaved persons buried at Shockoe Hill was used to develop a Preliminary Information Form for the Shockoe Hill Burying Ground Historic District in 2020. The report’s unanimous approval granted the site eligibility for listing in the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places. In 2021, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the creation of a historic marker to be placed at the site of the burial ground at 5th and Hospital Streets, and in 2022 the Shockoe Hill Burying Ground Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

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