Digging into the past is never an easy task. While researching Riverside Cemetery in Defiance for our annual walking history tour, I came across a unique but mostly forgotten cemetery in rural Defiance County. A local historian mentioned there was a “colored” cemetery located in Highland Township, near Ayersville. The Tombstone Inscription Records of Highland Township note that a Worthington Cemetery exists but is abandoned. There are two sections of land in the 1876 Map of Highland Township that are listed as being owned by A. Worthington. This land owned by A. Worthington was the location of the cemetery. Now, to research this person, the land they owned, and how a cemetery of this importance had come to be neglected after it was no longer in use.
I looked up the cemetery using findagrave.com, a website created to house information on burial sites and cemeteries. The site’s content is gathered and entered by the public. This can be family members, historians, or anyone else who wants to provide easily accessible information on interments. I was able to determine that the cemetery did exist, its approximate location, and that the owner of the land was Archibald Worthington of Highland Township. There were only a few names listed as being known interments, one of which was Archibald’s. That will come into question later. The information on the cemetery is as follows:
Taking the Next Step…
This is a good deal of information on the cemetery. It stands to reason that Archibald is buried in the cemetery he founded. I wanted to find out who entered this information into the site. The date listed is May 14, 2019. Assuming this is current information is sometimes misleading. According to this, there are a dozen or so stones still above ground, but we know that this land has been farmed over, and no stones are above ground today. I needed to determine what time period saw stones still visible above the ground. Were there names on them that could still be read at that time to identify the three names listed as interments? This cemetery stopped being used in the late 1890s, so a lot of time, weather, and farming had occurred since it was physically identifiable as a cemetery.
The Defiance County Genealogical Society has a website the public can use to access information. I used this site and found that there had been research done on the cemetery. This information was gathered by the Works Project Administration in 1936. The W.P.A. was formed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in reaction to the Great Depression as a means of employing Americans and stimulating the economy. Established in 1935, one of the projects of the W.P.A. was to conduct Historical Records Surveys, one of which included finding information on cemeteries and the graves of veterans. The W.P.A. disbanded in 1943, but the historical information provided on the surveys continues to be of interest and is, thankfully, preserved. During this survey, some stones were still above ground. This was 1936; currently there is no trace of the cemetery above ground. This was the source of information in findagrave.com.
Reaching out to the Community
The next step was to research Archibald Worthington himself. There were several sources that included his name. Ancestry.com yielded a few pieces of information. The first is a Civil War Draft Registration. This lists him as registering at the age of 44 and his occupation as a farmer. He was born in Virginia in 1818. Archibald was a Civil War veteran, and confirmation of this was also found on the Ohio Genealogical Society Database search. He served in the Ohio Infantry (National Guard) Company G, 163rd Regiment as a private. He is also found in the Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio on the side of the Union. He should have a veteran’s grave marker. I was now hoping this research might result in the cemetery, as well as Archibald’s grave, being marked properly.
I contacted Tanya Brunner at the Defiance Veteran’s Office regarding a marker for Archibald. She had not heard of this cemetery but did say that a Civil War marker is free with the proper documentation. She also offered the services of the Veteran’s Office in obtaining a marker. Their office has done tremendous work honoring veterans in cemeteries in the area.
The article on Archibald on findagrave.com was also informative. He was born in 1818 in Virginia and died in 1890 in Highland Township, according to the person who shared the information on the site. The personal information on Archibald was also detailed. It reads:
“He was referred to by locals as ‘Old Darkey Worthington.’ At one time he was relatively wealthy, the owner of ~160 acres in Defiance County. Founder of Worthington Cemetery. Mr. Worthington, a black man himself, donated and platted the land for interment of all local people of color. Burials began prior to the Civil War around 1855. His wife’s name was Elizabeth, and their children were Henry Worthington, Matilda (Worthington) Mumford and James Worthington.”
Given this specific information, we know that the cemetery was well known at the time and served a purpose. This was and still is the only such cemetery in Defiance County.
I spoke with a local member of the Defiance Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as well as a member of the Defiance County Genealogical Society. Bernie Heilshorn was very interested in the project and volunteered to help with research. The DAR was able to have the cemetery of the Defiance County Home preserved and marked. Her help was very much welcomed.
I got word there was a local farmer who would know of the cemetery. When phoned, he knew exactly what I was speaking of. He recalled it being general knowledge that there was a “colored” cemetery off Bowman Road. He hadn’t seen the stones standing in place but did remember that they had been moved along a fence row because the farmers were tired of farming around them. Later, he was called over to a home that was being built near the cemetery location, and there were gravestones laid out in a ditch. At the time, he was able to read a few names on the stones and wrote them down. He also said he contacted the local sheriff’s office to let them know in case they wanted to preserve the stones. He believes that they were probably used in fillers for driveways. This was a common practice. He said many of the families that owned land around the cemetery have since sold the land and moved to the Lima, Ohio area. He visited a few churches in Lima with the names in case there were still family members in the area. He has not heard from any of the churches. He was agreeable to coming to the library and letting us record an interview with him regarding his recollections of the cemetery. He just asked that we respect his privacy and not use his name. He has been unable to locate the list of names that he transcribed from the stones in the ditch. Click here to listen to an audio recording of the interview.
Myself and my supervisor went to the field where the cemetery is located and walked much of it to see if we could find any indication of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything of note while we were walking. I have contacted Ayersville Water and Sewer and have, to this point, only spoken with the office personnel. They did not have any knowledge of the cemetery. They took the information to be presented to their Board of Trustees at the next meeting. Our Director, Cara Potter, has also phoned the company so that we might obtain permission to have the area surveyed and the cemetery plotted out so that it can be preserved and marked. We are waiting to hear back.
Interestingly, we were made aware that Ayersville Water & Sewer was planning a lagoon project on this land. A local farmer approached them to let them know that they couldn’t dig the field because of the cemetery. A company was brought in for the project, Weller and Associates, to conduct an archaeological survey. They found a fragment of a headstone while doing a walkover for the survey. From multiple tillings of a raised sandy area in the field where the fragment was found, it was determined that it was the location of the cemetery. The lagoon project was unable to move forward at that point. They were able to provide an aerial photo with the location circled.
We now have a very good idea of the cemetery’s precise location. Any trace of the stones is probably all but gone. Bernie Heilshorn has developed a list of names of people who were most likely buried there, according to land ownership at the time. She has also found information on Archibald selling some of his land in Highland Township and giving some to family members in the early 1890s. She also came across his name as living in Wilmington, Ohio with his second wife, Mary. There is record of an Archebald Worthington being buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington, date of birth 8/23/1818 and date of death 1/18/1895. It has him listed in Section 2, charity.
We have conflicting information now as to where he is buried. If he is buried in Wilmington, why in a charity grave? What happened to the money he received when he sold his Highland Township land? We haven’t answered all the questions, but our goal is to have the Worthington Cemetery land preserved and marked, and Archibald honored with a Civil War grave marker. Archibald’s story is an important part of our local history. Sometimes digging is the only way to shine light on what has been lost to the years.