The vines have covered my roots.
In a way.
In Philadelphia for meetings of the Baptist World Alliance and North American Baptist Fellowship last week, I finally had an opportunity to go in search of my first American ancestor’s headstone.
In November of 1682, at the age of 43, Edmund Cartledge of Riddings Parish in Derbyshire, England, married Mary Need of Nottinghamshire. Soon thereafter, they joined William Penn in his religious liberty project and helped him settle the city of Philadelphia. On the list of First Purchasers in the Pennsylvania Archives, Edmund Cartledge is the third name. He was entitled to choose a 250-acre plot after arriving in Pennsylvania, and he chose a spot a few miles east of town, in a settlement called Darby. Later, he bought more.
“Edmund” was already a long-running family name. When he and Mary had children, they named them John, Mary, and Edmund (2). Edmund died in 1703, a few days after composing his last will and testament, which included this paragraph as the first order: “First, I Commend my Souell into the hands of Almighty God my maker and Redeemer: And my Body to be buryed in Such Decent place and manner as to my Loveing wife, Relations, and ffriends Shall Seem meet and Convenient” (original spelling).
What seemed “meet and convenient” to his family was to plant Edmund in the Darby Friends Burial Ground, on a shaded hill overlooking Darby, and to honor him with a nice headstone and footstone made of Pennsylvania Bluestone, a type of layered sandstone found in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The trouble was, Edmund was a Quaker, and the Quakers generally frowned on “monuments to the dead,” considering them to be “vainglorious.” Later on, the Quaker displeasure with such monuments turned into a rule, and for much of the 1700s, Quakers were not allowed to erect any sort of marker. At some point, Edmund’s decorative headstone and footstone were sunk from sight so as not to violate the prohibition.
More than a hundred years later, in 1862, a man digging a grave uncovered Edmund’s grave markers, and they were set into a wall near the bottom of the cemetery.
While doing research for a paper on Samuel Cartledge, an early Baptist pastor in Georgia and South Carolina, I had read that his headstone had been set into a wall “around the cemetery,” but I had never seen it.
A free morning in Philadelphia offered a long-awaited chance for Susan and me to go in search of the stone. It turned into quite a treasure hunt. We went first to the Friends Cemetery in Upper Darby (not knowing there was a difference), where the keeper advised us to head a few miles south to the Friends Burial Ground in just plain Darby. We found an old Friends Meeting House (founded 1682, built 1805) first, but the cemetery was a couple of blocks away.
The burial ground is located on a hill beside a housing project in what is now a rather run-down neighborhood and contains lots of stones, but all of them lying low to the ground and containing only names and dates. We scrambled through snow and scrub looking for remnants of a wall around the cemetery, to no avail. The only wall we could find was at the bottom of the hill, a good distance from any of the graves, and it was obviously old but covered with plaster.
Finally, we noticed a short abutment on the end of the wall to the right of the gate, maybe 10-12 feet long, fronted by a chain link fence and covered with ivy. We decided to give it a look, and voila! Set into the wall, completely hidden by the ivy, was Edmund’s headstone and footstone. The headstone was broken and a slice was missing from the middle, but when we pulled the vines back we could make out, clearly enough, “For the memory of Ed-und Cartl–ge,” along with what remained of the date. The footstone was marked with the initials “EC” and the year, 1703.
It felt a bit odd to stand on ground that my ancestors farmed and helped to develop more than 300 years ago, and even odder to walk across the street to a local pizza joint, where an immigrant from Albania made up a fine veggie pizza for us.
It was a helpful reminder that all of us, save the Native Americans we displaced, were immigrants at some point, and even the Indians had to migrate here, though many thousands of years before. I can trace ten generations of Cartledges on American soil (Edmund1 [the settler], Edmund2 [a backslidden Quaker and Indian trader], Edmund3 [a planter who became Anglican, moved to North Carolina and later Georgia, and served as a King’s Constable], James [a planter who was converted to the Baptist faith by Daniel and Martha Marshall], James2 [a well known physician in those parts], Jesse Mercer [apparently named for the famous Georgia Baptist, served as clerk of court for Lincoln County, Ga.], William Mell (who followed his father as clerk of court], William Crawford [my grandfather], William Crawford, Jr., and me).
My family’s role in helping to shape America is a source of some pride, but being heir to a longer history doesn’t necessarily make me more American, or a better American, than more recent immigrants who come here with the same hopes of a better life that brought Edmund and Mary Cartledge across the Atlantic 330 years ago.
My hope is that all of us immigrants may learn to apprecate each other and work together in making this evermore the land of our dreams.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.