Last month’s article focused on the gem that Wesleyan Cemetery really is for our community – not only a beautiful space but rich in history. The more people realized the historical significance of Wesleyan Cemetery, the more local residents wanted to preserve that history, but their efforts were almost thwarted. The Veterans Administration (VA) had, for over a century, strived to mark the graves of those veterans in unmarked graves. In 2009, the VA enacted a change in policy for marker applications, and when it actively began enforcing it in 2012, nearly shut down its marker program. By redefining “applicant”, only direct descendants, rather than historians, cemeteries, museums, veterans associations, and concerned researchers, could apply for a marker. For those veterans who died many years ago, who are the direct descendants and how do you find them?
In Wesleyan Cemetery’s case, there were 6 African American Civil War Veterans who were buried without markers. Because the VA’s policy of “direct descendants” was not widely known, many organizations, including the City of Cincinnati, tried to apply for these 6, but to no avail. There were no next of kin to be found. What made it even more frustrating was that the VA would supply the markers for free. Even the installation (not covered by the VA) was donated by the 1st District Free and Accepted Masons and Prince Hall Lodge Masons. All that was needed were the descendants!
Many organizations encountered similar problems with the new VA policy. US Senators even got in the act contacting the VA and advising them that this requirement was hardly a proper way to honor those who gave their lives for this country. Some of these soldiers had been dead for over 100 years! How likely was it to find next of kin in that situation?
After six months of research, with the help of the Geneological Department at the Cincinnati/Hamilton Public Library and Dr. John Bryant of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2 direct descendants were found for 2 of the 6 soldiers: Taylor Bowen and Hanry Clay. A subsequent article written by Cindy Schroder of the Cincinnati Enquirer in July, 2013, detailing the situation, moved Jack Loos of Schott Monument to generously donate the other 4 markers. Finally, those that served would be honored!
A final note about one of the men the VA denied a marker…John Yates. He enlisted at age 13 as a private to Camp Nelson Kentucky, where many escaped slaves enlisted. John used his father’s name of Yates and his mother’s name of Maupin for enlistment papers. It is believed he was an escaped slave from the Madison County, Kentucky area as the Genealogy Department has traced most Yates-Maupins migrating to Cincinnati from 2 plantations in this area. From the ravages of slavery to the ravages of war, John Yates is just one example of the dedication of so many soldiers that gave their lives for this country.
So the next time you pass Wesleyan Cemetery, think of John, of Taylor, of Hanry, and the hundred of others like them. We live freely today because of them.
By Martha Dourson
Martha Dourson is the previous community council president, and ironically, was able to purchase her house on Kirby at a sheriff’s sale due to a previous Wesleyan Trustee ‘s mortgage troubles.