Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Hampton, VA, between two residential homes, is one of the oldest black cemeteries. At rest are generations of the William Tucker family.
Born January 3, 1624, William Tucker was the first African American baby documented in Jamestown, VA. His parents, Anthony and Isabella, arrived in Virginia in August 1619 on the White Lion. They were two of the first 20 Africans who arrived in the British Colony of Virginia at Point Comfort, now Fort Monroe.
Tucker's parents were enslaved servants on the plantation of Captain William Tucker and his wife, Mrs. Mary Tucker. His parents named him after their slave owner because they allowed them to get married on the boat.
Very much is known about William Tucker. He had siblings, but their births were not documented. Tucker was baptized in 1624, and he grew up as an enslaved servant just like his parents. Documents about his life were lost and destroyed. The date of his death was not recorded. It's not confirmed if William Tucker is buried at the Tucker Cemetery.
In 1896, six African American men, Thomas J. Anderson, William Drewitt, Thomas H. Garrett, Burrill Parker, Simon Parker, Thomas Tucker, and Richard Warren, purchased the Old Colored Burial Ground from the Old Dominion Land Company for $100.00.
After the land was purchased, the Tucker descendants and other families buried their loved ones at Tucker Cemetery. The descendants were also caretakers of the cemetery.
In 2016, the deed was transferred to The William Tucker 1624 Society, a non-profit organization committed to maintaining the cemetery's care.
While walking around the cemetery, I came across the headstone of an African American woman, no name, approximately 60 years old, was discovered. In 2017, During maintenance at the cemetery, a skull of an unknown African American female was found in that spot. The skull was interred with the headstone. A lot of thoughts went through my mind. What was her name? How did she get here? What was the cause of death? I prayed that the ancestor was at peace and rest, as I touched the headstone. Ashe.'
In 2018, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam dedicated the Tucker Cemetery as a perpetual open space land to preserve, protect and tell the story of the first Africans that were brought to Virginia.
In 2018, a ground penetrating radar found over 100 unmarked graves. White crosses with a flower were placed on the graves of the ancestors.
I saw the section where a majority of the Tucker family are buried. At the foot of the headstone, the name of the funeral home that provided services is engraved.
Henry Cooke, a free black man, opened Cooke Bros. Funeral Parlor. Cooke was a skilled cabinet and furniture maker. Cooke designed a baby casket that started his funeral business in Danville, Newport News, and Richmond, VA. Today, the funeral home is now named Cooke Bros. Funeral Chapel & Crematory.
O. H. Smith & Son Funeral Home is one of the oldest mortuary businesses in Newport News, VA, founded in 1933 by Otis H. Smith, Sr. In 1969, the business was renamed O. H. Smith & Son Funeral Home. The funeral home is run by three generations of the Smith family, who are all licensed funeral directors.
The Tucker Family Cemetery, once known as the “Old Colored Burial Ground,” is a historic landmark. The William Tucker 1624 Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is an organization dedicated to the education of the greater public about the first Africans to arrive in Virginia.
I highly recommend visiting the Tucker Family Cemetery. It's great to see a family taking care of the resting place of their ancestors. Black cemeteries matter!!!