Welcome to People's Memorial Cemetery, Located in Petersburg Virginia


The Cemetery Today

People’s Cemetery is a historic African American burial ground located on Crater Road in Petersburg, Virginia. The Cemetery traces its roots back almost 200 years. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, and named a stop on the Network to Freedom, in recognition of its connection to the Underground Railroad, People’s Cemetery is the final resting place of abolitionists, Civil War soldiers, slaves, escaped slaves and free men of color. The denizens of People’s Cemetery represent the full spectrum of African American life in the South from antebellum times to the Civil Rights era. The stones here also run the gamut, defining in perpetuity the social strata of the people who rest here. There are monuments with faces carved in bas relief, and there are homemade stones of concrete. There are military stones of marble and flaking stones of slate..
Peoples Cemetery.jpg
Satellite view of People's Memorial Cemtery


In 1815, the Petersburg Beneficial Society of Free Men of Color was established to support its free black members in times of sickness and death. Beneficial Trustees purchased their first lot in 1840. In that year William H and Edith Williams, who were white, sold to twenty-eight men a parcel at the west side of Blandford Road (today’s South Crater Road) for use as a “burying ground.” It is possible that the land was already being used a cemetery; however, neither this deed nor the deed filed when Williams purchased the land in 1837 (part of a 16-acre conveyance from Samuel and Mary Robbins) makes any mention of burial.”

The 1840 purchasers, who paid $200 for their acre of land, were all residents of Petersburg, and all believed to have been free men of color. In March 1865 Williams sold another tract, two acres south of the first to a group of ten men, again identifiable as prominent in the antebellum free black community. This purchase of what was to become known as Peoples Cemetery, also known as Providence Cemetery, incorporates the second Beneficial Society lot. By 1880 this property was referred to as Scott Cemetery, for undertaker Thomas Scott.”

Plot to be restored

“The largest portion of the cemetery was the last to be purchased from the Williams estate. The 5 1/8 acre tract south of the 1865 lot was purchased privately by Peter Archer, a barber: Armstead Wilson, a blacksmith; and William Jackson. Archer established a residence on his share, north of which the families laid out three 16’ x 16’ grave plots, marked Archer, Wilson and Jackson on an 1880 plat. Peter Archer and his widow Sarah Ann (d. 1882), Armstead Wilson (d. 1880), and other members of their families and the Jacksons probably rest in this section of today’s People’s Cemetery. “

“Within the early deeds can be seen the beginnings of several aspects of the history of the cemetery known today as People’s Memorial. First, most of the land was owned by groups of individuals, not by chartered organizations. Unlike the continuity at city-owned Blandford Cemetery, when trusteeship of an association changed, or it becomes inactive, there was not as assignment of responsibility for the burial grounds. “

“For years, the various sections of today’s People’s Cemetery were referred to by separate names
People's is deeded to the City of Petersburg.
that remained in local memory even when records were poorly kept. From north to the south, these were Old Beneficial (the original acre), Beneficial Board (2 acres acquired in 1865, known as Scott Cemetery in 1880), Providence First Section (north section of Archer-Wilson-Jackson tract, purchased by Thomas Scott in 1879), Providence Second Section and Jackson Cemetery/Jackson Memorial Cemetery Section (the balance of the Archer-Wilson-Jackson-Drake tract). In about 1926 when trustees of the cemetery laid out a master plan for improvements, the sections were labeled according to common usage.

"In 1986, "so that this City can properly and perpetually maintain the cemetery" the City accepted Title to the land from the two surviving trustees, Moses White and Corliss A. Batts."

People's Cemetery Blog