Maxwell Settlement Cemetery – Rediscovering Our Past

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Prime Courtright 1 750x
Photograph of Prime Courtright buried in the Maxwell Settlement burial grounds. Photo courtesy of Tom and Martha Lightfoot. The Maxwell area got its name from Dr. Lummis a long time ago in honor of the family name of his wife.

Have you ever wondered how Sodus Point history that was believed to be forever lost is still being rediscovered? This is a story that gives you an idea of how it is done.

This story illustrates many of the ways in which history can be rediscovered. It is seldom easy but like a detective on a cold case, unrelated pieces of information can sometimes fill in the puzzle and crack open a case. The process of this particular rediscovery can be broken down into these parts:

Painstaking research
Coordination of research efforts by multiple interested parties
Photographic evidence
Computer research and software enhancement of photographs

The group effort started on July 19, 2017 when Marjory Allen Perez gave a presentation on the Underground Railroad at the Sodus Point Village Hall. Marj is a former Wayne County Historian who has a passion on researching Wayne County African American history including involvement in the Underground Railroad and has spent years painstakingly going through County census and deed records in an effort to gather an impressive amount of information. For more details on the information she has gathered see her published work with Judith Wellman (Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 by Judith Wellman and Marjory Allen Perez) and her new book Final Stop, Freedom! In her Sodus Point presentation, she told specific family information of a number of the free black families that lived in the Maxwell Settlement on Geneva Road approximately across from what is now the Steger Haus Restaurant. The Maxwell settlement consisted of free blacks but was known to harbor and aid “freedom seekers” as part of the Underground Railroad in our area. Interestingly enough, Marj’s research indicated that some of the members of the Maxwell settlement, as well as freedom seekers that were harbored there, made the trip to Canada and sometimes came back during the days of the Underground Railroad.

During the question and answer segment following the presentation, Martha and Tom Lightfoot asked about information regarding the burial ground (believed to have been members of the Maxwell Settlement). Marj had few details about it but was eager to learn more and see any photographic evidence. The Lightfoots related that they had visited the burial site a few years ago and had photos showing a couple of headstones that they would be willing to share.

Burial Ground on Duncan Flat 750x
The Maxwell Settlement burial site. Note a cemetery stone is visible. Photo courtesy of Bill Huff taken in the 1960s.

The following day after Marj Perez’s presentation, my wife and I met with Bill Huff, Jr. for breakfast. Bill Huff is a life long resident of Sodus Point and a professional photographer who has amassed untold thousands of photographs of Sodus Point. As is often the case, Bill had brought along three photo albums he had taken over the years. One of the albums had photographs of headstones. When we asked Bill where he had taken the headstone photos, he told us that they were from the burial ground. Bill went on to say that one of the headstones used to have a GAR flag holder and he remembered as a boy that someone would put a flag in it on Memorial Day. After telling Bill about Marj Perez’s presentation, he let us scan in the photos and we were off to the races! The gravestones in the black and white photos were very difficult to read and only a letter or so were readable. We then brought the scanned photos into my Windows Live Photo Gallery. After enhancing the photos and trying various lighting schemes we could begin to make out letters (see next 3 photos).

Henrietta Loyd 677x
Thomas Loyd 672x
Prime Courtright 672x
Photos courtesy Bill Huff, Jr.

As we were now seeing letters and trying to figure out names, I vaguely recalled having come across a web site, years earlier, that mentioned names buried at this site. After searching, I finally found it again.

THE FOLLOWING ARE CLARK RECORDS (written in 1882, so references made to property owners of that time, not the present):
Clark records circa 1882: Another place where the colored people buried their dead is on the east end of the former Boyd farm, the one now owned by the Sergeant Brothers on the Old Geneva Road. It is difficult to see why this place was selected rather than one in the vicinity of the settlement. It is now only a clear plat about two rods square, with neither stone nor signs of graves. The plow has yet spared the place and at the present writing (1882) it is in the midst of a cornfield. In the nature of things it can hardly be saved from general cultivation many years longer. It is very near to the east line of the farm and thus but a short distance southwest of the barn belonging to John Bates which stands on the lot on the south part of his farm. The following persons were buried there and probably others: Thomas Lloyd and three of his children, Margaret, Betsy, Henrietta; two children of Mary Lee, Jane and William.

We now had the pieces in place to verify that Thomas Lloyd and Henrietta were buried there based on both historical and photographic evidence but what about this third headstone that seemed to have the name Courtright on it? Marj Perez knew who this person was and had been looking for his final resting place. Prime Courtright served during the Civil War in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery (Colored) and died Feb. 25, 1890. This explained why he was not mentioned in the 1882 information. At this point from the historical info and photos we now knew the identity of 7 people who were buried there.

The icing on the cake came about a week later when Tom and Martha Lightfoot shared their photos that had the benefit of being digitized at a much higher resolution than the 1960s photos and were in color. See the next 3 photos:

Prime Courtright 1 750x
GAR 750x
TL Rosetta 750x

The first two photos confirm it being Prime Courtright and show the Veteran’s Flag holder. The third photo shows that Rosetta (wife of Thomas Loyd) was also buried there which was not mentioned in the 1882 write up. This makes 8 people that we now know are buried at this site.

So we went from knowing only a rumor that black families from the Maxwell settlement were at this burial site to now being able to identify 8 of them. I believe we are probably missing some names but who knows when some tidbit of information may show up.

Written by Bruce Farrington August 2017