This past weekend, while filming the upcoming Eastern Shore documentary Love Letters to the Shore, director Allison Tucker and I revisited historic Broad Creek Cemetery on Kent Island. The following story is a repost from 2014:
The Reverend Mark S. Delcuze is the most recent in a long line of pastors at Kent Island’s Christ Church Parish, the second oldest Anglican congregation in North America. “Roots here go back to the first imaginings of Europeans in the new world. From Jamestown to here is a direct line. There are none older,” is how Rev. Delcuze puts it. “Christ Church Parish is also the oldest congregation in Maryland of any Christian body. That’s astonishing and very important historically.”
Richard Ervin is an archaeologist with over thirty years of experience, a Christ Church parishioner, and a longtime member of the church’s Broad Creek Cemetery committee.
Broad Creek Cemetery is a historic Christ Church Parish property and a serene patch of sacred land.
Vintage photo c. unknown2018
Mr. Ervin says “We believe (the now extinct bayside village) Broad Creek was the site of the church by 1650, 1652. We haven’t found verifiable written evidence of that, but we’ve got supporting evidence that narrows the timeframe.”
“Our vestry records are amazing historic documents,” Rev. Delcuze adds. “They’re written in real pen on real paper written by a real person. You feel it as soon as you open those books. And some prior rectors served here for decades and kept good records year after year. Unfortunately, others didn’t keep very good records at all.”
“A most remarkable event in our country’s history was the War of 1812,” Delcuze points out. “Our being included on the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail helps people remember how important Kent Island was in this war that established once and for all, that this was an independent nation.
“The British navy was moving up and down the Chesapeake at will, and at one point there were 3,000 troops garrisoned on Kent Island. It was not well received by the local people. In our vestry record it’s noted that $91 was set aside to buy bars for the windows and locks for the church doors. They wanted the British to know they weren’t welcome.”
After more than two hundred years of the Broad Creek church being at the heart of the parish’s spiritual connection to the island, where, as Delcuze says, “you buried your dead, where your children were baptized, where marriages took place,” times were changing. As the village of Broad Creek faded from existence, the Christ Church Parish congregation moved another couple miles north to the bustling new town of Stevensville.
And the Broad Creek site deteriorated.
Ervin confirms: “We believed that after the Civil War, probably around the time the congregation moved to Stevensville, the property was used as an animal barnyard.”
A 1950s-era archeological survey led by Dr. Reginald Van Truitt set important ground work, but generally the site was ignored until parishioner Joe Thompson (1926-2006) took a personal interest in the overgrown and neglected property.
Thompson was determined to save the Broad Creek Cemetery. He enlisted the help of friend DeeDee McCracken and revitalization took seed. Richard Ervin came onboard not long after.
“Our goals have always been to research, salvage, restore, and maintain,” Ervin says. “Joe and DeeDee were instrumental. Joe was passionate. He loved that property and dreamed of rescuing it, clearing it to reuse, but also to honor the past. DeeDee gives Joe all the credit, but that diminishes the huge role she’s played in saving the property.”
Since 2001, Broad Creek Cemetery has been accepting new interments. Those burials conducted after the cemetery’s reopening were the first since 1908.
Photo Courtesy Christ Church Parish
“The cemetery is self sufficient,” says Ervin. “Plots are available to our congregation, as well as to members of the general community. Part of the income from that goes into our perpetual care fund to ensure that the cemetery will always be maintained and never fall back into disrepair. The focus has always been to put the cemetery to use while respecting the history of the land, the heritage, what it means to us. That remains unchanged as we move into the future,” says Ervin.
“We have fragments of colonial brick we’ve found at the cemetery,” says Rev. Delcuze. “Over 350 years ago, that brick was made by men who dug the clay themselves, fed the fire, formed the brick, all in a very dangerous and rugged environment. It got very, very dark at night. Civilization was a long dangerous journey away. There were hardships. They risked their lives to be here.”
“Some people were buried in shrouds, some in a pine box. Most folks were buried by their families, who probably dug the graves themselves or paid the local help to do it. That’s where you see the ebb and flow of life, and that’s part of what’s most moving about the cemetery. It’s the rootedness of who we are.
“For me, it’s a connection to the men who served on that ground for so many generations. At the oldest of gravestones I remember somebody had to stand over those graves and say the same words I still say today. There is a direct connection that I feel.”
Richard Ervin feels the connection as well. “The cemetery is a pristine, beautiful property safe from all the development around it. It’s holy, contemplative, overwhelming. Our goal is to be good caretakers, good stewards.”
“Its paramount,” says Rev. Delcuze, “to remember that it is hallowed ground.”
Eliza Blunt Weedon 1808-1869
Books by Brent Lewis are available on Amazon.com
Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake and A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department published by Arcadia Publishing & The History Press: