Jeff Holland: The Sainte-Anne cemetery reveals its beautiful stories


The headstones in St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis bear the names of residents dating back centuries.

“I see it as a historical document,” explains my friend Ginger DeLuca, president of the committee dedicated to the preservation of the cemetery. “It really is here for the living to remember their ancestors. All of these people were alive at one time.

Last week, Ginger was kind enough to take me to visit the cemetery and invited Millie, my rescue retriever. We met on one of those sunny, warm days, perfect for a walk. Ginger was eager to show me the work she and the volunteers are doing to eradicate the invasive vines from trees and shrubs, and she is also passionate about the amazing history of the place and the people buried there.

The cemetery is located along the banks of College Creek, which is named “Graveyard Creek” on old maps. It sits on a grassy hill between Rowe Boulevard and Northwest Street. It has existed since 1790.

The original St. Anne’s Church on Church Circle was built around 1704, and many Annapolis citizens were buried in the surrounding cemetery. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the small structure had become too rickety to accommodate the growing congregation. Thus, the first church was razed in 1775.

Construction of the second church was delayed by the war, but as the building itself had to be larger than the first, a number of tombs had to be moved to make way for the new structure. Some of these graves are still in Church Circle Cemetery, but others were moved to the new cemetery in 1790.

Curiously, this second church building burned down in 1858 when a new central heating furnace caught fire on Valentine’s Day. Just as its construction was delayed by the Revolutionary War, its replacement, the Third Church was delayed by the Civil War. Part of the steeple of the second church was incorporated into the new structure, the one that stands today in Church Circle.

Ginger DeLuca reports a mammoth oak that must be hundreds of years old.

Ginger showed me a modest mound where unmarked bones unearthed during the construction of the second church are believed to have been reinterred. As we wandered among the headstones, Ginger pointed out some decorated with Stars of David, others bearing the names of prominent black families in Annapolis, such as bishops and awards. The cemetery was always intended for everyone and anyone in the city, she noted, not just members of St. Anne.

We stopped in front of a trio of tombstones, weathered by time. The middle one was the grave of Henry Price, the famous leader of the free black community who from 1838 to 1863 served as pastor of what is now Asbury United Methodist Church on West Street. . He was also the grandfather of Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the world’s first successful open-heart surgery in 1893.

Ginger showed me a mammoth oak in the center of the cemetery. Its 22-foot diameter could have made it a certified champion tree if it weren’t for the fact that its top half had been cut off by an ancient storm. It must have strengthened when the first graves were dug here. Ginger and her core team of eight or nine volunteer stewards organize work parties every Thursday morning to remove ivy and other vines from this tree and all the others. Periodically, she will call up to 30 other volunteers to tackle larger jobs.

They are working to create a meditation garden sponsored by the Annapolis-based TKF Foundation’s Nature Sacred program. It would be part of a “scattering garden”, where the ashes of loved ones could be sprinkled. The Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy and the Unity Gardens Foundation are participating in this project. Ginger noted that maintenance of the cemetery is funded by the fees families pay to have their loved ones buried there. The cemetery is not financially supported by the church.

We passed a number of stones that had fallen over. It’s not the result of vandalism, Ginger explained, but of time and gravity. Graves and stones are the responsibility of individual families, she said.

She showed me another trio of stones in the shape of a headboard.

“People back then viewed death as a long sleep,” Ginger explained. “That’s why so many tombstones have this shape. You will also see small foot stones on some graves for the same reason.

Jeff and Millie gaze at the graves of cabinetmaker John Shaw and his family.
John Shaw's tombstone, shaped like a headboard.

The middle stone sat above the grave of John Shaw, the famous Annapolis cabinetmaker who died at the ripe old age of 84 in 1838. In addition to crafting exquisite furniture, Shaw was responsible for the upkeep of the State House from the 1770s through the early 1800s. Millie and I sat in the grass and wondered what he would think of the State House now, surrounded by scaffolding and what looks like gauze. I bet he would be very curious about the ongoing restoration project there.

Ginger noted that there are no fewer than 119 Civil War soldier graves in the cemetery.

“About half served in the south, the other half in the north,” she said, reflecting the loyalty of the general population of Annapolis and most of Maryland at that time. At least one family had sons who fought on both sides.

James Iredell Waddell’s obelisk is one of the most important examples of stones for soldiers. I’m not one to condone public monuments to Confederates, but I think a cemetery is an appropriate setting. Waddell was in command of the CSS Shenandoah, a commercial raider that swept the northern Pacific Ocean from Yankee whalers.

Waddell continued to capture, burn and sink whalers – always sending captives to neutral ports, he never took a life – until he encountered a British ship whose captain showed him a log revealing that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered in April 1865 at Appomattox. It was in August. Knowing he would be hanging from the nearest arm if captured by the United States Navy, Waddell sailed the Shenandoah around Cape Horn and surrendered to authorities in England.

Jeff and Millie take a walk through the tombstones

After the war he moved to Annapolis with his wife, Anne Iglehart, daughter of a local businessman, and they built the Victorian stone house that still stands at the corner of College Avenue and Prince George Street.

Waddell was the only Civil War captain on either side who circumnavigated the globe; he fired the last shot of the war, even though the war had been over for months, and he decimated the Yankee whaling industry, doing more to save whales than anyone in history. The entire world economy shifted from whale oil for lighting and lubrication to petroleum, which had just been discovered in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania.

Oh, the stories Sainte-Anne Cemetery can tell. Ginger DeLuca occasionally leads historical tours of the cemetery. Keep an eye on the website

Northwest Street, Annapolis

Open from dawn to dusk. There is no admission. Street parking is limited. There are no toilets. Pack all trash. Polite dogs on a leash are welcome.


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