Friends of Quaker history Caretakers: As the trustees who keep watch over the Quaker cemetery in Anne Arundel age, they look to the next generation to entrust with the site's care.

October 05, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

Little by little, the culture and the believers died.

The graves on this hillside in south Anne Arundel County are not marked; that would have been vain. The names are not recorded; that would have been pretentious. But the story of the people buried here has not been forgotten.

That would have been tragic.

"As a matter of history, it should be worth our while," county resident J. Harris Franklin said more than 60 years ago about the story of the Quakers, some of Anne Arundel's first settlers, who built their lives upon the ideals of equality, peace and simplicity.

Now though, the tellers of the tale are old or dying.

"Who knows what will happen after my generation is gone," said Charles "Sonny" Tucker, one of the few who can tell the drama of the Quakers, a narrative about striking out and starting over, in his sleep. "We have to pass it on to someone," he said.

In 1672, on a wooded knoll that would become today's burial ground, George Fox -- the father of the Religious Society of Friends -- opened one of the first Quaker meeting houses in North America. For decades, it served as the center of Quakerism in Maryland, and hundreds of the county's founding families -- some of the names familiar in the area today -- embraced the fledgling religion.

The religion -- and the heritage -- have all but disappeared from Anne Arundel. Just a few dozen active Quakers remain.

"The cemetery is really the most concrete place that marks what once was," Tucker said, sitting at the kitchen table of his farmhouse near Davidsonville. "But hardly anyone in the county knows it's there or what it means."

For a century, the burial grounds have been preserved by locals like Tucker, many of whom are non-Quaker but are trustees of the land as a nonprofit corporation. They operate with an annual budget of a few thousand dollars, and donate their time because they love the place. Some of the most long-standing trustees of the burial grounds have recently quit, noting old age and bad health.

"We're dropping like flies," Tucker said with a wink.

The remaining board members have recruited some new trustees. But even the newcomers are mostly old-timers, people well into retirement.

"We're really concentrating on trying to get some interest from the younger generation for the burial grounds," said West River trustee Bing Vallandingham. "We need a sustained interest to ensure the place is always preserved."

For the first time in more than a century, the longtime trustees of lTC the burial grounds are working with the smattering of Quakers in the county. The board of trustees, historically comprised of three local volunteers, has expanded to include four new Quaker members.

"They certainly have a vested interest in the preservation of this place," Tucker said, "so we've welcomed their interest."

'Glad to be involved'

Ronald Mattson, one of the new Quaker trustees, acknowledged the debt to the non-Quakers who have not just preserved the quaint little cemetery at Muddy Creek and Galesville roads near Galesville, but embraced the history of the place as their own. "They have worked very hard to protect it. And now we are glad to be involved as well," he said.

The tiny burial ground has long been nonsectarian, and few plots remain to be purchased. A plot sells for about $50 -- "not another deal like that out there," Tucker says.

"The purchase of new plots has been the money that helps us keep the place going," Vallandingham said. "But since the cemetery is almost full, we won't have that income anymore at some point. So now we are searching for the [descendants] of the hundreds of people buried there and asking for donations."

Lovers of history

For these local lovers of history, their ideas of preserving the cemetery are simple. They try to paint the white picket fence every few years. They've hired a nearby couple to mow and groom the grounds. And they campaigned to get the bronze historical markers that sit outside the gate.

"It is a peaceful and lovely place," Vallandingham said. "It is part of who we are as the residents of Anne Arundel County. It shouldn't be forgotten."

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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