Honoring the heroes of Hinsonville
By Richard Gaw
On the same day Dr. Cheryl Renée Gooch was named as Dean of the School of Humanities and Graduate Studies at Lincoln University in June of 2012, she noticed several tombstones near the Hosanna Church on the edge of the campus.
“Who is buried there?” she asked several of her colleagues. No one seemed to know, but the names on the graves were still legible, and their stories, Gooch felt, deserved to be told: George Duffy, Abraham Stout, Isaac A. Hollingsworth, Abraham Blake, Lewis Palmer and others.
Over the next few years, Gooch, a genealogist and member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, began to explore the stories of some of the men who were buried there more than a century ago.
In her newest book, “Hinsonville's Heroes: Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania” (The History Press, 2018), Gooch documents 18 African-American men who served as Union soldiers in the Civil War, ten of whom are buried at the Hosanna Church cemetery.
“When I arrived here in 2012, I saw the Hosanna Church and this atmospheric cemetery,” Gooch said. “I got out of my car, and began to read the headstones of these pioneers who settled here on land known as Hinsonville, and left the physical evidence of their lives. My question was, 'What is the relationship between this church and cemetery and the campus?' I was insatiably curious and began to uncover their stories.”
Their stories are all here, told from the free black community of Hinsonville, where Lincoln University now sits. As members of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, the Jay brothers – George, Wesley and William – fought in and survived the battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, as documented in the film, Glory. Duffy and Ringgold were members of the only black regiment to lead President Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession in Washington, D.C. Hollingsworth and Stout were among the black regiments who cornered General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army, which led to Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
“This is an inclusive, historical narrative,” Gooch said. “These were people who would otherwise be forgotten, who transformed the state and the country through their service and their sacrifices.”
The information that Gooch compiled about the soldiers came from several sources. William Fitzgerald left a detailed diary. Medical records told of injuries they dealt with, as well as the arduous process that the soldiers went through to seek and pay for medical care.
“After the Civil War, most of these men and their families lived at or near abject poverty,” Gooch said.
“Just about all of them had to apply and re-apply for medical benefits. These men seemed to encounter difficulty, and even resistance, to securing certifications from their physicians to be approved for medical coverage.”
Gooch is also the author of “On Africa's Lands: The Forgotten Stories of Two Lincoln Educated Missionaries in Liberia” (The Lincoln University Press, 2014), the story of two men from the church who were the first to enroll at Lincoln, the first to graduate, and who became Presbyterian-trained missionaries.
For the past 20 years, Gooch has been researching and reconstructing her family's lineage for a book she eventually hopes to publish. Her insatiable curiosity to dig into her past – as well as the African-American experience – is to preserve a part of American history that needs to be told. To illustrate, Gooch pointed to a recent survey of 1,000 high school students about slavery. Most of these students did not understand slavery, or know that the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
“To date, I am a documented American descendant of formerly enslaved people,” Gooch said. “Silas Gooch, my oldest known ancestor, was born in 1814 in North Carolina, and according to his death certificate of 1927, he was 113 and died suddenly due to old age. That same death certificate indicated that his parents are unknown.
“His ancestry is invisible, discarded,” she added. “The institution of slavery continues to obscure our personal and social histories as African Americans, and our relationship to American history. I wrote this book for a general audience in order to put these men's stories back into the historical narrative.”
Gooch said the moment she first stepped foot in the cemetery at the Hosanna Church, she felt she was being addressed by the soldiers.
“They seemed to say to me, 'OK. You're the one. Here we are. We left the record. Unlike our counterparts at Lincoln University who served in the Civil War, we were local guys who did not have access to formal education. We were unable to articulate and shape the historical narrative, but our families intentionally left these monuments, so that we would not be forgotten.'
“I did not come to Lincoln University with the intention of writing two books,” she said, “but these are fascinating human stories that affect all that we're doing now, and they needed to be told.”
To further bring light to these stories in her new book, Gooch will be the featured speaker at “Owning Our Shared Heritage” on Feb. 18, as part of a celebration of Black History Month at Lincoln University. The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Mary Dod Brown Chapel on the university's campus. This event will also include a musical prelude, selection and postlude, as well as reflections and dialogue by Hersey Gray, Walls Descendant and Family Historian; and members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company B, reenactors.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.