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Buried history brought to life near New Hope


Recent work by two pastors suggests that a graveyard of former slaves and American soldiers of African descent has been discovered in New Hope.

Pastor George DiPaulo, now of the First United Methodist Church of Lancaster, was formerly of what is now the Solebury United Methodist Church.

While in Solebury, DiPaolo was fascinated with local history and researched it, finding particular interest in the unexpected. He maintains there remains much to the stories that history holds in this area that many don’t know about nor would suspect.

In the mid-1800s, New Hope was an industrial town with factories, shops, forges and mills, attracting a diverse labor force. With the strong Quaker influence, it also became a Democratic stronghold against President Abraham Lincoln. At the time, the Democratic Party was generally pro-slavery and dominated the South. Northern Democrats were willing to mollify the demands of their southern neighbors. This comprised a significant element of the base of President Buchanan, a Pennsylvania Democrat and the president who preceded Lincoln.

While Pennsylvania was a free state (and in fact the first such state in the union), it was still subject to the Federal Fugitive Slave Act. Thus Pennsylvania was not a final destination for escaped slaves but rather a stop on the way to Canada. While here, however, some fugitive slaves found safe haven and hiding on Buckingham Mountain.

The church that is now Marsha Brown’s Restaurant in New Hope was the second building built by the white Methodists in New Hope. The first building was located near where St. Martin’s church now stands. The black Methodist churches were Mt. Gilead and Mt. Moriah AME churches. The former is located on Buckingham Mountain.

Part of the story of that history may have been uncovered, buried on a hillside near a stretch on Stoney Hill Road. Chuck Wilson, pastor at New Hope Community Church, has worked hard to dig up old stone markers to each of the graves. He said he sees in the work a mission of affirming love to all races, adding that it is particularly appropriate at a time when racial tensions are rising. The ghosts of history speak to what should be honored, Wilson explained.

The site was discovered on what is now private property. The owner spent much effort removing trash, as did Wilson.

“It‘s just a shame that these peoples’ heritage had garbage thrown over it. It was a garbage dump,” Wilson said, speaking to his efforts at cleaning up the site and restoring dignity to the cemetery. He wants eventually to have the site recognized as a New Hope-Solebury historical stopping point, and hopes to have a fence built around it.

“Each of these stones marks a life,” Wilson said.

“These are the people that in a lot of ways have given us what we have – and we should remember that,” DiPaulo added.

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