Potter’s Field Memorial Dedicated in Leesburg

By Nancy Spannaus

May 4, 2023—A small group of town officials and interested citizens gathered in Leesburg’s Union Cemetery today, to dedicate a Memorial to indigent citizens who had been buried in the town’s former Potter’s Field. Mayor Kelly Burk presided over a solemn dedication ceremony, which concluded with the playing of taps.

Laying a wreath at the new obelisk were Jim Hershman, chair of the Thomas Balch Library Commission, and Donna Bohanon, chair of the Black History Committee. They are shown above, with Mayor Burk, during the moment of silence following the wreath-laying.

The Potter’s Field was originally located at the site currently occupied by the intersection of Catoctin Circle and Market Street. It was designated for burying individuals classified as poor, convicted criminals, or not affiliated with local churches. The deed of sale mandated separate areas for black and white persons. By the early 1950s, more than 300 people had been buried there, including Charles Craven, the victim of a 1902 lynching that occurred there.

When the town determined in the 1980s that it needed space for more commercial activity, it collected the remains and artifacts at the site and reinterred them in a single vault at Union Cemetery. In 2022 the vault was moved to the current site, and an additional vault added. The remains were no longer racially segregated.

Participating in the ceremony in addition to Mayor Burk were Mary Pellicano, former Thomas Balch Library Commissioner, and Elizabeth Scheib, Thomas Balch Library Commissioner. Pellicano reviewed the history of the site, and Scheib read a poem by Senagalese poet Birago Diop.