By Emely Miranda

The Beltsville Historical Society held a cleanup in May at the site of the old Ebenezer Meeting House and cemetery, at the intersection of Powder Mill and Ammendale roads. 

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Katherine Fuentes, Special Assistant; Oscar Gregory with the Beltsville Historical Society; Gabriel Fernandes, Special Assistant; and Pierre Fernandes, Community Liaison to Chair Tom Dernoga.
Courtesy of the Office of Council Chair Tom Dernoga.

Prince George’s County Council Chair Tom Dernoga (District 1) and Beltsville Reminiscence, a community organization, co-sponsored the event, which brought out about 15 volunteers.

“The folks there mostly did things by hand, and they were just incredible. Moving big logs that had fallen over the years and setting up a path. It doesn’t look perfect, but it’s a good head start,” said Beltsville native Oscar Gregory, who serves as president of the historical society.

An archaeological survey  conducted by the state in 2002 identified the location where the  meeting house once stood and 20 remaining  headstones.

“We’re trying to clean the area up so that we can bring in an archaeologist and ground penetrating radar and see if we can identify folks. There’s a good indication of other burial sites there, so we want to try our best to ensure we can preserve it,” Gregory said.

Residents for a Better Beltsville, a community organization that aims to foster civic pride, informed Gregory about their interest in one day cleaning up the site. Gregory then took the initiative to follow through and organize the event.

“That particular area embodies a lot of history to the Beltsville community. And we thought it would be a great idea for us to participate. Things take time, and before the trees and bushes got really lush, we wanted to get in there and see if we could at least cut some back,” Michelle García said. García is Dernoga’s chief of staff.

In 1836, Evan Shaw, gave trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church an acre of land where the church then built the meeting house, which was in use until 1861. The Prince George’s County Historical Society placed a marker at the site in 1986.

A small graveyard adjacent to the meeting house was the burial ground for both white and Black people, including Blacks who were enslaved and freed. 

“Usually, when you have slaves, they were set into the same cemetery but are segregated into their own sections. This cemetery had none of that. You were a person, and they bury you with distinction when you pass on. And so that’s what makes this particular site very unique,” Gregory noted.

Shaw’s will stipulated that his slaves were to be freed and that they would inherit his estate following the death of his wife. The property went to his slaves in 1866 and had a number of owners  until 1972, when the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the site. Prince George’s County has owned the parcel since 1979.

Gregory is aiming for a second cleanup this fall (date to be determined). 

“Ebenezer cemetery is a landmark site,” he said. “It speaks volumes how folks would be able to have different ways of life but come in and commune with one god. It’s very well worth, in my opinion, restoring and preserving.”