Members of the Religious Society of Friends–Quakers–were among the earliest settlers of Washington, DC, when it was established in 1800. They came to serve in the federal government, to open stores, to farm, and to run mills and other businesses. One of the first Quaker families to come to Washington was headed by Jonathan Shoemaker, a miller from Pennsylvania.
Jonathan and his wife Hannah in 1804 bought 42.5 acres of land along Rock Creek to operate Columbia Mills, which ground grain into flour and stone into plaster of Paris. In 1807, the Shoemakers donated a quarter-acre of their land for a “common Burying Ground or Place of Interment for the Society of Friends or Quakers, their families and descendants.”
Quaker burials were solemn, simple affairs that often began with a funeral at the Quaker Meeting House, which was located for most of the 19th Century at 18th and I streets, NW. Quakers frowned on costly coffins and expensive mourning clothes. They would allow non-Quakers to be buried in their cemetery if Meeting members approved. Although some Quaker burial grounds did not feature headstones, graves at the Friends Burying Ground in Washington had headstones from very early on. At least one Quaker headstone from 1837 was found in the cemetery in 1940.
Quakers were required by their governing principles to keep detailed records of members’ births, marriages and deaths. But historians working on the Walter Pierce Park Archaeology Team were unable to find place-of-burial records for the early Washington Friends. Most of the burials in this very old Quaker cemetery took place before the city began officially recording deaths and places of burial in 1855.
Based on early Washington newspaper obituaries and family traditions, it’s likely that the following individuals were among those whose remains were buried in the Quaker cemetery at today’s Walter Pierce Park:
- Jonathan Shoemaker and his first wife Hannah, from Pennsylvania, who were among the earliest settlers of the District of Columbia and who donated land for the Friends Burying Ground at today’s Walter Pierce Park;
- Samuel Hutchinson, a native of Ireland who died in Washington at age 58 in 1824;
- Members of the Scholfield family, including Joseph L. Sholfield, who died at age 88 in 1848; Mary Scholfield, 87, in 1861; and Rachel Scholfield, age 90, who died in 1819
- Seaver family members Caroline Seaver, who died at age 15 in 1839; Mary Plummer Seaver, who died at age 14, in 1848; Mary G. Seaver, who died at age 31 in 1837 and was the wife of cemetery trustee Jonathan Seaver; and J. M. Seaver, son of Jonathan Seaver, who died at an unknown age in 1851;
- Daniel Kurtz, a Georgetown civic leader and businessman who died at age 61 in 1846;
- David Frame, who died at an unknown age in 1840;
- Daniel Wheeler, who died at age 70 in 1840;
- Ann Scott, who died at age 90 in 1846;
- Rosanna Walker, who died at age 61 in 1838;
- Miranda Guy, who died at age 54 in 1854;
- George Barcroft, who died at age 79 in 1839, and his wife Sarah Barcroft, who died at an unknown age in 1840;
- and many others.