On a crisp Friday morning, Nov. 11, 15 descendants of Israel Crump Sr. proudly stood with their church community at the grave site of the former slave and Civil War veteran at Queen's Chapel United Methodist Church in South Laurel.
Samuel Smith Jr., of Maryland City, Crump's great-great-grandson, officiated at the unveiling of the authentic Civil War headstone — a brief but fitting finish to the Veterans Day celebration that had begun inside the church before moving outside just moments before the unveiling.
The celebration honored many past and living heroes from the Queen's Chapel Church community but also included a tribute to the Civil War veteran, presented by Smith at the request of longtime church historian Marsha Brown.
On record at the U.S. Colored Troops Archives at the National Archives in Washington, Crump's pension deposition papers, filed in 1900, tell his life story in his own words. Smith retold that story in a powerful and eloquent first-person narrative.
"I will become Israel Crump and tell you his Civil War accounts," he said at the beginning of his presentation.
According to Smith, Crump was born into slavery in Virginia around 1847. He escaped with his mother, brother and uncle during the second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, worked for a time in the Quartermaster Unit in Alexandria, and then enlisted in the Union Army in 1863 as an 18-year-old, though he was just 16. After fighting in Virginia and North Carolina, Crump was mustered out of the Company E 1st U.S. Colored Infantry in 1865.
Crump settled in the Muirkirk community that was then known as Rossville in 1870, and became a prominent member of the Queen's Chapel Church, teaching Sunday school classes and serving as a class leader and trustee.
As the cemetery caretaker, Smith walks the same hallowed ground that Crump did when he was a trustee caring for church grounds. And as a Vietnam Veteran himself, Smith said he feels a deep affinity for his ancestor.
Crump's name is inscribed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw community in Washington. Brown encourages church members to visit the memorial every February during Black History Month, and she said she encouraged Smith to join in exploring his ancestor's history.
"I had been trying to drag him, kicking and screaming," she said, "but once he saw the memorial, that just did it."
After visiting the memorial last February, Smith decided it was past time to contact the Veterans Administration to apply for a Civil War headstone. The old limestone marker on Crump's grave was deteriorating — the writing on its face barely legible — and Smith said he worried that precious history would be lost.
A postcard from the Veterans Administration in early summer promised delivery within six weeks. The upright granite headstone arrived in late August, but Brown convinced Smith to hold off on installing and unveiling it until Veterans Day.
Daryl Smith, of Smith's Lawn Service in Laurel, set the stone as a favor to the church.
The pre-Civil War cemetery has been the mainstay of this church since 1868, when the first log structure known as Queen's Chapel was built at the existing burial site for slaves and free blacks in Rossville. In 1899, lightening destroyed the log structure, and the church elders replaced it with a white frame building in 1901. Ten years ago, the congregation moved its worship to Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School until a larger, modern facility could be envisioned and built.
This was the first Veterans Day service held at the new complex that opened last month, adjacent to the historic cemetery on Old Muirkirk Road.
Some members of Samuel Smith's family are aware of their rich heritage only because of Smith's passion.
Two of his sisters, Joyce Harrod and Pamela Smith-Oliphant, credit Smith as the force behind its preservation.
"I hadn't focused much on my great-great-grandfather," said Harrod. "We were ecstatic to find out about the research on this. Sam and Marsha and the church together did an outstanding job and brought us together as a family."