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2018

Today, along Veterans Memorial Highway, tucked in next to the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Post 5077, sits the special place we all know and love, Sage Chapel Cemetery. This African-American Cemetery holds at least 111 burials that are researched, documented and identified by either a tombstone, a family marker, or research by local historians. But they only tell part of the story. Each person is like a puzzle piece in the history of the O’Fallon community. And as awareness of this special place has grown, so has the love.

There are 111 documented burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, but only 30 headstones still 20637905_10210486535543047_8762337177951188877_nremain. There are more documented by family members that are buried there.The oldest stone in the cemetery is Priscilla Ball, born an enslaved person, and buried there in 1900. There are 17 others documented that were also born as enslaved people. We know there are earlier burials, as the deed tells us that the African-American Church trustees purchased it from the Castlio/Keithley family in 1881. The Keithley family had many slaves, probably buried there as well. But research of these burials is difficult, and extremely hard to document. Sometimes we have to rely on more than headstones, death certificates, and obituaries. Sometimes we have to go to the people themselves.

Many of these families, the Hayden, the Thomas and the Whites have shared their stories with us, but we know that there is more work to be done. A Nomination of Sage Chapel Cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places, which is over 60 pages of Jefferson Sage (2)documentation only shares a bit of the history! The O’Fallon Historical Society has shared its many photographs in its wonderful collection. The City of O’Fallon’s Historic Preservation Commission is working hard to see that the cemetery is preserved for future generations.

Sage Chapel Cemetery needs you. The City of O’Fallon currently maintains the cemetery by seeing that the grass is kept cut, and the toppled trees are removed. The VFW has placed new headstones in honor of the Veterans buried there. Historians like Justin Watkins have worked hours to see that the Nomination to the National Register is successful. Now we must look to the future for Sage Chapel. Hopes are for more to be done that can preserve its stories.

This means everyone can now get involved and help #Preserve Sage Chapel. If it means supporting the City of O’Fallon and the O’Fallon Preservation Commission you can get 20246287_1699275846751889_7364647450601821068_ninvolved! But it also means that those whose families lie at Sage Chapel can help too now. Please, if you know you have an ancestor at Sage Chapel Cemetery, you can help the story to grow now! We need you! We want to see markers for everyone that is buried there as so many rely simply on the memories and the markers placed there by families. Then we want to see a sign at Sage Chapel that shares its story and identifies everyone for eternity. While nothing should ever disturb its peaceful tranquility, the stories of its people still need to be told. Please help.

If you have family, information, photos or love for Sage Chapel, please share it with us!

 

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Endings and Beginnings

Sage Chapel Cemetery is a very special place. More than just a cemetery, it is a place of peace and solace, and the final resting place for the African-American community of O’Fallon, Missouri. For so many it is the only place that they can speak of as “home” and “family” and “my ancestors”. Many of these family members lie in an unmarked grave, where the location is one only known to “Aunt Phyllis” or “Cousin Mary”. And to walk this ground and hear “this is my mother’s grave” and this is where my father is, and to see only the flowers on one, is so sad. To know that with this person, the memory of where his father is, goes with him, is hard to understand in today’s world. But of the one-hundred eleven known burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery, of which at least seventeen were born as slaves, there are only thirty-five graves marked. And some of those are only marked by flowers and a memory.

Back a few years ago though, that began to change. A small group of O’Fallon residents took notice of this place, where the grass was high, and some people did not even realize there was a cemetery. At first the group was small, but they worked to make a change. They involved the community whose ancestors were buried there.The City began to cut the grass and it looked better. Someone bought hundreds of flowers at Dollar General and asked their friends for help in spreading them across the cemetery. Another did research and dug into the family histories of those that were buried there. They talked to their friends at the V.F.W. Post 5077, the neighbors to the east. Word spread and the city featured the story on the local TV channel. An Eagle Scout project brought a bright new sign trying to ensure that everyone in O’Fallon recognized that this was Sage Chapel Cemetery and this is a very special place.

In the past year, there were many more great things that happened at Sage Chapel Cemetery. There was a wonderful new stone placed on a World War I veteran, obtained by Post 5077 to replace the former headstone which was cracked and broken. When trees were blown down, the City was quick to take care and mend fences. Volunteers donated fertilizer and grass seed, and worked to spread that love. Other volunteers helped clean and clear brush. Another spent time searching with a metal detector hoping to find remnants of the old metal funeral home signs. Other volunteers catalogued and photographed, did research in deeds, newspapers and death certificate files. Others surveyed the cemetery carefully recording the names. Volunteers came together to carefully prod in search of any headstones that may have fallen over the years, hoping to find more markers. Flowers were planted at grave sites and under the sign. And there was even more love given to this very special place. And a community began to come together, with a common bond.

Because our color does not matter when we are united under the common bond of our love for family. Our love for our ancestors crosses that boundary, and is shared, whether we are black or white. Love for our family – and a connection to our ancestors – transcends all of that. We can each understand each others need to have a place such as Sage Chapel Cemetery. A place filled with the love even though it may not look like a cemetery, because that is what makes it such a special place. A place where one can say “that’s my family” and share that love with their family and friends.

To the many friends – both old and new – of Sage Chapel Cemetery there is a very big Thank You for everything everyone has done this past year. You know who you are. Everyone is so grateful, and appreciates the community involvement. We are looking forward to 2018 and a wonderful new Chapter, and invite you to visit for yourself, this very special place. We are ending 2017 grateful for the many blessings that Sage has had this year, and looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful 2018.

 

 

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A Brief History

In 1881, one acre of ground was deeded to the Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church we call today Sage Chapel Cemetery. The land was part of the former Keithly family plantation and had most likely been used by their former slaves as well. These Trustees also purchased a 1/2 acre lot on Sonderen Street with a small building that they used for meetings. At this time, a local preacher with the African Methodist Episcopal Church named Jefferson Franklin Sage, was ministering from St. Charles to Jonesburg.He was well loved and continued to minister there at Sage Chapel. Funerals would take place in the little white church (not to be confused with Wishwell Baptist Church which was also on Sonderen next to it, and the Cravens Methodist Church further along) and then be carried “up the hill” to the cemetery. Eventually the cemetery became home to African American families from all of the surrounding community and not just those that were members of Sage Chapel A.M.E.. Most of the 130 known burials in Sage Chapel Cemetery were born as enslaved people. In 2017 we can identify and locate only 40 of these graves. The cemetery had fallen on hard times and become overgrown. Stones had toppled and many were lost in the overgrowth. Families can recall the entire cemetery as full, with many marked simply by a small metal funeral home marker. These are easily removed and lost as well. Many of the families simply marked a loved one’s grave by a field stone, with initials chiseled onto the surface. Many never had a stone. This was, and still is, an integral part of the entire O’Fallon community. No one can identify who owns Sage Chapel Cemetery today. It belongs to all of us. It is part of our community’s history, and there to remind us of our roots. Whether we were black or white, it is there to remind us to be kind, and to care for each other. We can be thankful to the City of O’Fallon for its care, and the many friends who come together. Those that are buried there are “Never to be forgotten”.

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A day at Sage Chapel Cemetery

History. Its who we are. Everyone has history. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, young or old, German or Irish, dead or alive. Its more than the story of a place or a time, because it’s the story of people. Their lives. And all lives matter. It can be found in a child’s face when he spins hemp into rope like his ancestors did. It can be seen in a man’s joy when he visits a blacksmith and relives the craftsmanship of the past. It can be felt when the stories of our ancestors are told so that we may hear their voices. Everyone has history. When we connect with that history, we know who we are. Where we come from tells us where we are going. If we rush too much in our daily lives, we must find time, to slow down and reconnect with our history. Its who we are.Please join us Sunday October 29th as we prod the earth and work to uncover more of the history of Sage Chapel Cemetery. There are many voices there that still need to be heard. The story is just beginning…. Please help us as we gather together, and prod the ground, in search of any gravestones that may have fallen or broken. This is one acre of ground, rich in the history of many of the black families in St. Charles County, not just this A.M.E. Church.

Join us at 1pm at the Cemetery in O’Fallon on Veterans Memorial Parkway next to the VFW across from Ethyls. If you have any type of sharp instrument that can be used to prod the ground as much as 6 inches, please bring it. We are working to have more cemetery prods available. We need at least 20 people to walk shoulder to shoulder so that we cover it thoroughly and do not miss any stones. We know that many of those buried here never had a headstone. Even if you do not feel able to prod please join us for a day to rejoice in the spirit and history of Sage Chapel Cemetery.

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Howard Morris Ceremony

On August 12, 2017 the O’Fallon community, V.F.W. Post 5077,City Officials and relatives came together to honor World War I Veteran Howard I. Morris with a new headstone.

Photos of the day’s events

Howard I. Morris was born 8th of October 1889 in Lincoln County to Shedrack and Lovey Morris. When he died on April 29, 1957 he was a grain farmer near O’Fallon and a member of the Craven M.E. Church. He served as a Private in the 65th Pioneers Infantry during World War I.