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Greenwood tour looks at abolitionist, slaves

The Friends of the Birmingham Museum will host their annual tour of Birmingham's Greenwood Cemetery on Saturday, September 18, at 1 p.m., where highlights will include newly-discovered information about some of Birmingham's pioneers buried there, including a formerly enslaved couple who settled in Birmingham in the 19th century, and a local abolitionist who worked in the background in the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s to help enslaved African Americans get to Michigan and to final safety in Canada.


The tour of Greenwood Cemetery will include explanations of the important role of the founding families of Birmingham, as well as several stories about early residents in unmarked graves, including George and Eliza Taylor, formerly enslaved people who settled in Birmingham in the late 19th century. George’s harrowing story of flight from a Kentucky plantation and the difficult trek along the Underground Railroad to Oakland County has recently been found, and will be shared with attendees for the first time.


Also to be included is the identity of a local abolitionist who worked in the background in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s to help enslaved African Americans get to Michigan and to final safety in Canada. According to the Birmingham Museum, the Birmingham anti-slavery activist is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, and is one of the better-known pioneer settlers.


“But, you’ll have to take the tour to find out who he is,” said museum staff member Donna Casaceli, who combed through old records and newspapers following his trail. “At the time, it wasn’t very safe for abolitionists to advertise what they were doing, so it took some extra digging to establish how central his role really was. And then after the Civil War, that information kind of faded away, so we didn’t know about this part of his history.”


Casaceli, who also specializes in period costume, will be portraying another important pioneer settler on the tour, Olive Prindle Hamilton. Although usually referenced as the wife of pioneer John Hamilton, it recently came to light that Prindle was actually part of a sisterly triad who came to Birmingham together, each married to a different settler. “That puts a different spin on things,” said Casaceli, “because it allows us to focus on the women’s perspective and family support system.”

Prindle sisters Sarah and Margaret migrated here with husbands and brothers Daniel and John West Hunter. “Olive, however, came here young, and unfortunately died young,” Casaceli points out that she “has one of the most poignant inscriptions of the entire cemetery” on her marker.


Tickets for the docent-led cemetery tour are $10 per person at the east gate on Oak Street, $5 for students, or $20 for a family of four, rain or shine; pre-registration not required. Tour proceeds support the Birmingham Museum and special projects and research by the Friends of the Birmingham Museum.

Greenwood Cemetery is located on Oak between Greenwood and Lakeview Streets in Birmingham. There is no parking in the cemetery during the tour.

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