Although Pax River’s present St. Nicholas Chapel was built in 1916, the site’s original church was erected in 1796 and, for generations, the parish served the many Catholic families who lived in the towns surrounding it.
While the exact reason remains unknown, when the Navy acquired the land to build NAS Patuxent River in 1942, all of the cemetery’s headstones were laid over and covered with sod. They remained that way until 2006 when the late Scott Lawrence, a federal contractor at the time with ancestors buried in the cemetery, acquired permission from the Navy to unearth the grave markers and began restoring the cemetery — a task that took seven years.
Not only were the headstones restored, but so was a tangible link to the past and those individuals who once lived here, including veterans who served as far back as the Revolutionary War.
Research done on the cemetery showed there are at least 23 veterans from all of the earliest wars in American history. Here are just a few of their names:
Historical research shows Robert Jarboe, who served in the Revolutionary War, was born in 1752 and died in 1803. Buried in grave #64, he was an ensign in Lower Battalion of the St. Mary’s Militia. While not proven, it is believed he crossed the Delaware River with George Washington.
Capt. Michael Brown Carroll — grave #401 — is associated with the War of 1812. Born in 1768, he served on three of the six frigates authorized by Congress in 1794 — the Philadelphia, the Constellation and the President. He was commissioned as a lieutenant on April 10, 1802 and that commission, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, is on display at the St. Mary’s Historical Society in Leonardtown.
Born in 1842, Charles H. Chapman was a former slave owned by D. Freeman in the Factory District (Great Mills) of St. Mary’s County. During the Civil War, he enlisted in Company H of the 7th Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT) in July 1863. He saw duty in Virginia, South Carolina and Florida. He was discharged in August 1865, died in 1910 and is buried in grave #98.
David Hammett served the Confederacy as a private with Company D, 2nd Maryland Infantry, Confederate States of America (CSA). Wounded at the Battle of Pegram’s Farm, he was captured and held at Point Lookout Prison until the end of the war. Buried in grave #204, he was born in 1841 and died in 1897.
One of the more current graves, #120, is that of John Albert Edgeston who was killed by the flu serving with the Army in Europe during World War I. He was born 1890 and died in 1918 at 28 years of age.
Burials at the cemetery stopped when the Navy took over the land and families no longer looked to St. Nicholas to lay their loved ones to rest.
The next time you drive past the cemetery, take a moment to glance at the historic headstones and remember those who once walked this land — especially those veterans who served their country a very long time ago.