April 19, 2001
April 19, 2001

Remains of 19th century Damascus
cemetery being examined by YSU team

The Review

Review Photo/Ed Hall Jr.

Clarence Sekerak of Damascus, a retired Alliance Friends Church pastor, pitches in to help with the exhumation of Lot 17 Cemetery at Damascus Friends Church. Lot 17 is one of four lots given to the Friends church in the original plot of Damascus, according to Sekerak.

DAMASCUS — An aura of reverence envelops the Lot 17 Cemetery adjacent to Damascus Friends Church where a segment of the heritage of the community is being unearthed.

Looking on from behind a fenced-off area where digging has begun at the cemetery, a sense of history evokes thoughts of how the community would have been in the 1800s, when the burial site was used.

Exhumation of this long-ago burial ground is being done by Dr. John White, chairman of the Youngstown State University Department of Sociology and Anthropology, members of his staff, and students. The work began in late March.

The project is being done to free the land, according to Joyce Steer, who is serving as secretary of the Lot 17 Cemetery Committee. "No one has ever wanted to blacktop or build there because we knew it was a cemetery."

Former Friends church pastor, Clarence Sekerak, was instrumental in launching the project. Sekerak is writing a book on Quaker history in the area.

Steer explained the cemetery, which has no grave markers, was measured and it was calculated where graves would be located.

"They figured what they thought was the center of the cemetery and then went down the center and found two rows of graves immediately," Steer said, adding that the soil was darker where the graves were located because the earth had been disturbed.

The digging is done carefully. Steer added, "They dig around and under a skeleton trying to bring it up. It is done with the utmost respect."

From information taken from cemetery records it is thought approximately 60 people are buried in the cemetery. Using those records and the partial diary of a former grave keeper at the cemetery, it is hoped names can be put with some remains, Steer said.

Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Catlett Sr. who lived from Jan. 15, 1749 to Sept. 6, 1828 is buried in this cemetery as is Amos Walton who lived from Aug. 29, 1806 to March 12, 1823. Records show that his parents, Jesse and Ann Walton, paid $4.50 for his burial. The last documented burial at the cemetery is recorded as "Anthony Marris’s child" on Sept. 12, 1843. The undertaker charged $1.25.

The first bone fragment, thought to be a piece of a pelvic bone, was found the first day, Steer said.

"Embalming came into vogue in 1850," she explained that Youngstown University won’t exhume any cemeteries after the 1850s for that reason.

According to Steer, any bones found will be bagged and taken to Youngstown State University where they will be cleaned to document whether the bone is from a male or female and how old the person was at death.

Any bones found will be put in cardboard boxes and labeled, Steer said. Those bones will then be reburied at the newer Damascus Friends Church Cemetery on Valley Road, the 1.5 acres of land which was purchased Dec. 28, 1838.

Charles Mastran, a graduate student at Youngstown State, serves as foreman for this dig while Dr. White serves as director and supervisor. Mastran is considering using the history of the Friends Burying Ground Lot 17 as the basis for his thesis for his master’s degree. White has served on digs in the United States, Israel, and Turkey where the site of an ancient Crusade castle was excavated.

Each week, Judy Wheeler updates a web site on progress of the work at Lot 17 Cemetery. That information may be accessed at