The Upper Burying Ground: A Brief History

The earliest records of the Germantown settlement refer to the creation, in November 1693, of two public spaces set aside for use as burying grounds. The land parcels, each one half acre, were granted to the Corporation of Germantown by Paul Wulff in exchange for other land. These cemeteries still exist today as the Lower Burying Ground or Hood Cemetery (4901 Germantown Avenue) and the Upper Burying Ground (6309 Germantown Avenue).

The stone wall along Germantown Avenue in front of the Upper Burying Ground was constructed in 1724 and repaired in 1776. John Frederick Ax cared for the cemetery from approximately 1724 to 1756: hence, in the eighteenth century, the site was sometimes called “Ax’s Burying Ground.”

No formal list of burials was kept until 1756—the only evidence for burials before this date comes from tombstones. According to these, the oldest known burial in the graveyard is Cornelius Tyson (Teison), one of the first Germantown settlers, who died in 1716. The last burial, according to records, took place on June 25, 1907; however, the headstone of Margaret B. Crout is dated 1912. Notable citizens buried in the Upper Burying Ground include members of the Rittenhouse family; Christian Lehmann, an early surveyor of Germantown; members of the Knorr family, including Jacob Knor (Knorr), the builder of the Concord schoolhouse, of Cliveden, and of Germantown Academy; Zachariah Poulson, publisher of an important newspaper, Poulson’s Daily Advertiser; members of the family of George Lippard, the nineteenth-century Philadelphia novelist; and descendants of Francis Daniel Pastorius.

We believe that over 1300 persons may be buried in the Upper Burying Ground. However, only slightly over 300 tombstone inscriptions are recorded. Why are there so few headstones? Some may have disappeared, but most burials were of poor people or children whose families could not afford stones. Some blacks were buried in the Upper Burying Ground in the early and mid-1700s: for example, in 1758, “Leonhart Steinbrenner’s Negro,” likely an enslaved person, was laid to rest there. However, in 1766, the Trustees of the Burying Ground rejected a request by Christian Warner to bury his “Negroe child” (likely a slave) and passed a regulation stating that all “Strangers and Negroes and Molattoes” had to be buried in a separate ground on Bowman’s Lane in Lower Germantown. No discrimination among white ethnicities appears to have taken place. Catholics, Jews, and Protestants were buried here. Native American burials are also recorded.

The Concord School House: A Brief History

HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) PA-12

National Register of Historic Places 66000678 (Colonial Germantown Historic District, listed 10/15/1966)

The Concord School sits on a corner of the Upper Burying Ground of Germantown, which was established at the beginning of the settlement in 1693. The construction of the stone schoolhouse, originally one story, took place under the supervision of a group of residents, one of whom was Jacob Knor, the builder of Germantown Academy, between March and October 1775. The second story and the bell tower were added to the building around 1818.

The first minute book of the school, in use from the school’s early decades through the early twentieth century, is held by The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. According to these minutes, inhabitants of upper Germantown (122 subscribers) collected funds to build the schoolhouse because of “the Distance and particular Inconveniance [sic] through the Winter Seasons of sending their Children to the Lower School and Seeing the number of Children Continually Increasing . . . .” Concord was established as an English-only school, although this probably suggests not that residents of German origin were excluded, but rather that assimilation of German speakers to English-language culture had largely taken place.

Various theories have been proposed to explain the name Concord: it may commemorate the ship on which the first Germantown settlers arrived, or the first skirmish of the American Revolution, or the fact that the cemetery in which the school sits included residents of all religious denominations, lying together “in sweet concord.”

The first schoolmaster was John Grimes. The school served as one of Germantown’s public schools for a short period in the 1840s and thereafter as a private school and meeting place for various local societies. In 1855, the Charter Oak Association rented the upper room for use as a library, the Charter Oak Library. In 1903, the building became for a brief period the home of the Germantown Site and Relic Society, later the Germantown Historical Society.

Black History at the Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground

The Minutes of the Concord School House (at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania) contain an intriguing reference: in 1814, one of the Trustees paid $2.65 for “my Black Boys Tuition.” We do not know who the Trustee was, nor if the African American youth in question was actually enslaved (still possible at that time in Pennsylvania, although unlikely) or a servant. What this reference does imply, though, is that Concord was, at least for part of its history, integrated—to a degree. A second piece of evidence comes from the reminiscences of Charles Haupt, who attended Concord in the mid- or late- nineteenth century, and whose memories were recorded by Edwin C. Jellett in 1906 (Jellett’s notes are at the Germantown Historical Society). Haupt recalled that, “The first-floor of the school was used by the Boys, and one bench was reserved for colored boys. The upper floor was used by the girls.”

The schoolroom was a site for Abolitionist activity. An advertisement in the Pennsylvania Freeman from 1839 announces “An Anti-Slavery Meeting” to be held at Concord on February 3, 1839. Immediate neighbors like the Johnsons and William Dorsey were prominent abolitionists. We also know from the early Treasurers’ Accounts that in 1857 a group of “colored people” rented the schoolroom—we are not sure for how long, or for what purpose they did so.

A similar story of integration and segregation may be told about the Upper Burying Ground. Some Blacks were buried in the Upper Burying Ground in the early to mid-1700s: for example, in 1758, “Leonhart Steinbrenner’s Negro,” likely an enslaved person, was laid to rest. However, in 1766, the Trustees of the Burying Ground rejected a request by Christian Warner to bury his “Negroe child” (likely a slave) and passed a regulation stating that all “Strangers and Negroes and Molattoes” had to be buried in a separate ground on Bowman’s Lane (now Queen Lane) in Lower Germantown. This policy seems to have been reversed after the Civil War.


Early records: Minute Book of the Concord School House: “Original as well as Subsquent Proceedings of the Order and Management of the School and Building the Concord School House at the Upper End of Germantown 1775,” Am 37070, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Upper Germantown Burying Ground, Record Book, 1724-1908, Am 3707, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

For summaries of the history of the Concord School, see William N. Johnson, “The Old Concord Schoolhouse: Its Sesqui-Centennial Celebration,“ The Beehive 9, no. 3 (1925), 1-[7?], and Doris F. Ritzinger, “A Visit to the Old Concord School House,” Germantowne Crier 23, no. 2 (1971), 52-53, 58, 66-67. See also The Concord School House, built 1775, and The Upper Burying Ground of Germantown, established 1692 ([Philadelphia]: Trustees of the Upper Burying Ground, 1976) (pamphlet available at site). For discussion of Concord in the history of Germantown, see Stephanie Grauman Wolf, Urban Village: Population, Community, and Family Structure in Germantown, Pennsylvania, 1683-1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 241-42; Edward Hocker, Germantown 1683-1933 (Germantown, Pa.: Published by the Author, 1933), 94. On Jacob Knor as builder of Concord School House, see James D. Kornwolf, Architecture and Town Planning in Colonial North America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 2:1203.