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Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington's first municipal burial ground, is one of the most beautiful and scenic graveyards in the Old North State. It remains the town’s largest cemetery, and is noted for the large number of prominent Wilmingtonians and other North Carolinians who are buried there. In early 1852, several prominent citizens of Wilmington met to discuss the establishment of a new cemetery, to be located beyond the city limits. A committee was set up to select a site and to secure a charter under the corporate name “Proprietors of the Wilmington Cemetery.”
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The legislature granted the charter in December 1852 and a site was selected on a neck of land northeast of the town limits on the east bank of Burnt Mill Creek. An initial tract of sixty-five acres was purchased for $1,100. The first lots were sold on December 5, 1854, and the first person buried was Anne deRosset, the six-year-old daughter of a prominent Wilmington citizen. The first superintendent was Charles Quigley, who died during Wilmington’s yellow fever epidemic of 1862. Many who died before 1852 were later moved and re-interred at Oakdale. A large area of unmarked graves reveals the mass burial ground where victims of the yellow fever epidemic were interred. Civil War era burials are numerous, including a mass grave (with a large monument) for hundreds of Confederate soldiers killed in battle at Fort Fisher in 1865.
Other prominent burials include Gov. Edward B. Dudley, the first popularly elected governor of North Carolina; George Davis, attorney general of the Confederacy; Capt. John Newland Maffitt, Confederate naval officer; Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; Maj. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting, mortally wounded at Fort Fisher; and Mrs. Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy who drowned in the surf off Fort Fisher in 1864. Oakdale is also the final resting place of members of Congress and other military figures.
Today, Oakdale—with its large trees and diverse array of ornate markers, stones, and monuments—remains one of Wilmington’s most popular tourist attractions. A map of the cemetery, showing locations of the more prominent burials, is available to visitors.
Oakdale Cemetery Records, Wilmington, North Carolina, 5 volumes, 1852-1879; 1880-1920; 1920-1949; 1950-1969; 1970-1988