Oakdale Cemetery

Written By Shane Williams

Prior to the 1850s, the deceased were buried on a family member’s property or on his or her church grounds. The transition to the rural cemetery began in England in the 1840s. Large tracts of land, with a garden setting, became cemeteries where families could mourn the loss of loved ones. Rural cemeteries would be lined with gravestones close to one another. Paths and hills and natural streams, if possible, provided solace for the mourner. Oakdale Cemetery was founded within this tradition.

During the mid-1800s, Wilmington was a populated urban port city and an ideal setting for the state’s first rural cemetery. In December 1852, the legislature granted a charter for sixty-five acres of land in the northeastern city limits on Burnt Mill Creek. The parcel sold for $1,100. In 1854, the first plots were sold and the first person buried at Oakdale was six-year old Anne DeRossett.

Oakdale’s tranquil environment prompted many families to relocate relatives from other burial places to Oakdale. This explains the many gravestones with pre-1855 markings. Many of the Confederates fallen at the Battle of Fort Fisher (1865) and four hundred victims of 1862 are buried in the cemetery.

Notable burials include Governor Edward Dudley, the state’s first popularly elected governor; Confederate Attorney General George Davis; John Newland Maffitt, an officer in the Confederate States Navy, and Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow. In the cemetery, there are designated sections for families and groups such as Free Masons and Odd Fellows.  Among the interred are state politicians, war veterans, writers, and architects.

Today, Oakdale Cemetery offers historical walking. The Board of Directors of the Oakdale Cemetery Company maintains the development of the grounds. In 2005, a nonprofit organization, Friends of Oakdale Cemetery, was formed to provide financial support and in other ways help the cemetery company retain the site’s “historical character.”