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Vernon Dorsey of Mechanicsville has been searching for the grave of an ancestor of his who died in 1883.

Philip Reeder, a veteran of the Confederate army, was thought to have been buried in a family cemetery on private property in Laurel Grove. After a cleanup of the cemetery this month by Confederate heritage groups, the search continues.

The Westfield (Reeder) Cemetery has five known graves still marked by headstones lying prone on the ground, called ledger stones. But many more people are thought to be buried there, in graves now unmarked.

“It was pretty overgrown,” said Dorsey, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp Camalier. “I always knew it was there,” he said of the cemetery, because other relatives were buried there. But it wasn’t until he got involved in the group that he visited the owners of the property off Mary Dixon Lane to speak to them about the cemetery.

Westfield and Summerseat, a farm preserved under the auspices of a nonprofit group, were part of the same land grant, Dorsey said.

The underbrush was removed on a Saturday this month at Westfield in a search for Reeder’s grave. “All the stones we revealed, the majority of them are the late 1700s,” said Christina Pascariello, of the Pvt. Jane Perkins Order of the Confederate Rose.

The ledger stones mark the graves of Susannah Graves Reeder, who died in 1771; Thomas Attaway Reeder, who died in 1773; Barnaby Egan, who died in 1781; John R. Egan, who died in 1786; and Dr. Gustuvas Brown, who died in 1801.

“The whole thing is full” of burials, Pascariello said of the cemetery. “There’s only five stones. We have no idea on how many graves are there,” she said. “It seems to have turned into something bigger than we thought.”

“No one has ever examined that cemetery,” Dorsey said, and it is not listed as a historic cemetery with the Maryland Historical Trust.

Archaeologist Scott Lawrence of Grave Concerns was called in to take an initial look at the Westfield Cemetery.

Lawrence said he had never been there before and doesn’t know a lot about it yet. “There’s a lot more burials there, but I didn’t see much evidence” of them, such as sunken graves, he said.

The Dr. Brown buried there is probably related to two other Dr. Browns in the Southern Maryland area during the time of the Revolutionary War, Lawrence said, one of whom may have attended to the medical needs of George Washington.

He called Westfield, out in the middle of a farm field, “one of those nice little cemeteries.”

Philip Reeder’s obituary was printed in the St. Mary’s Beacon of April 26, 1883. He died in Howard County at the age of 44. Reeder attended the Charlotte Hall School in St. Mary’s County and graduated in 1858.

In St. Mary’s County, “he taught several years in the public schools of the county but when the war between the states began he went South and fought gallantly [and] manfully for ‘the Lost Cause,’” the Beacon wrote. After the war, he returned to St. Mary’s, but then was appointed the principal of a grammar school in Baltimore for 10 years.

He returned to St. Mary’s County when his health declined, but then went to teach in Howard County when his strength returned.

Since Reeder’s grave was not discovered at the Westfield cemetery, Dorsey is now checking to see if he’s buried at Mt. Zion United Methodist across Three Notch Road in Laurel Grove.

The Confederate heritage groups are also planning to clean up other historic cemeteries in St. Mary’s in the near future, Pascariello said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com