• Also
  • Visiting Cheesecake Cemetery Photo: Visiting Cheesecake Cemetery
    Chapter One: Living with Ghosts

    Chapter Two: Cheesecake Cemetery

    Chapter Three: Great Grandfather

    Chapter Four: Hankins Farm

    Chapter Five: Fighting for Freedom

    Chapter Six: Blood Lines

    Chapter Seven: Coming Together

    SUNDAY, July 30
    Chapter Eight: The Reservation

    MONDAY, July 31
    Chapter Nine: Reunion

  • To produce this series of stories, Daily Press reporter Stephanie Heinatz interviewed members of the Radcliffe family and the Hankins family, the descendants of the owners of the land where Edward Ratcliff lived as a slave. She also reviewed dozens of documents, including family records and public documents on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

    Complete list of sources
  • Civil War certificate Photo: Civil War certificate
  • A Man of Honor: A slave born in James city wins Medal of Honor A Man of Honor: A slave born in James city wins Medal of Honor
The answer to the caller's question - which came seemingly out of the blue - was simple.

"Yes, we have a Cheesecake Cemetery here," Jim Kemp said into the telephone early one morning in January.

Kemp, in fact, knew the cemetery well.

Since the summer of 2002, Kemp had been public affairs officer at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. He was often called upon by local historical societies to give tours of the old burial grounds.

In the years after the Civil War, freed slaves and American Indians had settled on the land that the Navy now owns.

The ruins of their old churches and their associated cemeteries became Navy property in 1918, when the land was turned into a mine depot and later a weapons station.

Cheesecake Cemetery - the name comes from a mispronunciation of the name of the Indian village Kiskiak - was associated with St. John's Baptist Church.

But what did the caller, who identified himself as a member of the Medal of Honor Historical Society, want with Cheesecake?

The stranger on the other end, Don Morfe from Baltimore, told Kemp that through his research, he'd learned that a man named Edward Ratcliff was buried there.

"Edward Ratcliff is a Medal of Honor recipient," Morfe told Kemp.

It was his understanding that Ratcliff didn't have a proper tombstone - a Medal of Honor tombstone - marking his grave. Morfe said he wanted to change that.

Kemp had seen the very few headstones left in the old cemetery. Most of them were faded with age. On some, the names were barely legible. And there was no stone for an Edward Ratcliff, as Morfe had suggested.

But Kemp was intrigued.

"I first started thinking about how I could prove this," he said. "I talked to another employee on the base who knows a lot of the history here. He actually took it upon himself and drove to Richmond and came back with copies of Mr. Ratcliff's death certificate."

Written on it, clear as day, was that Ratcliff was buried at "Chescake Cemetery" in Lackey, Va.

Lackey is the area of York County just outside the base.

And Cheesecake, as the cemetery is now called, is within the weapons station.

"Oh, my God," Kemp recalls thinking. "This is perfect. This is the proof."

Kemp got back in touch with Morfe, and together, they filed the Department of Veterans Affairs application for an official military headstone.