- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

WAVERLY, Pa. (AP) - For nine months in 1864 and 1865, the Union Army dug trenches and laid siege to Confederate-held Petersburg, Virginia, where the U.S. Colored Troops 22nd Regiment Infantry faced its toughest challenge.

As bullets whizzed overhead and artillery shells shook the ground, the newly formed black regiment was among those pushing their way toward the city.

In the ranks of that regiment were several black soldiers from Waverly.

Local author and historian Jim Remsen took listeners back in time Sunday afternoon with a lecture on black Civil War veterans from Waverly. After 29 years with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Remsen returned to his hometown and turned his research to local history. The Lackawanna County Historical Society sponsored the talk.

He told the stories of John Mason, William Bradley, John Washington, Francis Asbury Johnson, George Keyes and George Keyes Jr., Joshua and Peter Norris, John Sampson, Richard Lee, Samuel McDonald, Wesley Baptiste and Samuel Thomas, who gave up the relative safety of Waverly to fight for the Union.

“I can only imagine the anguish of their families, having them brought safely here … then to lose them again down South,” Mr. Remsen said.

Waverly was a bustling boomtown in the decades leading up to the Civil War, Remsen said. Abolition, sobriety and education were high priorities for its Protestant Yankee gentry, who took seriously the edict of Deuteronomy 23:15: “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not return him to his master.”

“This was a radical call to full hospitality,” Remsen said. Though he described the attitudes of middle- and lower-class whites as indifferent, curious, neutral or sometimes hostile toward blacks, the town still became a hub for the Underground Railroad and developed the largest black community in Northeast Pennsylvania.

In the mid-1800s, Waverly was home to an African Methodist Episcopal church and several one-room schoolhouses where black children learned alongside whites.

When the war came, 13 black men of Waverly volunteered. Some were born into slavery in states like Maryland or Virginia, others were born free in Waverly or other Northeastern states, he said.

Most fought in the 22nd Regiment, he said. A few joined the 3rd Regiment. One joined the 11th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, another the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, and another fought alongside whites in the 30th Pennsylvania Regiment. Many suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds, others suffered injuries on work detail that harried them their whole lives, he said.

They returned to Waverly to no fanfare, but some received crucial community support when they needed it most, he said.

The black church and the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic offered jobs, stipends and other support to these black veterans and their families, Remsen said.

Well-to-do Waverly residents also wrote reference letters to help them receive pensions or disability funds. When they died, several were buried at Hickory Grove Cemetery on Miller Road.

Listening to Mr. Remsen’s lecture were descendents of Thomas Burgette, who fled slavery in Maryland and settled in Waverly. John Burgette Sr. and his wife, Edna, who live in Scranton, attended along with their daughter Joann Burgette-Scott and granddaughter Lela Scott, who live in East Stroudsburg.

For this family, Waverly represented the first rung on the ladder to the American dream.

“Waverly not only gave them protection and freedom from slave catchers,” Edna Burgette said. “They gave them property, where you can go to get to safety, find a home and raise a family.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1uYoQyY

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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