THE NORRIS FAMILY CEMETERY
HUNTINGDON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
The Norris Cemetery was established by Joseph P. Norris (1729-1813) on his farm along The Raystown Branch of the Juniata River in Penn Township. The site, now covered by Raystown Lake, is very near the Seven Points Marina of the early 21st century. Joseph and wife Mary Moody, along with some of their younger children and an older married son, moved to that area in the mid 1780s. Knowing that one day burial sites would be needed, and since there were no public cemeteries within many miles, he chose ground for a family plot a few hundred feet from his log house.
The Revolutionary War ended just a year or two before Joseph’s move from Maryland. During the war, the British were paying scalp money to Indians as another way of discouraging those who wished to be independent of Crown rule. This money incentive cost the lives of the former occupants of the land Joseph purchased. He was concerned that passing Indians might dig up bodies and scalp them for a reward, since they used the Raystown Branch as a transportation corridor. The river valley was the easiest way to move through the considerable ridges that make up Huntingdon and adjacent counties. When Joseph settled there, the Indians were still traveling along the river. Located about one-third of a mile from The Branch, his buildings were easily seen across the fields that fronted on that stream.
Knowing of the possible danger, Joseph chose what he thought to be the least likely place passers by might notice a gravesite. A lane of about one quarter mile led to his buildings from a township road. At a distance of a few dozen yards from the house, a trickling stream crossed that lane. The source of the stream, which was often small enough that one could step across it, was a spring some distance upslope. Through time the stream had created a small, shallow ravine. The ground along the stream was swampy and not useful for farming. Thus, the ravine was not kept clear, leaving a brushy nodule on an otherwise cleared hillside, an inconspicuous, if not very appropriate place for graves.
In a few short years Indians no longer traversed the area with any regularity, and no grave was ever disturbed by them. Who was first buried there is not certain, but it may have been Joseph in 1813. Certainly his was among the earliest interments. Over the years, infants and small children were buried there along with adults.
At least 31 burials took place over the period of a century, the last occurring in 1893 when David, a grandson of Joseph and Mary, died in early December at age 81. The family attending the burial included Emanuel Norris, David’s grandson and my grandfather. Then a boy of thirteen, he later witnessed to his family and others that two men dipped water from the grave until time for the interment.
In the first half of the 1900s, the land was owned by a Grubb family, and the cemetery was largely ignored by Norris descendants. In the 1950s, men from nearby Jacob’s Church went to the cemetery and cleared away the brush, weeds and briars that had overgrown the whole. By that time, there were saplings of some size standing among the gravestones. Some of the men and/or their wives were descendants of Joseph and Mary.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received congressional approval to build a dam on the Raystown Branch for the primary purpose of flood control, but also for recreational purposes and some power generation. A smaller dam built on the stream about 1910 for power generation was simply covered by the waters behind the new dam. The Corps condemned property some thirty miles upstream into neighboring Bedford County and into some of the tributary valleys as well, creating a lake with about 100 miles of shoreline. Law required that before flooding could take place, stones and grave sites had to be moved to higher ground and remains re-interred.
Thus, it was that the Norris Cemetery graves were moved to the White Church Cemetery, that is, at Jacob’s Church, about three miles from the original family plot. Thirty-one graves were moved. Of these, twelve had formal stones with names and dates inscribed, some had smooth river stones from The Branch with just initials and a date inscribed or had no inscription, and some markers were weathered beyond preservation. Names found on markers (monuments) are listed following with a map showing the burial pattern in the cemetery.
And so, the original Norris Cemetery site, carefully chosen by Joseph Norris upon his arrival along the Raystown Branch in the 1780s, is now lost to the waters of Raystown Lake, the graves and markers having been moved to higher ground. And it is there in the far north corner of the White Church Cemetery that one may find these graves with their mortal remains, hopefully to be moved no more.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mapped the cemetery grave sites before removal of the graves began. We have drawn a map (included below) to show the arrangement of the burials. The graves of less than adult size indicate that perhaps as many as sixteen were those of infants and young children.
A list of Norris family members with tombstone identifications follows. The numbers to the left of the names match those on the map to show where each of the following person was buried.
1. Joseph Norris, Sr. (1729-1813)
2. wife - Mary Moody Norris (1730-1817)
3. Joseph Norris, Jr. (1774-1839)
4. wife – Elizabeth Enyeart Norris (1779-1855)
5. David Norris (1812-1893)
son of Joseph, Jr.
6. wife – Elizabeth Grubb Norris (1820-1859)
7. William Norris (1800-1857)
son of Joseph, Jr.
8. Elizabeth Norris (1823-1842)
dau. Of Joseph Jr.
9. Andrew Jackson Norris (1850-1872)
son of David & Elizabeth
10. Catharine Belle Norris (1863-1864)
inf. dau. of Thomas & Nancy Snyder Norris,
granddaughter of Joseph Jr. & Elizabeth
11. Flora Esther Norris (1879-1880)
inf. dau. Of William White Norris &Mary Waite Norris,
and granddaughter of David & Elizabeth Norris
12. Abraham Norris (1859-1859)
inf. Son of David and Elizabeth Norris
Who are those buried at the remaining sites?
13. Jane Norris McCall (1798-1864) – daughter Of Joseph, Jr. and Elizabeth
14. Alexander McCall (1802-1838) – husband of Jane Norris
Family records indicated that the couple was buried in the Norris cemetery, although the Corps of Engineers did not find their names on any stone. The Corps listed two stones that they identified with the initials A.M.G. and H.A.M.G., with he death dates of 1838 and 1843 respectively. Those two graves were side by side. The 1838 stone was incorrectly identified as A.M.G. The letters should have been interpreted as A.M.C. for Alexander McCall who died in 1838 and was buried there to identify. How another initialed stone came to be interpreted as H.A.M.G is not understood, for there is no grave marker with those initials at the White Church Cemetery in 2012.
Of the remaining adult size graves, it is likely that two of them are those of John D. Norris and his first wife, Nancy. She likely died sometime between 1802 and 1808. John D., elder son of Joseph, Sr., remarried around 1810 and had more children. One source indicated that John died there in the township in 1838, and it is most likely that he was buried in the family plot. We have found no documentation of where he died or of his place of burial.
15. Jane Snare (1825-1849) wife of Abraham Snare
Her grave was located in a corner of the cemetery, away from the Norris cluster. With a small grave on either side of hers, it may be that two children preceded or followed her in death. We have found no connection between her and the Norris family.
One remaining adult size grave was located alone in yet another corner away from the family graves, perhaps that of another person unrelated to the Norris family, or perhaps of one of Joseph Senior’s slaves.
The sixteen remaining gravesites, smaller than adult size, were those of infants and children, as infant mortality and death due to childhood disease were common to many families of the time. Currently, we know the name of only one child who was buried in the cemetery. He was:
Thomas Luther Norris (6/20/1842 or 1843 – 9/27/1843)
son of John Norris & Martha Masden Norris
and grandchild of Joseph, Jr. and Elizabeth
Information compiled and shared by:
The Norris Cemetery was located in Penn Township, and the graves were relocated for the construction of Raystown Lake. All of the known graves at the Norris Cemetery were moved to the White Church Cemetery.