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Great grandchildren of 1898 victim react to discovery of Joshua Halsey’s gravesite

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 6:47 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - More than a century after being murdered outside his home in the insurrection of 1898, Joshua Halsey’s unmarked grave was found by the Third Person Project.

“123 years later — this is unreal,” said great granddaughter Elaine Cynthia Brown.

It’s a discovery his great grandchildren are especially grateful for. Nate Brown has been uncovering his family’s history for some time on Ancestry.com and working with local researchers with the New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project. This July, he got a call from the Third Person Project that they had located an unmarked grave belonging to his great grandfather, Joshua Halsey.

“We were completely stunned,” said descendant Nate Brown.

”I’m getting goosebumps just sitting here thinking about it. It’s my great grandfather and it’s just... it’s history, and it’s honoring the people who we’ll never know who were massacred,” said another family member, Gwendolyn Alexis.

Countless Black people were killed in Wilmington in 1898 when white supremacists violently overthrew the elected, biracial government.

Now that the first of the graves has been located, a funeral has been planned for Halsey, complete with a horse drawn carriage to pay proper respects to the murder victim.

“We’re calling it a funeral, but there will be no one there who knew Josh, actually knew him, but what happened to him cannot be forgotten,” said Nate Brown.

To never be forgotten, people first must know what became of victims like the Halsey family.

His death, and his wife and children’s story of survival, is undoubtedly important to the family, but also one woven into the fabric of Wilmington as a whole.

“We’re honoring the people who hid in the swamps, were honoring the people who never came back to their homes, we’re honoring so many ancestors along with our family, our blood,” said Alexis. “When that horse-drawn carriage is going through Wilmington, history is on that horse-drawn carriage. History of what has been untold — what has been hidden. It’s the first time and the only time in history that a sitting government, duly elected government, was overthrown and removed. It’s so much bigger than me, so bigger than all of us.”

Massacres are meant to destroy, but Nate Brown says he hopes the grand sendoff so many years later isn’t so much about sympathy as it is a celebration of what the insurrectionists couldn’t destroy: the strength that ran through Halsey and his wife, Sally and the same strength that still runs through his great grandchildren.

”I’m hoping and praying that Joshua and Sally can feel that yes we went on, we prospered, we survived, and we’ve done better,” said Nate Brown.

Relatives have been uncovering the roots of their family tree from as far away as their homes in California and New York, and in the process reclaiming the port city where their own family stories began.

City and county officials, along with the 1898 Commemorative Foundation, will hold the funeral on Nov. 6 and they’re asking for people to line the streets that afternoon to watch the procession pass.

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