Preservation fund pieces together city’s past at historic cemetery

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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For the Washington Daily News 

The Sycamore Cemetery on Bonner Hill is more than a resting place; it’s a treasure trove of local history in Washington. Through the dedicated efforts of the Sycamore Preservation Fund, this cemetery, predating the town itself and rooted in the mid-1700s, is being revitalized. 

“Bonner Hill and the Sycamore Burying Ground site were first noted in a land patent in 1720,” explained Steve Bonner, a member of the Sycamore Preservation Fund, underscoring the site’s deep historical roots. 

This hallowed ground houses the remains of pivotal figures like Sheriff Thomas Bonner, a central figure in local governance, and his family, who influenced Washington’s early political and social landscape. 

“The family cemetery, Sycamore Burying Ground, contains the resting place of patriots, legislators and other public officials crucial to the formation and development of Washington and Beaufort County,” shared Bonner. 

Though, the importance of Sycamore Cemetery extends beyond its age. This cemetery is a testament to the contributions of these individuals, so integral that, as Bonner remarks, “without the residents and descendants of Sycamore, Washington might not exist.”

A chance conversation and a DNA connection brought Bonner and Bonner Guilford, both direct descendants of Sheriff Bonner, together, sparking the initiative to safeguard their shared history. 

“Following a DNA match, our discussion about Sycamore’s state led us to take immediate action,” said Bonner.

By restoring Sycamore Cemetery, the Fund aims to offer a tangible link to Washington’s early days. Guilford’s meticulous nature has been a cornerstone of the project. 

“[Guilford’s] comprehensive research and attention to detail have been invaluable,” added Bonner. “He has connected us with professional preservationists, historians, and archaeologists to ensure the conservation is conducted according to the National Park Service and professional graveyard conservation standards.”

The Sycamore Cemetery restoration has become a collaborative endeavor, drawing on the community’s support and forging partnerships with key historical organizations such as the Historic Port of Washington, the Brown Library Historic Department, and the North Carolina State Preservation Department.

Stephen Farrell, the reference specialist for Brown Library, echoed the community’s enthusiasm for the project. 

“I am excited by Dr. Bonner Guilford and Steve Bonner’s relentless pursuit of preservation, education and sustainability of this historic cemetery,” said Farrell. “These core principles will set Washington and the county apart in eastern North Carolina as we pursue more historic preservation projects with the support of our collective community.”

In restoring Sycamore Cemetery, the Fund is not only honoring the past but also cultivating a living legacy, ensuring that the spirit and stories of Washington’s founders are celebrated and remembered for generations to come.

“In every sense, the resurrection of Sycamore Cemetery is a resurrection of community spirit,” shared Bonner, “A renewal of our bond with the land and our forebears.” 


Resting in Sycamore Cemetery:


  • Sheriff Thomas Bonner (1690-1765), Beaufort County Sheriff
  • Abigail Bryan Daw Bonner (1690-after March 1779), his wife
  • Elizabeth Snoad Bonner (1736-1809), daughter of Sheriff Thomas Bonner
  • Col. Thomas Bonner Jr. (1719-1787), son of Sheriff Thomas Bonner, patriot
  • Sarah Peyton Bonner (1726-1790), wife of Col. Thomas Bonner Jr.
  • Maj. Henry Bonner (1732-1779), son of Sheriff Thomas Bonner, patriot
  • Ann Snoad Bonner, probable wife of Maj. Henry Bonner, daughter of Capt. Henry Snoad
  • Patience Bonner (1767-1823), daughter of Maj. Henry Bonner
  • Henry Snoad Bonner (1761-1810), son of Maj. Henry Bonner, N.C. State Senate
  • Mary Heath Burbage Bonner (before 1831), probable wife of Henry Snoad Bonner
  • Portia Snoad Bonner Smallwood (1802-1831), daughter of Henry Snoad Bonner
  • Samuel Smaw Smallwood (1797-1879), probable husband of Portia Snoad Bonner
  • John Waller Smallwood Jr. (1855-1856), child of John Waller Smallwood and Emily Baker Lucas
  • Emily Lucas Smallwood (1872-1872), child of John Waller Smallwood and Emily Baker Lucas
  • William John Ellison (1813-1862), subsequent property owner after Thomas Smallwood
  • George Henry Respass (1844-1845), son of Thomas and Martha Respass
  • Amanda S Mastin (1800-1821), wife of Richard H. Mastin