Cumberland County College Professor Authors Book on Black Civil War SoldiersLast Edited:
VINELAND, NJ – When Cheryl Renée Gooch, Ph.D., happened upon several timeworn headstones in a cemetery near the entrance to Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University campus, the discovery propelled her on a 15-month journey to learn about the lives of the men buried there more than a century ago.
“Walking through the atmospheric cemetery of Hosanna Church, I recognized the headstones as monuments,” Gooch said. “The inscriptions provided tantalizing clues and I realized these stories needed to be told.”
Gooch, Cumberland County College’s Dean of Arts, Humanities and Developmental Studies, documented the lives of 18 African American Union soldiers, 10 of whom are buried in the cemetery at Hosanna Church.
Her extensive research resulted in the book, Hinsonville’s Heroes: Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania, which was published recently by The History Press.
“These brave men anticipated that history would overlook their service and sacrifices,” Gooch said.
“When the families placed those monuments, the men were placed in history with the hope that their lives would be acknowledged.”
One gets the sense that the heroes’ stories had been waiting for Gooch to tell them.
More than a place of worship, the modest Hosanna Church, established in 1843, was once the center of the thriving village of Hinsonville, Pennsylvania, a free black community founded in antebellum Chester County, and located only a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Hinsonville’s residents became involved in major civil movements,” explained Gooch. “They hosted anti-slavery meetings, were actively involved in the Underground Railroad, and cofounded Lincoln University, which was the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU). As missionaries, they played a role in the colonization of Liberia.”
Using National Archives and Records Administration files, census documents, military pension files, and birth, marriage and death records, Gooch was able to weave the story of the soldiers’ personal histories before, during, and after the Civil War.
“I became engrossed in their stories,” said the Wilmington, Delaware resident.
Gooch found that eleven of the Hinsonville soldiers were trained at Camp William Penn, located in what is now Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. It served as the first training ground dedicated to African American troops during the Civil War. Scores of free blacks and escaped slaves were trained there, including many recruits from New Jersey.
Of the 18 Hinsonville men who served in the military, 16 survived the war. Most returned to the area, but due to the injuries suffered in battle and great difficulty in obtaining adequate medical benefits, they lived with their families in abject poverty.
“Many chose to eventually be buried there. That is a testament to the deep connection they had to the Hinsonville community,” said Gooch.
An avid genealogist and lifetime member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Gooch is passionate about uncovering aspects of black history that have been forgotten. She has spent two decades researching the paternal lineage of her family’s history. “One’s personal history is social history,” she said. “Each generation of my ancestors witnessed and shaped American history.” The prolific writer is completing a book which chronicles six generations of her family’s journey from slavery to freedom.
As a professor and scholar, Gooch is equally passionate about interdisciplinary studies.
“I tell my students about the importance of having a multi-layered awareness and complex understanding of our shared history as Americans,” she said. “Our mission as educators is to produce informed citizens who can perform and thrive in multicultural societies. With an informed awareness of our country’s rich history, students become more compassionate and prepared to deal with the social and political changes we are experiencing today.”
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