Voices of the Past: Eugene Burwell (February 14, 2022)
Updated: Mar 3
Born: September 30, 1898
Died: January 25, 1919, aged 21
Location: Soldiers Circle, Grave 2
Throughout the past year, we have been so incredibly fortunate to have received endless support from those in our Community, not only through monetary donations, but through knowledge. Local residents have been kind enough to share the stories of their families, neighbors, and friends who now reside in the Cemetery grounds, and it's only helped to strengthen the bonds we feel to the place we call "home."
week's story begins with the Soldiers Circle restoration project. The stone in question belonged to a man listed in the original records "Eugene Burrell," as was confirmed by the Asmonga's during their research of burial cards from the original Cemetery records. Unfortunately, there was not much else that could back the name in any of the archives they searched through. This stone was one of the several marked for replacement due to the extreme wear and illegibility suffered over time, but, after many fruitless hours of research, the volunteers gathering information to submit the replacement applications were unable to find ANY documentation on Eugene Burrell. Any hope of replacing the stone seemingly vanished.
Enter JaQuay Edward Carter. We were fortunate to meet Mr. Carter after reading his research work on the Burwell family that has appeared in recent editions of the Valley Mirror. Board member Vince Rodgers brought up the articles during the January Board Meeting, saying that Mr. Carter's research reflected a Eugene Burwell, the great-uncle of Homestead Mayor, John M. Burwell, who rests in the Circle proper. This name was not on the original Veterans list, but, was close enough to the enigmatic Eugene Burrell, that it warranted further research.
Ellis Michaels and Christine Schott immediately found supporting documentation of Eugene Burwell that confirmed he is, in fact, our Eugene Burrell. Someone had misspelled the name in the original records from 1920, and the government provided marker reflected the incorrect name.
Ellis was able to meet with Mr. Carter and Mayor Burwell, and an application has been submitted to the VA for a corrected stone bearing Eugene's name.
Mr. Carter has graciously given us permission to share some of the work he's so painstakingly procured, so that we may properly remember and honor Eugene Burwell. We cannot thank him enough, and sincerely welcome him to the Homestead Cemetery as our newest Board Member!
If you are interested in reading Mr. Carter's full articles which detail a more broad history of the Burwell family, you may reach out to the Valley Mirror.
Abel "Abraham" and Letisha (Tharpe) Burwell, a Black family from Montvale, Virginia, raised their family of six children, including Eugene, Elizabeth, Randolph, Frank, Grant, and Mack, in the Appalachian Mountains prior to moving to the 5th Ward of Homestead around 1900. Another son, Alfred, and a daughter, Tisha, were born following the move. Unfortunately, Tisha died in infancy shortly following her birth.
Abel was one of the few Black employees at the Homestead Works, and Eugene, as well as his brothers, found employment as laborers with Harbison-Walker Brickworks of West Homestead, located where Sandcastle and the Glenwood Bridge currently stand.
When the US entered World War I on April 6, 1917, three of the Burwell sons were drafted by the year's end. Randolph was drafted first on September 12, followed by Eugene on October 7, and later, Grant. Eugene was 29 and single at the time he was drafted by county board No. 7. He was described as 5'4", of medium build, with black hair and eyes.
He served as an Army Private within Company A, 506th Engineer Service Battalion with the American Expeditionary forces. He sailed out of Hoboken, New Jersey, on January 4, 1918 to Europe.
Fighting between the Allies and Germany, their final opponent, ended on November 11, 1918, with the official signing of the Armistice of Compiègne, The Paris Peace Conference followed shortly after the beginning of 1919, resulting in five treaties, most notably the Treaty of Versailles, effectively and formally bringing the Great War to an end.
On January 18, 1919, Eugene, stationed in France, contracted the Spanish Flu which had been rapidly spreading through Europe since as early as April of 1918. He died in a base hospital from complications of broncho-pneumonia just a week later on January 25, 1919. His mother was notified of his death
He was buried in grave 116 of the American Military section of the St. Eloi Cemetery, located in La Rochelle, Departement de la Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes, France on January 27, 1919.
His remains were disinterred on August 10, 1920, and returned from France by way of the U.S.S. Pocahontas (formerly the Prinzess Irene), which departed Bordeaux, France on October 05, 1920. The ship arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on October 13, 1920. Eugene's body was returned to his father at the family home, located at 318 6th Avenue, Homestead, on November 09, 1920, some 22 months after his death.
A military funeral, organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was held on November 13, 1920, in the Clark Memorial church of Homestead, officiated by Rev. J. D. Morton, who had been a long time family friend of the Burwells, as well as a fellow founding member of the Second Baptist Church. His obituary mentions that several various posts of the American Legion and VFWs were present.
Eugene is joined at the Cemetery by his infant sister, Tisha L. Burwell, who died 30 minutes postpartum following delivery complications on February 19, 1910. Her grave is located in Old Section C, Row 27, Grave 2.
UPDATE: TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2022
Eugene's replacement marker has been received. We are hoping to install it within the month, weather permitting.
Information gathered from:
Special thanks is given to JaQuay Edward Carter and Mayor John M. Burwell for their research and wealth of family information.
"1900 United States Federal Census." Year: 1900; Census Place: Homestead Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Page: 17; Enumeration District: 0405; FHL microfilm: 1241368.
"1910 United States Federal Census." Year: 1910; Census Place: Homestead Ward 4, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1294; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0097; FHL microfilm: 1375307.
"Buried with Military Honors," Pittsburgh Press, 14 Nov 1920, p. 71.
Carter, JaQuay Edward. "The Burwells of Homestead: Black History in the Making, Pt 1 of 2 (1900-1960)," The Valley Mirror, 13 January 2022, p. 5.
Homestead, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1912
The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; Record Group Number: 92; Roll or Box Number: 369
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990; Series Number: Series 1
Pennsylvania, U.S., World War I Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917-1919, 1934-1948
"Soldier;s Body Sent Home, to be Buried with Honors," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 Nov 1920, p. 2.
U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Registration State: Pennsylvania; Registration County: Allegheny County.