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College Burial Ground and Holy Rood Cemetery Collection

Identifier: GTA-000144

Scope and Contents

The College Burial Ground and Holy Rood Collection is comprised of records of two cemeteries used by Holy Trinity Catholic Church (Washington, D.C.) that are on real estate owned by Georgetown University. In 1817, the parish established the College Burial Ground (also known as "The Old Parish Cemetery") for burials of church members. The site was on a slope next to the what was then the western wall of Georgetown Visitation Convent. In 1832, Georgetown College purchased land in Georgetown Heights (now overlooking the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and 35th Street, N.W.) to establish a new burial ground, Holy Rood Cemetery (originally named the "Upper Burial Ground" or "Upper Graveyard"); it was first used for burials in 1833. In each of these cemeteries, there were separate sections for lot owners who paid the full fee for the lot and poor people who could not afford them. Each of these sections was segregated by race. Even after the establishment of Holy Rood Cemetery, the College Burial Ground remained in use until 1900, although burials at that site were infrequent by the 1850s and rare after the Civil War. In 1953, Georgetown University removed the graves at the College Burial Ground and transferred them to Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 2019, Holy Trinity Church had erected a columbarium at Holy Rood Cemetery.

The records of these cemeteries are intermingled because of the custodial relationship between Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Georgetown University. The bulk of the records document the ownership of lots and graves by the white and Black members of Holy Trinity Church at Holy Rood Cemetery. Nevertheless, there are some important records of lot ownership and the distribution of "poor lots" for the College Burial Ground between 1817 and 1840 and the disinternment of graves in 1953. For comprehensive research of these cemeteries, researchers will also need to consult the Sacramental Registers that are part of the Holy Trinity Church Archives.

Records include correspondence, land deeds, and other records organized by subject; financial records and account books that document payments by lot owners and expenses for burials and cemetery maintenance of the College Burial Ground and Holy Rood Cemetery; internments records providing information on the people buried in individual graves in the Holy Rood Cemetery; lot books that list the people buried in each lot of Holy Rood Cemetery; plat books and maps that show the layout of Holy Rood Cemetery; and indices to the records of Holy Rood.

Materials Related to Slavery

The records within this collection document the Black community of Georgetown (free and enslaved) from 1817 through the 1960s, including references to individuals enslaved or employed by Georgetown College.


  • 1817 - 1989

Biographical / Historical

In 1817, Holy Trinity Catholic Church established a parish cemetery on property owned by Georgetown College that is now known as the College Burial Ground. At that time, the parish sold lots to parishioners and reserved other lots for people dependent upon alms. Parish priests buried Black members of the church (both enslaved and free) on those grounds in separate lots.

In 1832, Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Georgetown College began to purchase property in Upper Georgetown to form the Upper Graveyard (re-named Holy Rood Cemetery by 1870). The site overlooked Georgetown and now overlooks Wisconsin Avenue near the intersection of 35th Street. In September 1838, William McSherry, S.J., and Thomas Mulledy, S.J., finalized the purchase of the first parcel of land (lot 276). It was subsequently expanded between 1850 and 1870, in part due to donations by William Wilson Corcoran. More than 7,000 people, including an estimated 1,000 Black people, were buried in the cemetery. The cemetery was active through the 1930s; although some individuals were buried there in the 1990s.

By 1900, the College Burial Ground had become so overgrown that students were unaware of the graves at the site. Georgetown University began to consider removing the graves in 1931, but only did so when they planned the construction of Reiss Science Building. In 1953, Georgetown University removed graves and transferred them to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

By the 1980s, the condition of the Holy Rood Cemetery reflected years of neglect; the graves were obscured by overgrown landscaping and gravestones were broken apart. In the mid-1980s, Georgetown University considered the disinternment of the cemetery and developing the land, but that action was legally blocked by lot owners.

In 2016, the University pledged to restore Holy Rood Cemetery and maintain its condition. In 2019, Holy Trinity Catholic Church established a columbarium. In 2020, the University completed its first phase of the restoration which included a new ornamental gate and new landscaping.


10 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Related Materials

The Holy Trinity Church Archives includes sacramental records for the parish, including records of burials, that supplement the records included in this Collection.

The sacramental records of Holy Trinity Catholic Church have been digitized; see Archives of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sacramental Registers, Digital Georgetown

The following records are especially pertinent:

Archives of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sacramental Registers, Deaths (1818-1867), Digital Georgetown

Archives of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sacramental Registers, Internments (1867-1898), Digital Georgetown

Archives of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sacramental Registers, Internments (1919-1965), Digital Georgetown

College Burial Ground and Holy Rood Collection
Mary Beth Corrigan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Archives Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057