Joseph Walker was not a parishioner here but worked as St. George’s sexton from 1886 until 1940 when he retired, a total of 53 years. He was here longer than most parishioners.
Walker was born a slave in 1854 on the farm of Col William Goodwin in Spotsylvania. He recalled how at age 9 Goodwin left to fight. Walker remembered fighting around Goodwin’s sister home which became the Battle of the Wilderness. Walker described how Gen. James Longstreet formed one line of cavalry and two of infantry in the front yard. The household was in the process of vacating the premises when gunfire commenced around them “like a thunder storm.” After the family made it through the lines of soldiers unharmed, they moved from place to place as skirmishes continued in the days ahead.
Walker came to Fredericksburg and worked in a paper mill and butcher in the home of William S. Barton. Besides working at St. George’s he was a janitor at the National Bank of Fredericksburg and a contractor for hauling the mail between the post office and railway stations. He also served his own church Shiloh Baptist New Site as a senior deacon for about 48 years.
In 1940, he dictated vivid recollections of his life to Rev. John J. Lanier, who was a rector for nine years and held Walker in high esteem. Lanier privately printed copies of this memoir, “Life of Joseph F. Walker, Fredericksburg, Virginia,” around the same time. Lanier called Walker a “gentleman” and said that he was “glad to call him my friend.”
The Vestry in honor of his service designated him “sexton emeritus “ in 1940 and pensioned him for life. He was respected for his politeness, courtesy and hard work. The tribute on his gravestone reads: “SOUND IN JUDGMENT, COURTEOUS, INDUSTRIOUS, RELIABLE. A CHURCHMAN AND BENEFACTOR.”
Walker Grant School in Fredericksburg was named after Walker and freeman and educator Jason Grant, a teacher and principal. Both men contributed extensive time and effort to the founding of a publicly supported black high school in Fredericksburg. Walker was self-taught, having learned through his jobs and observing others but kept an intense interest in education
The school was established in 1938 and named in their honor. Ultimately, it became a middle school for all children in the city, and when a new building was constructed in 1988, Walker-Grant was conveyed.