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Published by the Dorchester Historial Society on the occasion of the 350th anniversary and re-dedication of the burying ground.
from Nathaniel B. Shurtleff. A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston. Third Edition. Boston, 1890
Dorchester, now a constituent part of Boston, bearing, numerically speaking, the designation as the Sixteenth Ward, has seven burial-places: the Old Burying-Ground on Stoughton Street; the South Burying-Ground on Washington Street [i.e., Dorchester Avenue], near the Lower Mills; the Dorchester Cemetery on Norfolk Street; the Roman Catholic Cemetery, also on Norfolk street; Mount Hope Cemetery, partly in Dorchester, on Walk Hill Street; the Roman Catholic Cemetery, contiguous to Mount Hope Cemetery, and the new cemetery recently laid out on Adams Street, bearing the name of the Cedar Grove Cemetery.
During the first few of the earliest years of the town of Dorchester, as it is conjectured by antiquaries, the place of burial was situated near where the first meeting-house was erected, in the vicinity of the corner formed by the junction of Pleasant and Cottage Streets; but this spot could not have been long, or much in use, for in November, 1633, the fathers of the town agreed upon having a burying-ground on the corner of the present Stoughton Street and Boston Avenue [i.e., Columbia Road], and the third of March, 1634, they laid out for the purpose a lot of five rods square, the nucleus of the present cemetery, which contains about three acres of land. In this interesting spot were buried the forefathers of Dorchester, and here can be seen in good preservation the memorials which the filial piety of their posterity have placed in respect to their virtues and goon names. Here can be found several gravestones bearing the earliest dates of any of the ancient inscriptions in New England; yet appearances are such as to give room for reasonable doubt as to their being of extreme antiquity that their dates might lead incautious persons to infer. The oldest date is 1638; but the inscription is put upon the stone in such a manner as to give conclusive evidence that the sculptor?s work was not performed earlier than the year 1653, and probably later than 1800. The inscription is as follows:
LIES THE BODIES OF
MR. BARNARD CAPEN
& MRS. JOAN CAPEN HIS
WIFE; HE DIED NOV. 8
1638. AGED 76 YEARS
& SHE DIED MARCH
AGED 75 YEARS
In the neighborhood of this stone, near the corner of the two streets, are two very ancient-looking, horizontal slabs, which are supposed to have been placed over graves earlier than those which bear inscription; and it is not unreasonable to believe, that the traditionary stories about their being placed there to prevent the disturbance of the dead by the wild animals are correct.
On a small square horizontal slab of dark slatestone may be read two poetical enigmas, the subjects of which have baffled the skill of the very persevering and ingenious antiquaries and genealogists of Dorchester. This slab does not appear as old as its inscriptions indicate, and it may have been placed in the yard as late as the year 1659, when a similar inscription was dated, if not at a period somewhat subsequent to that. The inscriptions are:
ABEL HIS OFFERING ACCEPTED IS
HIS BODY TO THE GRAVE HIS SOULE TO BLIS
ON OCTOBERS TWENTYE AND NO MORE
IN THE YEARE SIXTEEN HUNDRED 44
SUBMITE SUBMITTED TO HER HEAVENLY KING
BEING A FLOWER OF THAT AETERNAL SPRING
NEARE 3 YEARS OLD SHE DYED IN HEAVEN TO WAITE
THE YEAR WAS SIXTEEN HUNDRED 48
The third inscription, its stone not to be found, has been preserved by an ancient grave-digger, now resting from his labors beneath the turf of the same yard, and is as follows:
Submit submitted down to dust,
Her soul ascends up to the just;
At near ** old she did resign.
Her soul?s gone to Christ, year ?59.
The following inscription, on the large horizontal tablet placed over the remains of Major-General Humphrey Atherton, may without any doubt be considered as old as the date connected with it. General Atherton was a man of considerable usefulness in the colony, having held many important offices, and at the time of his death was the incumbent of the highest military position in Massachusetts. He may be said to have died in the service of his country; for on returning home early on the morning after the sixteenth of September, 1661, from Boston Common, where he had been reviewing the troops, he came, in the darkness of the night, in collision with a stray cow, and was thrown from his horse and killed. He was buried with great pomp and display as is shown in his epitaph, which is carefully cut upon the stone under the image of a naked sword, the emblem of high military rank. The inscription is in capitals, and as follows:
Here lyes our captaine and major of Suffolk was withal
A goodly magistrate was he and major generall
Two troups of hors with hime here came such worth his love did crave
Ten companies of foot also mourning marcht to his grave
Let all that read be sure to keep the faith as he hath don
With Christ he livs now crownd his name was Humphrey Atherton
He dyed the 16 of September 1661.
There are many interesting memorials in this yard. Those of Rev. Richard Mather and Rev. Josiah Flint, the first of whom died on the twenty-second of April, 1669, aged seventy-three years, and the latter on the fifteenth of September, 1680, aged thirty-five, are of the only early clergymen of the town. Of the ancient schoolmasters, there may be seen the gravestone of Mr. William Pole (or Poole, as it should be), a very aged man, who died on the twenty-fourth of February, 1674-75, aged eighty-one years. This old settler was in Dorchester as early as 1630, and subsequently was for a while in Taunton, where he was captain of the train band and a representative to the General Court. On his return to Dorchester he served in a double capacity, as town clerk and schoolmaster. Like many other remarkable persons, when his final days approached, he wrote his own epitaph, and his posterity had the same faithfully cut in capital letters upon his tombstone, as follows:
HERE LIETH BURIED YE BODY OF
MR. WILLIAM POOLE AGED 81 YEARS
WHO DIED YE 25TH, OF FEBRUARY IN
YE YERE 1674
Ye epitaph of William Pole which hee hemself
made while he was yet living in remembrance of
his own death & left it to be ingraven on his
tomb yt so being dead he might warn posterity
or a resemblance of a dead man bespeaking ye reader.
Ho passenger tis worth thy paines too stay
& take a dead mans lesson by ye way
I was what now thou art & thou shalt be
What I am now what oods tixt me & thee
Now go thy way but stay take on word more
Thy staf for outght thous knowest stands ye next dore
Death in ye dore yea dor of Haeven or Hell
Be warned be armed believe repent fairewell.
It is somewhat astonishing that stone-cutters of the olden time should not only misspell names, but make mistakes in figures; and yet so they did, as is strongly illustrated in the case of Goodman Poole. This carelessness often makes much confusion for antiquaries.
One of the most learned men in Dorchester was young Mr. John Foster, son of Capt. Hopestill Foster. This young man was educated at Harvard College, where he graduated in the year 1667. He was a universal genius; he was "the ingenious mathematician and printer" and schoolmaster. It is said of him that he designed the seal or arms of ye colony, the Indian with a bow and arrow, and the famous motto, "Come over and help us." He died on the ninth of September 1681, aged only thirty-three years, and yet had accomplished much to keep his name in pleasant remembrance. "Ars illi sua Census erat. Skill was his cash."
One of the most noted tombs in the Dorchester graveyard is that of Rev. Richard Mather, father of the distinguished Rev. Increase Mather, and grandfather of the remarkable Rev. Cotton Mather, and great-grandfather of the notorious loyalist and was, Rev. Mather Byles. His inscription is upon a horizontal tablet, and is as follows:
Richardus Hic Dormit Matherus
(Sed Nec Totus Nec Mora Diuturna)
Laetatus Genuisse Pares
Incertum Est Utrum Doctior An Melior
Animum & Gloria Non Queunt Humari
Divinely Rich & Learned Richard Mather
Sons like Him Prophets Great Rejoicd this Father
Short Time His Sleeping Dust heres coverd down
Not His Ascended Sprit or Rinown.
U.D.M. In Aug. 16. An. In. Dorc: N-A. 34 An.
Obt. Apr. 22 1669 Aet suae 73
James Humphrey, one of the Ruling Elders of the Church, died on the twelfth of May, 1686 in his seventy-eighth year; and a poetic inscription, written in acrostic verses, was placed over his tomb, in the year 1731, when it was repaired by his grandson, Jonas. It is said of Elder "Humfrey," that a short time before his decease, he intimated a desire to be buried in the same vault with the Rev. Mr. Mather; but circumstances preventing, his remains were deposited in a grave near his beloved pastor, in the westerly part of the old enclosure. The lines, written in the usual gravestone style, are a follows:
I nclos?d within this Shrine is Precious Dust,
A nd only waits for th? Rising of the Just.
M ost usefull he Liv?d adorn?d his station
E ven to old Age serv?d his Generation:
S ince his Decease tho?t of with Verneration.
H ow great a Blessing this Ruling Elder he,
U nto this Church & Town & Pastors Three?
M ather he first did by him Help receive,
F lint he did next his Burthern much relieve:
R enown?d Danforth did he Assist with Skill
E steem?d High by all: Bear Fruit until
Y ielding to Death his Glorious Seat did Fill.
On the seventh of July, 1701, died Lieutenant-Governor William Stoughton, aged seventy years, one of the most useful men in the colony. He graduated at Harvard College in 1650, prepared himself for the ministry and preached awhile in England; was a member of the Council, Chief Justice of the Superior Court, and Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, acting as governor many years. He is most favorably remembered for his benefactions to his Alma Mater, to which he gave one thousand pounds. A building that bore his name, but has now been superseded by another still retaining it, was built at his expense, and property was left by him for the support of poor scholars. He lies buried beneath an imposing table, which has been restored as the expense of the college, and upon which is a very learned Latin inscription, said to have been written by Cotton Mather, but believed to be a paraphrase of that of the renowned Blaise Pascal. It has been translated into English as follows:
William Stoughton, Esquire,
Lieutenant, afterwards Governor,
Of the Province of Massachusetts
in New England,
Chief Judge of the Superior Court
in the same Province,
A man of wedlock unknown,
Devout in Religion,
Renowned for Virtue,
Famous for Erudition,
Acute in Judgment,
Equally Illustrious by Kindness and Spirit,
A Lover of Equity,
A Defender of the Laws,
Founder of Stoughton Hall,
A most Distinguished Patron of Letters and
A most strenuous Opponent of Impiety and Vice.
Rhetoricians delight in Him as Eloquent,
Writers are acquainted with Him as Elegant,
Philosphers seek Him as Wise.
Doctors know Him as a Theologian,
The Devout revere Him as Grave,
All admire Him; unknown by All
Yet known to all.
What need of more, Traveller? Whom have
we lost ?
I have said sufficient, Tears press,
I keep silence.
He lived Seventy Years;
On the Seventh of July, in the Year of Safety
Alas! Alsa! What Grief!
The gravestone of Elder Hopestill Clap (son of the noted Capt. Roger Clap, who commanded the Castle in Boston Harbor many years under the colonial government, and whose gravestone is now standing in King's Chapel Burying-Ground in Boston) may be seen, with an inscription written by Rev. John Danforth, his pastor:
HERE LIES INTERRED YE
BODY OF ELDER HOPESTILL
CLAP WHO DECEASED
SEPTEMBER 2D 1719
AGED 72 YEARS
His Dust Waits Till the Jubile
Shall Then Shine Brighert then ye Skie
Shall meet & Join (to Part no more)
His Soul That's Glorified Before
Pastors & Churches Happy He
With Ruling Elders Such As He
Present Useful Absent Wanted
Liv'd Desired Died Lamented.
The following inscription was placed over the grave of an ancient school-mistress, and may be notice in the oldest part of the ground:
HERE LYES YE BODY
OF MIRIAM WOOD
FORMERLY WIFE TO JOHN SMITH
AGED 783 YEARS YEARS
DIED OCTOBER YE 19TH
A Woman well beloved of all
her neighbours from her care of small
Folks education their number being great
that when she dyid she scarsely left her mate
So Wise Discre[et] was her behaviours
that she was well esteemed by neighbours
She liv'd in love with all to dy
So let her rest [to] Eternaty.
A very long and excellent inscription may be found upon the tomb of the family of Royall, in which were buried William Royall, of North Yarmouth, who died on the seventh of November, 1724, in the eighty-fifth year of his age; and of Hon. Isaac Royall, of Charlestown, who died on the seventh of June, 1739, aged sixty-seven years.
Another epitaph which is somewhat curious is in this old yard, so remarkable for its peculiar inscriptions, which were frequently made more plain by the hand of old Daniel Davenport, the sexton and ?Old Mortality? of Dorchester, and which have been preserved by a distinguished antiquary, who has made accurate copies of all within the cemetery, is
Here lyes buried ye body
of Mr. James Blake
who departed this life
Octr 22d, 1732, Aged 80
years & 2 months.
He was a member in full
communion with ye church
of Christ in Dorchester
above 55 years, and a Deacon
of ye same Church above 35 years.
Seven years Strong Pain doth end at last,
His weary Days & Nights are past;
The Way is Rough, ye End is Peace;
Short Pain gives place to endless ease.
Perhaps this description of the Old Burying-Ground cannot be better closed than by giving the inscription on the stone standing upon the grave of the old sexton. This is furnished by Mr. Ebenezer Clapp, an eminent antiquary of Dorchester, who saw ?Old Mortality? digging and preparing his own grave a third of a century ago. The old man, after delving in his profession about half a century, died at Dorchester at a very advanced age; and at his decease was the oldest male inhabitant of Dorchester. The following is the inscription, which was written by his former pastor, Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, D.D., one of the most remarkable antiquaries and conscientious historians of the day, and who left two generations behind him to exemplify his industry and research:
This grave was dug and finished
in the Year 1833
when he had been Secton
twenty seven years,
had attended 1135 funerals,
and dug 734 graves.
As Sexton with my spade I learned
To delve beneath the sod;
Where body to the earth returned,
But spirit to its God.
Years twenty seven this toll I bore,
And midst deaths oft was spared
Seven hundred graves and thirty four I dug
Then mine prepared.
And when at last I too must die
Some else the bell will toll;
As here my Mortal relics lie,
May heaven receive my soul.
Mr. Davenport lived nearly a generation of years after he had thus prepared for his own burial; and during most of this time continued his avocation as sexton. He attended probably five hundred more funerals after digging his own grave, having his son William for a colleague the latter part of this life. Such were his feelings for the Old Burying-Ground that he lingered about it to the last, and regarded it as his own pleasant home, as it had already been that of his worldly emolument. The following inscription tells the visitor when this old man ceased from his earthly labors, and when he was garnered into the filed where he had laid to rest so many of his old acquaintances and fellow-townsmen:
He died December 24, 1860,
aged 87 years, 6 mos, 19 days.
He buried from March 3, 1806
to May 12 1852
one thousand eight hundred & thirty seven
William Davenport, son of the old sexton, after he had buried twelve hundred and sixty-seven person, died in the fortieth year of his age, and was gathered to his father.
The south Burying-Ground, which ranks second in age in Dorchester, is situated on Washington Street [actually, Dorchester Avenue], near the Lower Mills, and was established in 1814, the first interment being made on the twentieth of May of that year.
Rev. John Codman, D.D., who died on the twenty-third of December, 1847, at the age of sixty-five years, bequeathed to the Second Parish a lot of land for burial purposes on Norfolk Street. This was consecrated as the ?Dorchester Cemetery,? on the twenty-seventh of October, 1848, the day that the remains of this distinguished theologian were removed from their original place of deposit to the family tomb within the enclosure. The first burial in the cemetery was made eight days previous.
The other burying-ground on Norfolk Street originally contained about ten acres, but ahs been considerably enlarged. It was purchased on the twelfth of August, 1850, of John Tolman, and has been used for the interment of Roman Catholics.
Mount Hope Cemetery and the Roman Catholic Burying-Ground near it have been mentioned in a former chapter.
In the year 1867, a rural cemetery was laid out by the town of Dorchester on Adams and Milton Streets, near the Lower Mills. It is designated as Cedar Grove Cemetery, and contains a little more than forty acres of land. It is under the control and management of a board of five commissioners under the authority of a special act of the legislature, approved by the governor on the sixteenth of March, 1868, granting powers similar to those under which Forest Hills and Mount Hope have become so attractive as burial-places of the dead. This cemetery affords a very considerable variety of surface and material, and presents extensive and delightful views of the neighboring country and Neponset River, which flows by its southerly borders. In the process of its improvement a good degree of success has been attained in preserving the distinctive natural beauties of the place, while turning them to useful account in the general purpose for which the grounds are designed. The original cost of the land was about twenty-five thousand dollars, and since the commencement of the enterprise further sums to the amount of thirty thousand dollars have been appropriated for improvements. By the provisions of the act above-mentioned, a portion of the grounds was set apart as a free public burial-place for the inhabitants of Dorchester, the remaining portions to be sold in lots, and the proceeds devoted exclusively to the preservation and embellishment of the cemetery. Provision is also made for the application of trust funds to special purposes, and for the care of particular lots. The grounds are laid out in accordance with designs by L. Briggs, Esq., under the direction of William Pope, Henry J. Nazro, Nathan Carruth, Henry L. Pierce and Albe C. Clark, commissioners.
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Created: February 27, 2008 Modified: July 21, 2012