Postcard. Cemetery Corner of Stoughton & Columbia [Columbia] Road, Dorchester, Mass. Postmarked 1906.
[Note: this reproduction of the information in the National Register Nomination Form may have typographical errors; therefore for technical matters the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society. Reported date 1974.]
Statement of Significance.
The Dorchester North Burying Ground, also known as First Burying Ground of Dorchester, is a locally significant historic site due to its association with Dorchester’s prominent founding citizens, its early establishment in the 17th century, and the exceptional inventory of the 17th, 18th, and 19th century funerary sculpture. The Burying Ground was established on the southern outskirts of the agrarian community. The first of the existing markers, those of Bernard and Joan Capen, were set in 1638, although they are now displayed in the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The next oldest and the earliest stone existing in the ancient burying grounds of Boston, is the horizontal slab belonging to Abel and Submite Clarke, 1644-1648.
Two prominent figures of the Dorchester settlement interred in the grounds are, first, William Stoughton, Lieutenant Governor of the Province from 1694 to 1699 and a later Chief Justice and benefactor of the original Stoughton Hall at Harvard college, and, second, the Reverend Richard Mather, a progenitor of the celebrated Mather family, including Increase, Cotton, and John. Other early Dorchester forefathers with grave markers here include John Danforth, Isaac Royall, John Foster, the first printer in Boston, and members of distinguished local families such as the Clapps, Blakes, and Pierces. During the Revolutionary War period, forty unknown soldiers, who died due to the Siege, were buried in a single lot.
Burials at Dorchester north extended well into the 19th century unlike most of the historic Boston cemeteries. The later 19th century funerary sculpture provides a significant contrast to the early 17th century stones. The picturesque silhouettes and polychromy of Victorian gravemarkers which bear minimal personal data represent a departure from the earlier Revolutionary Era markers. This latter group at Dorchester North are numerous and are identifiable as the light colored slim slabs with neoclassical designs—urns, swags, willow branches—inspired by antique sources. The Victorian stones contrast even further to the early Puritan markers on which the carved decorative elements of winged death’s heads and hourglasses represent distinct theological doctrines of Puritanism.
As the Dorchester settlement spread, the immediate area became known as Upham’s Corner. The Burying Ground became an important focal point and welcome open space in a commercial and residential node which had developed from a rural farming community to a street car suburb.
Dorchester North Burying Ground, roughly a parallelogram with a rectangular rear extension, lies at the corner of Columbia Road and Stoughton street. The junction of these reverse-curve streets results from the protruding corner of the oldest section of the cemetery, which was established in 1633. Several expansions of one quarter to three quarter acre plots begun in 1694 and continuing in 1718, 1727, 1741, 1745, and 1820 brings the total acreage of the settlement’s only cemetery for two centuries to 3.27 acres. The burying Ground is contained by a solid concrete wall, nearly 5 feet high with recessed panel detailing; the wall replaced a 19th century decorative iron and granite fence. Gates from this earlier period still provide entrance to the cemetery and are marked by large commemorative bronze tablets placed by the city in 1883.
The rectangular ordering of the plots, unusual in a 17th century cemetery, resulted in the ground’s organization into twenty-four regular subdivisions when pathways were laid out in 1834. The renovation project of this year was also responsible for a general ground cleaning and landscaping. The clusters of mature maple trees date from this project.
Dorchester North contains approximately 1200 markers—upright stones of slate, marble, sandstone, granite, and bronze and scores of above-and at-grade tombs in straight ranges. The various markers displayed range from squat, upright curve-topped slabs from the 17th century to light-toned, slender rectangular steles popular in the late 18h century to the more substantial, thick, varied shapes of the 19th century monuments. The total effect is more polychrome and varied than any other of the ancient Burying Grounds in Boston.