Cemetery of the Week #139: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Hull Street and Snowhill Street
Boston, Massachusetts
Telephone: (617) 635-4505
Founded: 1659
Closed: sometime during the 1850s
Size: 4 acres
Number of interments: more than 10,000
Open: Daily 9 AM to 5 PM
GPS coordinates: 42° 22′ 2″ N, 71° 3′ 19″ W

While the area near the Old North Church may have been used as a burying ground as early as 1633, the graveyard was officially laid out on February 20, 1659. It was the second graveyard in Boston, as King’s Chapel was founded right around 1630.

Originally called Windmill Hill, then the North Burying Ground, the graveyard came to be named after William Copp, a shoemaker who lived near what is now called Prince Street and had at one point owned the land. He and his family are buried in the graveyard now.

Also buried in the graveyard at the Reverend Doctors Mather. The Mather tomb contains the mortal remains of Increase (died 1723), Cotton (died 1727) and Samuel (died 1785). Cotton Mather may be best known these days for his encouragement and support of the Salem Witch Trials. He preached from horseback after the hanging of Reverend George Burroughs, who spoke the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly before the hangman dropped him. Witches weren’t supposed to be able to do that and people watching the hanging grew restive, but Mather said a devil stood at Burroughs’s shoulder and fed him the words. The trials — and executions — continued.

More than a thousand freed blacks and slaves were buried in Copp’s Hill by the time the Revolutionary War started. They had lived in the so-called “New Guinea” settlement at the base of the hill and are buried, for the most part, in unmarked graves on the Snowhill Street side of the graveyard. The Celebrate Boston website says that their markers were stolen and re-used as construction materials during the 1860s.

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

According to New England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is half a block west of the Old North Church, where Paul Revere saw the lights that signaled “one if by land, two if by sea.” During the Revolutionary War, the British camped in the graveyard in order to shell Charlestown to the north and Bunker Hill. It is commonly believed that British soldiers used headstones for target practice, particularly one belonging to Daniel Malcolm, whose epitaph names him a “true son of liberty.”

Others at rest in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground are Edmund Hartt, shipyard owner and builder of the USS Constitution; Robert Newman, who raised the lantern to signal Paul Revere; and Prince Hall, an anti-slavery Revolutionary soldier who founded the black Masonic Order. Also buried there are thousands of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants who’d lived in the surrounding area.

Useful links:

The City of Boston page on Copp’s Hill has a map.

City of Boston Freedom Trail entry on Copp’s Hill

Celebrate Boston site, referenced above.

A bunch of photos of Copp’s Hill’s monuments on Grave Addiction.

The Freedom Trail website

Other Boston cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Granary Burying Ground

Central Burying Ground

Forest Hills Cemetery

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About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. My science fiction trilogy, The Dangerous Type, will be published by Night Shade in 2015. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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