Old North Burial Ground
5 Branch Avenue at North Main Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02904
Telephone: (401) 331-0177
Size: 109 acres
Number of interments: more than 73,00 people
Number of surviving gravestones: 35,000
Open: Seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Overshadowed by exquisite Swan Point Cemetery, which was established in 1846, the Old North Burial Ground is the oldest public cemetery in Providence.
In 1700, a plaque on the public holding tomb (built in 1903) records, “This land was set apart by the town of Providence as a place for the burial of the dead.” By 1848, when surviving records began to been kept, 22 acres had already been filled.
Among those buried in the North Burial Ground are a number of Rhode Island governors, Providence city mayors, congressmen, senators, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Horace Mann, the champion of universal free public education, is buried here, as is Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet who inspired several of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems.
Maps of notable burials for a self-led walking tour are available from the office.
My favorite grave monuments are the ones that demonstrate Providence’s shipping history. I didn’t note the life commemorated by the anchor and windlass, but in general, anchors symbolize Christian faith, as something that holds fast through the tempests of life. Captain Joseph Tillinghast’s monument has this epitaph:
Tho’ Borea’s blast and Neptune’s waves
have tossed me to and fro,
yet in spite of both by God’s decree
I harbor here below.
And though at anchor now I ride
with many of our fleet,
yet away again I shall set sail
our Admiral Christ to meet.
Another chatty stone that caught my eye belongs to Jabez R. Blanding, who became a Brevet Captain in the Civil War. His monument says, “After serving with distinguished courage in the US Army from the commencement to the those of the Civil War, he was basely assasinated (sic) while in the discharge of his military duties at Grenada, Mississippi April 30, 1866 in his 25th year.” I’m curious to know the story behind that.
I found this stone to the memory of two children very touching, too. An angel is leading one by the hand while another is eagerly flying toward heaven. That image must have been a sliver in the heart each time their parents visited the grave.
Some useful links:
My review of New England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide by Andrew Kull
Rhode Island Cemeteries database
City of Providence Parks & Rec site for the cemetery: they recommend hiking or jogging through the cemetery.
Some information on the Revolutionary War history recorded in earliest part of the North Burial Ground.
GPS information provided by CemeteryRegistry.us
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