Tag Archives: Revolutionary War graveyard

Cemetery of the Week #168: the New Haven Crypt

IMG_0181The New Haven Crypt
Center Church on the Green
250 Temple Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06511
Founded: late 1600s
Closed: 1821
Size: small
Number of interments: an estimated 1,000 people are buried here
Tours: can be scheduled at (203) 787-0121.

Originally people in New Haven, Connecticut were buried in the green in the center of town. The space started to be used as a burial ground by settlers of the New Haven Colony in the 1600s. Estimates range from 5-10,000 people were buried there before 1821, when the Grove Street Cemetery opened nearby.  At that point, headstones were moved to the new cemetery, but the bodies were left in place below the sod in the Green.

The original First Church of Christ in New Haven was built on a corner of the Green in 1639.  It was rebuilt twice in the same place, but when the congregation voted to expand their meeting house, there was no open space on the Green.  Instead, they decided to build on pilings above part of the graveyard on the Green. Construction of Center Church began in 1812 and was completed in 1814.

IMG_0137The graves beneath the church were left in their original places and enclosed in what’s called a crypt, even though it stands at ground level.  The surviving stones date from 1687 to 1812 and have been called the “last remaining evidence on the New Haven Green of the first colonists who settled here to establish a new life in America.”

IMG_0132An estimated 1000 people (or perhaps more) are buried beneath the church. Plaques inside the church’s foyer list names and death dates of people known to be buried in the crypt. In those days, it was common for a family to reuse the same name for a child over and over in the same generation until one of them finally survived to adulthood.

The first map of the crypt was made by Henry Trowbridge in 1880. 139 gravestones survive inside the crypt, some of which have been rendered illegible by time. The oldest stone marks the grave of Sarah Rutherford Trowbridge, who died in 1687.

Originally the floor of the crypt was dirt, which was replaced by concrete as a way to control the damp. In 1985, they (who?) realized that the concrete was too successful in trapping moisture beneath it. The gravestones were acting as wicks, pulling the moisture upward, which was leading to degradation of the stone.  In 1990, the concrete was broken up and removed by being passed though the little windows to the Green outside. Walkways of unmortared bricks were laid between the stones, allowing them to breathe.


The ceiling is low down there. At one point there was talk of lowering the floor so there would be more room, but the bodies are not actually buried very deeply.  In the end, the decision was made to leave the skeletons in place. The crypt is plenty bright enough, but it did make me feel slightly claustrophobic when all our tour group gathered in one area.

Among those buried here include Benedict Arnold’s first wife, Margaret; the family of President Rutherford B. Hayes; Reverend James Pierpont, a founder of Yale College, and many more. One of the stones remembers Sarah Whiting, “the painful mother of eight children, of whom six survive.” When she died in 1726, she was called “fruitful, virtuous, and weary.”

The New Haven Crypt Association preserves the site, trains volunteers as tour guides, and offers public tours most Saturdays from April to October from 11 am to 1 pm.

Outside the church is a cenotaph in honor of Theophilus Eaton, first governor of the New Haven Colony, who served for 19 years. He was also a founder of the First Church of Christ, from which Center Church derived, and is buried beneath the church’s foundation. The large marble plaque was placed on the church by the city when the gravestones were removed from the Green.

IMG_0179In what’s left of the churchyard, there are also plaques for General Edward Whalley and Goffe, two “regicides” who fled to New Haven to escape execution. Whalley and William Goffe signed the death warrant for King Charles I during the English Civil War. A tall monument remembers John Dixwell, one of the Regicide Judges, who settled in New Haven in 1665 under an assumed name.

Useful links:

A history of the Crypt on the Center Church site: http://centerchurchonthegreen.org/history/crypt/

Tales from the Crypt: https://ctcryptkeeper.wordpress.com/

Facebook page of the New Haven Crypt Association: https://www.facebook.com/newhavencrypt/

The Findagrave page: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1069578/center-church-on-the-green-churchyard

I meant to say that I know of at least one other church built above an earlier graveyard in the US. The graveyard where Edgar Allan Poe is buried in Baltimore has a church up on piers above the graves:  https://cemeterytravel.com/2013/10/09/cemetery-of-the-week-110-westminster-hall-burying-ground/

Death’s Garden: History Lives like Ghosts

Old cemetery on Hwy 20 in Warren, NY.

Old cemetery on Hwy 20 in Warren, NY. All photos by Trilby Plants.

by Trilby Plants

I love cemeteries. They are the keepers of memory and history. Every graveyard holds secrets and surprises. No, I’ve never seen a ghost in one, but I’ve seen family history in them. I’m an amateur genealogist and have visited cemeteries from New York to Iowa, searching for ancestors.

I knew there were two generations of my husband’s ancestors buried in an unnamed graveyard on Route 20 near Warren, New York. I’d found the information online, the burial place of my husband’s three- and four-times-great grandfathers and their wives. We had been there once before, but it was winter and we couldn’t locate some gravestones in the snow.

The next time we visited, I brought a collapsible shovel, as I intended to dig perhaps six inches of soil away from a tipped-over stone so I could take pictures of the whole inscription, and a wire brush to clean off lichen.

A fairly steep hill led up to the graveyard, with slate steps set in the slope. Some of the steps were broken; many were missing. It looked as if there had once been a wall that had collapsed. A narrow, mowed path led uphill. I was more mobile than my husband, so I promised to take photos.

Armed with my shovel and brush, I started off. The track curved around to the cemetery, which was a flat area halfway up the hill. The site was about half the size of a football field. It was surrounded by a dense stand of old trees that shaded the graves and cut the noise from the road.

Silence greeted me, along with the smell of freshly mown grass. I was surprised that an unused graveyard had been mowed. Several small American flags were stuck beside stones.

I walked a circuit of the cemetery, looking for other possible family members. Many of the stones and small monuments leaned or had fallen over. There were no other names I recognized, but in one corner I found the grave of a child with the family name I was looking for: Josephine Ely, who had died in 1847 at the age of five and a half. The surnames on the gravestones around her were not Ely. Perhaps she had been buried with a wife’s family, or was illegitimate. I probably will never know.

I took photos and then looked for more Ely gravestones. I found them in the center of the graveyard, one leaning and one tipped completely on its side. The letters on the tipped-over stone were partially readable: Simeon Ely, died June 19th, 1840, my husband’s three-times-great-grandfather. On the stone beside that one, only the name was barely visible: Margaret, his wife.

View from the cemetery.

View from the cemetery.

I was looking for this man’s father.

Beside these plots were two stones on their sides, the lettering on both completely illegible. Because there was an American flag by the stones, I assumed these were the father and his wife: Simeon the elder and Ruth. That Simeon died in 1817. He had served in the Revolutionary War army for two months, guarding the arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts.

I set to work on the toppled stone with my shovel. I intended to excavate a small area so I could take pictures of the entire inscription. I had dug up perhaps four scoops of soil when a large snake slithered out from under the stone. I shrieked and ran.

Telling myself it was a harmless garter snake, I gathered my wits and went back. The snake was gone, so I continued digging. I enlarged a trench around the stone, brushed away the lichen, and got my photos of the entire inscription.

I spent a moment contemplating the graveyard. Unlike the previous time I’d been there, it was a warm summer day under a clear, blue sky. A feeling of peace stole over me. The view over the valley was stunning. Afternoon sun reflected gold off a small lake in the distance. The trees and fields gleamed verdant green.

This is memory: the stories of those departed who pass their histories on to the living.

This was where Simeon Ely the elder had come after the Revolution to farm and raise his family. His son Simeon, although born in Massachusetts, grew up here. Simeon the younger lived to see his son born, but did not live to see his grandson born: my husband’s great-grandfather, James F. Ely, who enlisted in the Union army in 1861. James was wounded at the battle of Petersburg, Virginia. He survived a musket ball in his thigh, barely avoiding a leg amputation.

I have been to both James Ely’s grave and the Petersburg National Monument, where he was wounded.

All this history bore down on me when I considered that one of my great grandfathers — from near Watertown, New York — had also enlisted in the Union Army, but was mustered out after a couple of months because of a leg injury he had suffered while farming. Had my ancestor stayed in the military, he would have been at Cold Harbor with my husband’s ancestor — and also at Petersburg.

The coincidence of all that staggered me. It placed my ancestors and my husband’s in the real world.

The sun was going down and we still had one more graveyard to visit, so I gathered my supplies and started back to the car. I met a man who was driving up the narrow track. He rolled down his window.

What do you say to someone who confronts you as you’re walking out of a long-unused graveyard, carrying a shovel? “It’s not what it looks like,” I said, holding up the shovel and wire brush.

“Good,” the man in the car said. “I hope I don’t have to call the cops.”

I explained what I was doing.

He lived behind the cemetery. He and his wife were the unofficial guardians of it. He had a contract with the county to mow it in the summer. No, he told me, vandals had not toppled the gravestones. Time had done that, just as it had scoured the inscriptions from many of the markers. One of the earliest stones marked the grave of someone who had died in 1806.

He was interested in who I’d come to visit. He had an ancestor or two buried there he said, but he didn’t know the family I had been looking for.

“What about the flags?” I said.

“The wife and I get a list from the local VFW,” he said, “and we put them out on Memorial Day.” He shook his head. “Just the two of us. Nobody ever comes to see a ceremony. Then a week later, we take them down and save them for next year.”

“It’s good that somebody remembers,” I said. I showed him the digital photo I’d taken of my husband’s great-great-great-great-grandfather’s unreadable stone and the flag beside it.

“What war was yours in?” he said.

“The Revolution.”

“Long time ago. Lots of wars ago.”

It was. But I will remember, and so will my husband. Hopefully, now that there is so much online, our children and grandchildren will see pictures of the gravestones and know their ancestors’ stories and their places in history.

When I returned to where my husband waited in the car, I told him about my encounter with the snake and the man.

“I’m glad I don’t have to bail you out,” he said. When he looked at the pictures in the digital camera, he became quiet. “Wow,” he finally said. “There’s a flag.”

“That’s the one,” I said.

I looked out across the valley. “I see why they came here. It’s great farmland.”

We left the gravestones behind, but not the history. Our history lives like ghosts of the past in the images that populate the Internet and in our memories and in those of our children.


Trilby Plants writes for children and adults. She lives with her sports junkie husband in Murrells Inlet, SC, where she writes, knits and creates video book trailers for authors. TrilbyPlants.com


Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.

Cemetery of the Week #140: Christ Church churchyard

Souvenir postcard with a photo by Fred Miller, circa 1987

Souvenir postcard with a photo by Fred Miller, circa 1987

Christ Church
aka Christ Episcopal Church
20 North American Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
Telephone: (215) 922-1695
Founded: 1695
Size: Only a small patch of churchyard remains. There may be bodies under the green lawn next door, but they no longer have monuments.
Number of interments: 500?
Open: Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and Sunday afternoons from 1 PM to 5 PM.
Admission: Visiting the Church is free, but a donation of $3 for adults and $2 for students will help to maintain the Church.

Anglicans, who looked to the King of England as their spiritual leader, organized Christ Church congregation in 1695. Their worship derived from Henry VIII’s split with Pope Leo X over his ability to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in 1533. At its beginning, the Anglican liturgy varied little from its Catholic forebear, other than denying the authority of the pope and performing the mass in English. Both were radical ideas in their time.

Construction of this beautiful Georgian church began on this site in 1727. The current building was completed in 1754. The exterior of sober brick was crowned with a bright white steeple. When I visited, the interior was bright and people-scaled, cozy enough to absorb a tour group of 50 high school kids without swallowing them up. There was a steady stream of tour groups through the gift shop.

On July 4, 1776, the Vestrymen of Christ Church were holding a meeting when they heard that the Declaration of Independence had been signed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, three blocks away. They quickly decided that all the passages in their prayer book that prayed for the King of England were “inconsistent” with the new Declaration — and edited them out. In 1789, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S. was organized here.

Christ Church became “the fashionable house of worship in Philadelphia,” according to Freedom of Worship: Meeting Houses, Churches, and Synagogues of Early Philadelphia. The Vestrymen set aside a pew for the use of George Washington, who had been elected president of the fledgling nation (whose capital was Philadelphia until just before the War of 1812). Benjamin Franklin was a pew-holder in the Church, meaning (I think) that he tithed enough money to maintain use of it. Betsy Ross became a member of the congregation after the Quakers rejected her for marrying her husband.

Detail of the postcard above, showing the churchyard

Detail of the postcard above, showing the churchyard

Buried in the churchyard outside was Robert Morris, one of the richest men in America at the time of the Revolution who became known as the Financier of the Revolution. He signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of the Confederation, and the United States Constitution, and served for one term as a Senator.

James Wilson also lies in the yard around Christ Church. He signed the Declaration of Independence and is one of the authors of the Constitution. He argued that citizens should be able to elect their government directly, rather than going through the Electoral College. Washington appointed him to the first Supreme Court. He died in North Carolina and was buried at the Hayes Plantation near Edenton. In 1906, his remains were exhumed and moved to the Christ Churchyard.

Other famous autographers at Christ Church include Jacob Broom, signer of the United States Constitution from Delaware; Pierce Butler, signer of the Constitution from South Carolina; and Judge George Ross, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Andrew Hamilton, an attorney in Colonial America, is remembered for his legal victory on behalf of printer John Peter Zenger. Hamilton’s defense concluded with the assertion that the press has the duty of “both of exposing and opposing tyrannical power by speaking and writing truth.”

Several Revolutionary War commanders are buried at Christ Church, including Major General Charles Lee and Continental Army Officer Samuel John Atlee, who later served as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

General John Forbes (1710–1759), British commander during the French and Indian War, has a memorial inside the church, as does John Penn, the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania.

The churchyard served as the congregation’s burying ground until 1719, when it was nearly full and Christ Church Burial Ground was opened two blocks away at 4th and Arch Streets.

Useful links:

Visiting Christ Church

Notables buried in the churchyard

Architectural information about Christ Church

Christ Church’s mystery in history

Other Revolutionary War heroes on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #18: King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #33: Old Dutch Burying Ground, Tarrytown, New York

Cemetery of the Week #41:  Trinity Churchyard, New York City, New York

Cemetery of the Week #61: Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #73: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard, New York City, New York

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

Cemetery of the Week #81: the Old Burying Ground

The church was built after the graveyard opened.

Old Burying Ground
1450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
Phone: 617-349-4890
Founded: 1635
Size: 2.5 acres
Number of interments: Unknown. More than 1200 known graves.
Open: dawn to dusk

The sign on the fence reads: “Old Burying Ground. Burial place of old settlers, Tory landowners and slaves, soldiers, presidents of Harvard, and prominent men of Cambridge.” Founded in 1635, the Old Burying Ground served as the only graveyard for the city of Cambridge for over 200 years.

It was linked with nearby Harvard University since the school received its charter in 1636. Eight Harvard presidents rest here, including 3 of the first 4. The university decided to honor them in 1846, but not all of them had headstones that had survived. Harvard apparently opened several graves, then decided one held the man they wanted. The remains, wrapped in a tarpaulin stuffed with tansy (to mitigate the odor of decay), might actually be the town’s second minister, who died in 1668.

Restoration of a veteran’s grave

The graveyard holds the remains of at 19 soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1870, with centennial fever lighting the town, a granite shaft was erected by the townsfolk to the memory of the men who’d died for freedom. Among them were two black slaves, Neptune Frost and Cato Stedman. They are honored with a sign on the fence. The exact locations of their graves are unknown.

I suppose it’s not surprising that so much history has been lost. The oldest headstone in the Old Burying Ground belongs to Annie Erinton, died 1653, although it may have been placed later. Headstones themselves didn’t become common until the 1670s. Even after that, the burial ground was used as a sheep pen and city records lament the shameful state of the graveyard over the course of its life.

Still, much that is beautiful remains. Marilyn Yalom points out in The American Resting Place that, in the Old Burying Ground, you can see graveyard iconography in flux. “In the oldest section, death’s-heads dating from the 1690s are lined up shoulder to shoulder… Midway across the field, angels with curly hair and soaring wings, dating from the 1730s and 1740s, begin to infiltrate the death’s-heads.” The final part of the graveyard is adorned with urns and willows from the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.  My post on the evolution of death’s-heads is here.

Cambridge opened a new graveyard in 1811 and burials in the Old Burying Ground dropped to a trickle. Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast, was one of the last people to be buried in a family tomb in 1879. The last person to be buried there was Christ Church’s minister Gardiner Day, whose ashes were interred under a path in 1981.

Useful links:

History and notable burials

Fodor’s thinks the graveyard is spooky.

Epitaphs from the Old Burial Ground from the earliest date until 1800

GPS information at CemeteryRegistry.us