Tag Archives: Revolutionary War graveyard

Cemetery of the Week #33: The Old Dutch Burying Ground

The Old Dutch Church

The Old Dutch Burying Ground
Albany Post Road (U.S. Route 9), one mile north of Tarrytown
Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591
Telephone: (914) 631-4497
Founded: Approximately 1640, two generations prior to 1685, when the church was built.
Size: 5 acres
Number of interments: approximately 1700
Open: The Burying Ground is open year-round. The Church is closed between Christmas Eve and June, when it reopens for tours.

“Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts…allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of the battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.” — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

An historic plaque in the Old Dutch Burying Ground describes the place as “one of America’s oldest cemeteries,” containing Dutch tenant farmers and their huisvrows (housewives? – it was undefined on the sign), Revolutionary War soldiers, and the characters of Washington Irving’s tale.

Many of the markers were made from rust-red sandstone instead of the gray slate used in the contemporaneous Massachusetts burial grounds. One of my favorite markers stood on the grave of James Barnerd. His epitaph indicated he’d been a sailor: “The Boisterous Winds and Neputns (sic) Waves have Tost me too and fro. By Gods decree you Plainly See I am Harbourd here Below”. I loved the carver’s creative spelling. Barnerd was 48 when he “departed this life” in 1768. Though discolored by exhaust from the street nearby, Barnerd’s sandstone marker was brightened by a cherub with sagging jowls. Above the cherub’s head floated something like a lotus blossom, probably a tongue of divine fire.

Red Sandstone marker in the Old Dutch Burying Ground

Some of the sandstone markers have flaked and slivered until none of their inscriptions remained. I wondered if the deceased’s next of kin would have seen that as appropriate: just as their loved ones dissolved into the ground, the stones that remembered them crumbled to dust. I don’t think these markers had been intended to carry names three centuries into the future. It is only since the American centennial in 1876 that all soldiers of the Revolution were lionized as patriots worth remembering, even if they had only been foot soldiers.

My husband Mason laughed at me for lingering over the Revolution-era graves. The Dutch settlers’ graves clung to the skirts of the church. Those were truly old. Even though the words were Dutch, the epitaphs ran to familiar patterns: “Hier Leyt Begraven…” or “Here lyes Buried.”

Frederick Philipse, the first lord of the nearby manor of Philipsburg, built the little church for his tenants in 1685. The bricks had been shipped from Holland, since the American brickworks weren’t yet up to the task. Writing in the 19th century, Irving called the building “The Old Dutch Church” and the name stuck. In his tale inspired by the names in the graveyard, the yellow stone and brick building had been whitewashed. The burial ground, probably dating back to 1640, preceded its church by two generations.

Many of the graves had little metal signs poked into their dirt. I expected those would mark the graves of Ichabod Crane and the others, but that turned out not to be the case. The signs had been placed by the Tarrytown DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution — descendants of Revolutionary soldiers), the modern-day Friends of the Cemetery, and by the Grand Army of the Republic (survivors of the Civil War), whose markers must have been nearly 100 years old themselves. The last Civil War veteran is long in his grave himself.

We searched and searched the sandstone tablets. Mason found the Crane family graves, but none of them named Ichabod. Eventually, I located Catriena Van Tessel, who died November 10, 1706. Although the rest of her epitaph was in Dutch, nothing seemed to connect her to Irving’s story.

At the time of my visit, the Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground offered tours on weekends from May to October. This may no longer be the case, since the tours aren’t mentioned on their web site (link below). You can however rent an iPad tour from the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold Sunday services and organ concerts in the Old Dutch Church. That link is also below.

“To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.” — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Useful links:

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery wraps around the Old Dutch Burying Ground.

Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground

Rent the iPad tour from the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns

Stories about those buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground

Photos of the gravestones

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Guidebook to Boston’s Burying Grounds

Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks: Boston's Burying Ground Guide to King's Chapel, Granary and Central CemeteriesPreachers, Patriots & Plain Folks: Boston’s Burying Ground Guide to King’s Chapel, Granary and Central Cemeteries by Charles Chauncey Wells
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This useful guide to touring the colonial burying grounds of downtown Boston explains the symbology of the gravestones and the histories of the graveyards. It contains capsule biographies of important personages, illustrated by some small black-and-white photographs, and includes a pull-out map with all the remaining gravestones numbered.

It also holds over a hundred pages of gravestone inventories — and lists the missing gravestones — from the three downtown graveyards. It’s all important information, but I would have preferred to have it split into two volumes so that the first half of the book could have been expanded. As a tourist, I’m much more interested in what’s there to be seen.

I also wish the photographs could have been larger. The gravestone carvings are so beautiful in Boston that they would have been better served by being better recorded, even if large glossy photos would have made the guidebook heavier to carry around.

Until a better guidebook comes along, this is the one to get if you’re planning to visit Boston’s King’s Chapel, Granary, or Central Burying Gounds. It’s an excellent introduction.

I ordered my copy from Amazon: Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #18: King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Death vs. Father Time

King’s Chapel Burying Ground
58 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Telephone: (617) 523-1749
Established: Approximately 1630. Burials ceased around 1796.
Number of Interments: Maybe as many of 1500
Size: Less than half an acre
Open: Daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. free of charge.

King’s Chapel Burying Ground, the first graveyard in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, seems to have been established as early as 1630, mere months after the foundation of the city. The historical plaque says that the land probably belonged originally to Isaac Johnson. His will directed that he be buried on his own land — and here he lies.

The initial colonists of Boston were such Puritans that they didn’t allow images engraved on their tombstones. Their markers that still exist are thick heavy stones recording only names and dates. William Paddy’s stone, dated 1658, is one of the oldest surviving grave markers in New England.

In 1688, the British governor seized land from the older part of the graveyard to build King’s Chapel. The burying ground takes its name from that church, though nothing else. The graveyard continued to be secular, unaffiliated with the adjacent church. That meant that no distinctions were made in the graveyard in terms of sect, or even of race. When people died, they needed to be planted. Until the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground opened in 1656, everyone in Boston ended up in King’s Chapel Burying Ground.

Charles Bahne’s Complete Guide to Boston’s Freedom Trail points out that the Puritans must have spun in their graves when the chapel was built. Aside from the simple desecration, the Anglican Church had been the reason they’d fled to the New World in the first place.

Although the original Puritans forbade anything but text on their grave markers, later preachers differentiated between ornamentation inside churches and on gravestones. This led to the familiar skull and crossbones that appear on so many of New England’s surviving headstones.

The King’s Chapel Burying Ground contains some spectacular death’s-heads. One of the stones from 1690 has a leering skull shaped like a Dia de los Muertos sweet. The bony forehead has raised eyebrows, but his nose is merely a pair of upended angles, one inside the other. His clenched teeth go straight across like pickets in a fence. The wings that stretch out behind him hold row upon row of feathers. Where we see a macabre reminder that our ancestors were all too familiar with the skull beneath the skin, they saw a memento mori — a nudge, as if they needed it, that no one knew the hour of his inescapable demise and everyone should be prepared to meet their Maker at any moment.

Of all the headstones in this graveyard, my favorites stand along the front walkway, watching Boston pass by outside their iron gate. These depict the struggle to snuff out life’s candle; Father Time, a robed patriarch with a knee-length beard, faces off against a skeletal Death.

Primary among the famous people buried in King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the first governor of the Massachusetts colony, John Winthrop. After his election as governor, Winthrop led seven hundred religious “Separatists” (what we’d call Puritans) to leave England and settle on a hilly peninsula they named after Boston, England. Winthrop proclaimed that this new Boston would be “a shining city on a hill,” a beacon to all others who wanted to lead an exemplary religious life. By the time of his death, Boston had swelled into a city of fifteen thousand people.

Since Winthrop died in 1649, I knew that the brick and granite table monument covering his grave must be a later addition. The style was wrong for a Puritan grave marker. The book Preachers, Patriots, and Plain Folks confirmed my suspicion, reporting that the new monument had been erected in 1920.

In the center of the graveyard stands a marker for William Dawes, the other man who rode to Lexington to announce the “British are coming!” He had the misfortune of being neglected by 19th-century poets, so Paul Revere’s is the name we connect with the Midnight Ride. Revere lies down the street at the Granary Burying Ground, under a monument much grander that Dawes’s. Dawes himself was moved out of the graveyard to Forest Hill Cemetery, but a small American flag still draw tourists to his original grave.

Not far from the church wall stands the headstone of Elizabeth Pain. Some books, including The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America, imply she inspired Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Pain’s marker gives no indication that she was seduced and impregnated by a churchman.

In the 1740s, gravediggers at King’s Chapel Burying Ground lamented that they were burying the dead four deep. By 1795, when the graveyard had surpassed full and headed toward critical mass, ground burials finally halted. The outer boundary of the cemetery, ringed with subterranean family tombs, continued to accept new residents until the 1970s.

Useful Links:

History and a map

Ghost stories

The Freedom Trail feature on King’s Chapel Burying Ground

A Walk Into History offers public walking tours of Boston’s Freedom Trail, including the King’s Chapel Burying Ground. Led by costumed guides, the 90-minute tour costs $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, and $7 for children. Tickets available at http://www.thefreedomtrail.org or at 148 Tremont St., Boston Common, Boston, MA 02111.

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Cemetery of the Week #61 : the Granary Burying Ground

Book I’ve reviewed that references King’s Chapel Burying Ground:

Preachers, Patriots, and Plain Folks

The American Resting Place

Famous and Curious Cemeteries