Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Caper on the Cape

Volunteers in Sandwich, Massachusetts, waded into a pond last Saturday with "thumping" poles, in search of gravestones supposed missing from the adjacent Old Town Cemetery. George Burbank's 1946 book Highlights of Sandwich History says that ne'er-do-wells tossed the stones into the pond back in the 1880s.

In December, town workers pulled a headstone of Hannah Thacher, who died in 1785, from the water. Town workers found the headstone and other broken pieces of stone in shallow water when they were clearing bramble and brush between the pond and the cemetery.

Some believe Burbank's tale of graveyard shenanigans is accurate because while the burial ground was established in 1663, according to historical records, the oldest stone in the cemetery is marked 1685.

That's a 20-year gap with no explanation. [Link]
There are other possible explanations for the gap. In his study of colonial gravestones on Cape Cod, Stephen P. Broker was able to locate just 37 stones bearing dates prior to 1709.
Possible explanations for the slow start in gravestones being placed in Cape cemeteries include a hesitancy of the early settlers to mark the graves of their growing numbers of deceased for fear of encouraging attack by the Native Americans, the initial absence of a gravestone carving tradition in the New World, the need to import gravestones from Boston and Plymouth carving centers, the use of uninscribed fieldstones to mark early burials, the use of wooden markers that have not survived, and the use of inscribed stones that have disappeared with the ensuing time. [Link]
[Photo credit: Zad Crol by Chris Seufert]

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