Posts Tagged New England

New England Travels, Part 2

Jul 27th, 2015 Posted in Cemeteries | no comment »

 

 

June 22, 2015  (Click on any photo to enlarge!)

Early in the morning on Monday, we began our travels again. I had read an article back in April here, about the “oldest maintained cemetery,” and mentioned it to the girls during planning. So off we went.

We stopped at the Mayflower cemetery first.

IMGP1977IMGP1983
At the Mayflower Cemetery, I was interested in a grouping of stones of the Loring family, who I’d guess were all related. Barak and Perez Loring died in Grenada in 1792. I thought that was really interesting, but couldn’t find much about them. I assume they are related to some of the other famous Loring families. You can read more about the Mayflower Cemetery history here.

IMGP1984

Barack and Perez Loring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duxbury, MA, The Myles Standish Burying Ground

After the Mayflower Cemetery, we traveled on to the “oldest maintained cemetery.” What interested me about the Myles Standish Burying Ground is not who Myles Standish was. You can read about him all over the place, such as here or here. My traveling companion wrote about our excursion here.

2015-06-22 10.20.05

 

 

 

It was neat to see where they think John Alden was buried, too. (Next to his son) But you can read about him everywhere, and I have nothing I can add right now to the discourse on the Mayflower or early settlers in America.

John Alden here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Alden

And here: http://mayflowerhistory.com/alden/

 

IMGP1991

John and Priscilla Alden are thought to have been buried here, near their son. The slate stones were put there in 1930.

IMGP1992

Jonathan Alden, repairs done around the 1970s – original slate encased in concrete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, instead, I was extremely interested in the little plaque that started this whole portion of the trip.

2015-06-22 10.15.14

 

The plaque reads: “America’s Oldest Maintained Cemetery. Myles Standish Burying Ground is the oldest maintained cemetery in the United States. This sacred ground has been cared for by the Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and takes its name from Myles Standish, military leader of the Plymouth Colony, who was interred here in October of 1656. Plaque dedicated in August 1977, as a bicentennial gift to the Nation by the American Cemetery Association.”

 

There is a lot to discuss here. What does “oldest maintained cemetery” mean, exactly? Does oldest refer to the age of the oldest marker, considered to be Jonathan Alden, the son of John Alden (1687)? The cemetery was the first burying ground in Duxbury, and the first burials were likely either unmarked graves or they were wooden and have long disappeared. According to the National Register nomination, “Known burials date from 1656 to 1831, and surviving original gravestones date from 1697 to 1804.” Does oldest refer to the Native American discoveries made? It’s not really very clear what time period oldest refers to. According to the Town of Duxbury website, “The oldest colonial burial ground in the United States was in St. Augustine, FL., where some of the Spanish conquistadores rest, however, this cemetery has been lost to history as has the original Pilgrim cemetery on Plymouth’s Cole Hill. There in lay the honor bestowed to the Town of Duxbury by the American Cemetery Association in 1977 as naming the Standish Burial Grounds the oldest maintained cemetery in the country.”

 

And what about “maintained”? The site was mostly neglected after the Mayflower cemetery opened, around the mid 18th century. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that anyone took an interest in the cemetery. According to the NRHP nomination, the Duxbury Rural Society (now the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society) took over the cemetery in 1886 and cleaned it up. It’s now owned by the Town of Duxbury, so presumably they are the caretakers. Or does the Duxbuury Rural and Historical Society still maintain the site? It is not listed on their website as one of their responsibilities. Does “oldest maintained cemetery” refer to the age of the earliest burial, or the amount of time it has been cared for? Because Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA, has certainly been maintained since 1831.

 

Another question I have is, who is the American Cemetery Association? I have only found brief references in newspaper articles dating no later than 1990. Nothing that tells me who the organization is or was. What is their significance, and what is their right to bestow the “honor” of oldest maintained cemetery upon the Standish Burial Grounds?

 

In April of this year, 2015, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This date is interesting to me. Why now, what was the impetus for adding the cemetery now, when it’s had such a history of interested parties involved? In the 1800s, of course, there was no such thing as the National Register of Historic Places. In 1977, though the NRHP existed, there were no criteria for adding cemeteries. It wasn’t until 1986 that the National Park Service reviewed the criteria and requested additional published guidance for cemeteries and graves. In 1992, the National Register Bulletin #41, “Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places” was published. The Standish Burying Ground was eligible under criteria A-D. So why not until 2015? I’d be curious to know whose idea it was. There was a brief mention in an August, 2014 newspaper here.

 

The property was approved to be submitted to the NRHP in December by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and announced in January 2015 by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

 

Usually it takes a year for approval, but reading through the nomination, it’s clear that the property has just about every feature the guidelines require, including Criteria D, for yielding future information about prehistory. Duxbury was also the site of Native American settlements.

 

IMGP1999

 

So while I really enjoyed visiting the Myles Standish Burying Grounds, I am still left with many questions. Thankfully, the Massachusetts Historical Commission has a wealth of information regarding the laws, regulations, and requirements for the state of Massachusetts cemeteries and burying grounds. Other states should be so well organized.