Burial Grounds



Burial-Grounds. [*1]


A burial-ground was indispensable to a well-regulated town, and the incorporators of Bedford hastened to assign a piece of ground convenient to the meeting-house for that use. October 23, 1729,

“The selectmen met and laid out a burying-place in the land that Mr. Israel Putnam gave to the town.”

Later they changed the location a little, making mention of

“a bridal way that leads from the road that runs from the meeting-hous to Woburn.”

In 1734 the town voted

“to release John Mansfield’s rates if he will keep the brush down in the burying-place.”

Thus the citizens early manifested a regard for this sacred spot. [*2] Having a central location, it has

[ p 34 ]

never been allowed to show signs of neglect that are too often noticed in towns of New England. [*3] For one hundred and eighteen years this was the only place of interment in town. The most careful estimate, aided by authentic records, leads to the conclusion that not less than fourteen hundred bodies have been returned to their kindred dust within that enclosure. The town set apart a corner for the burial of the African race, and there in the “African reservation,” in unmarked graves, are Cuff, Dinah, Violet, Jack, Ishmael, Quimbo, Torrey, Abraham, Domire, Pomp, Caesar, Cambridge and others. [^1] In 1810 the town erected a house for keeping the hearse. It was in the southwest corner of the yard. The expense was $48.50. The contractor agreed to prepare the ground and underpinning, in addition to erecting the house, which, according to specifications, was

“to be built with good material and painted twice over.”

Here were safely kept the hearse, bier and pall. The old, cracked bell was stored here for a while, and here was stored the town’s stock of powder and other military equipments, all of which were associated with death or a state of uselessness. The absence of a record of consecration leads one to the conclusion that the incorporators of this town, like the earlier generations of settlers in New England, neither consecrated their burying-ground nor dedicated their meeting-house by special religious service.

The only family reservations in the burial-ground were such as were secured through neighborly courtesy. The ground was extended according to the growing needs of the community. In 1795 John Reed and John Merriam were granted the privilege of erecting a family tomb; and in 1824 Capt. Robert Pulsifer built one adjoining it. In 1824 a private enterprise resulted in the erection of thirteen tombs, on land adjoining the public ground. These became the sepulchres of the leading families, and delayed the necessity of selecting a new place of burial for some years. In 1835 the first steps were taken towards ornamenting the grounds. The town appropriated the sum of fifty dollars, and trees were planted on the borders of the yard. In the early years of the observance of “Arbor Day” a large number of trees were planted and special care given to the ground then abandoned for the purpose of interments. The advance from the austerity of the Pilgrims, progress in art and improvement in the financial standing of the sturdy yeomen is in no way more evident than in the memorials erected and attention given to the place of burial. The grim “death-head” gave place to the “willow and urn.” In 1837 the first white marble slab was erected in the yard. So conspicuous was it, in the midst of scores of primitive slate stones, that it was an object of general comment. [*4]

The tombs built for permanence became so unsightly through the crumbling of the exposed masonry that they were rebuilt in 1887.

In 1849 the town laid out a new burial-place, about a mile east of the village. It is the western slope of a commanding hillside, which terminates in the valley of the Shawshine River.

Shawshine (“Shawsheen”) Cemetery is of itself a fitting memorial of the perseverance and sacrifice of those who started the enterprise, all of whom now sleep without its borders. Both nature and art have contributed lavishly in making this cemetery an attractive spot. Burial lots are owned by individuals, subject to wise restrictions, and permanent care is insured by a deposit of funds with the town, agreeable to a statute of the Commonwealth. [^2] In 1852 John Merriam gave the town $100 to aid in fitting up the grounds.



  1. Torrey ∨ Toney
  2. Commonwealth. ∨ Commonwealth,


  • “Report on old burial ground” [ no scan ]
    in Annual Report FY87 (1887) p 31


  1. NB: Epitaphs receive their own chapter.
    (in this volume) pp 81-93
  2. “this sacred spot”: the Old Burying Ground: 7 Springs Road
  3. This claim is not reconcilable with Brown’s own testimony:
    “The unsightly appearance of this ancient burial ground, has been a source of annoyance to our citizens and an occasion for remark to the passing stranger for some years.” (Report) p 31
  4. “scores of”: so many
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