Burial-Ground (1896)

Through the Old Burial-Ground of Bedford with a nonagenarian.

When but a child, I found something congenial to my taste in the habits of an old man whom the townspeople familiarly called Uncle Leander. [*1]

It was not a benignant smile which sometimes lights up the faces of the aged as they approach the sunset of life, nor was it any special attention shown by this man to the youth of the village. [*2] In neither way was he made particularly attractive to the many. But to me alone of all the children of the town who passed Uncle Leander’s door on the way to school, was this man companionable. [*3] This was because of his efforts to stay the ravages of time in the Old Burial-Ground. [*4]

I had seen him on several occasions with a pail of whitewash, and a brush in hand, passing about among the leaning slabs, and here and there applying his liquid coating.

I was quite sure that some wise purpose actuated him in his repeated visits to this sacred enclosure. My resolve to inquire into this peculiar work was often of no avail, because of my failing courage when I neared the gate whose slats I had so often heard flapping in the breeze. In fact, I had an early aversion for the ancient sepulchres, because of false stories told me of the rude designs there seen on many stones. [*5][*6] But the results of the old man’s work recommended

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his acts to me, and I at length mustered courage to interview him. My first question met with no reply until Uncle Leander had stepped to an old moss-covered stone, from behind which he took a long tin trumpet, which he placed in his ear, turning the larger end of the conical tube to my mouth, and indicating that if I would fathom the fourscore years that separated us, I must do it through this instrument. [*7] This I did, and met with a most cheerful reply. In fact, the old man manifested pleasure that one so young should have any interest in his work, and in the Old Burial-Ground, where were resting almost all of those with whom he began life, and had for a long time journeyed.

“This preparation of lime,” said he, “prevents the moss from gathering, and keeps the epitaphs in a legible condition.”

Having observed that he discriminated in his work of prevention, I ventured to again penetrate his dull ear and learn the cause. The question brought a smile to the aged face; and he said, “Come with me, and I will show you.” Passing to the centre of the yard, he paused at an erect, well-kept slab, and said, “Read that,” which I did aloud, —

In Memory of Capt. Jonathan Willson,
who was Killed in Concord-Fight
April 19th, A.D. 1775,
In the 41st year of his Age. [^1]

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My venerable guide stood by me in the attitude of a listener; but he knew it all, and needed not to hear my voice. “My wife’s uncle,” said he; “a Bedford patriot, who was killed on the first day of the war.” Taking up his pail and brush, he led the way to another section, paused, and leaned over a modest slab with seeming affection. [^2] This I read as before, —

Here lies the Body of Calley Fassett,
Daughter of Mr. Joseph and Mrs. Dorothy Fassett,
who departed this life Aug. 22, 1775,
Aged 17 years.

“My father’s first love,” said Uncle Leander.

“My father, John Hosmer, was engaged to be married to her, a most beautiful young lady. When the Lexington alarm was sounded, he left home, and did his duty that memorable day, and returned safely, staying long enough to bid a tender farewell to his betrothed, cheering her at parting with the promise of a speedy return when he should claim her as his bride. He occasionally received some carefully prepared dainty from her hand, delivered by a teamster who brought food and other supplies to the camp. [*8] At length there came a time when neither word nor package reached him, and in an anxious mood he lay down in his camp for a night’s rest. But harrowing dreams disturbed the soldier’s slumber, and he awoke by a call to duty with a vivid impression that the object of his affection had died. So firmly

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fixed was the impression, that he obtained a leave of absence for a few days, and made haste to Bedford. As he approached the weather-beaten dwelling through a bridle-path, he detected unusual movements, and soon learned the painful reality of his dream. As chief mourner, the young soldier followed the object of his blighted affections to this grave, and sorrowfully returned to answer his country’s call.

[ object sketch ] [*9]
Tombstone of Calley Fassett [^3]

The years of war, when death in its most trying forms was a common occurrence, did not efface from his memory the scenes of his early years.

Although surrounded by a large and prosperous family, my father never forgot his first love, but conducted his children and grandchildren to this grave, and here told them the story which has led me to keep the stone erect, and safe from the ravages of time.”

Among other objects of the old man’s care was the stone on which I read, —

Sacred
to the memory of Capt. John Moore,
who died Sept. 27th 1807,
aged 78 years.

[ p 185 ]

Glory with all her lamps shall burn,
To watch the Christian’s sleeping clay.
Till the last trumpet cause his urn
To aid the triumph of that day.

“He was captain of the Bedford militia,” said my guide; “was over to Concord Fight, and also in the Continental army. He was one of the wealthy of the town, as this stone indicates, by its size and style.”

To the graves of Solomon Stearns and Reuben Bacon, he led me, pausing only to say, “Fell sick in camp, and died just before the battle of Bunker Hill. Brave patriots they.” Lieutenant Edward Stearns’ grave was near by, and the stone was one that Uncle Leander kept in order. [^4] “He took Captain Willson’s place at the fight,” said the faithful guide. Lieutenant Moses Abbott’s gravestone was another that had received the attention of this man with the pail and brush.

“Moses Fitch,” said he as we hastened on, “wounded at White Plains,” at the same time drawing his brush across the smooth surface of an unusually tall slab. [^5] “He was deacon, had a little better stone than some; deacons were then people of distinction, you know.”

Reaching over to an irregular row in the rear, my guide said, “Solomon Lane,” at the same time applying his brush; “he was at Concord, with scores more who are now all free from the tumult of war.” [*10]

[ p 186 ]

Stumbling over mounds and depressions, alike suggestive of the early and later time, we came to a row of stones of a size and design indicative of the standing of the family in the town. “They selected this corner of the yard,” said Uncle Leander, “because it was very near the old residence.” [*11] The inscription was easily read because of the fresh coating of whitewash. It was “Erected in memory of John Reed, Esq., who died Nov. 20, 1805, in the 75th year of his age.” “A member of the first and second Provincial Congresses, of the Committee of Inspection, and also of the Convention that met to frame a constitution.” So well had my guide classified the patriots of the town in their various departments of service, that he readily pointed out the other stones marking the graves of the Committee of Inspection, each of which had received the careful attention of his hand. They were Moses Abbott, already mentioned; Thomas Page, who died July 31, 1809, aged 76 years; Ebenezer Page, who departed this life June ye 9th, 1784, aged 47 years and 6 days; and Edward Stearns, whose grave we had already visited. My guide confessed to having become puzzled over the many stones erected to the memory of the Pages. As they all had been identified with the military interests of the town, he had given each stone the same treatment, and proceeded to make known to me the result of his study in this direction. He read, “Cornet Na-

[ p 187 ]

thaniel Page, who died March 2, 1755, aged 76 years,” and remarked, “He must have been the Nathaniel of the second generation, who was in the Indian wars.” The next to notice, and in order of generation, was “Nathaniel Page, who died April 6, 1779, aged 76 years.” Here my guide thoughtfully remarked in passing, “Too soon to realize the result of his experience at Concord, which was hard indeed for him, then 72 years of age.” He next led the way to a stone on which I read, “Cornet John Page, who died Feb. 18, 1782, aged 76 years,” and remarked during my reading, unheard by him, “He was a very tall man, who made the regulars tremble. He was at Lexington on the eventful morning, and aided in capturing several prisoners. He was also at Bunker Hill.” As the next generation in order, my guide selected the following inscription, “Mr. Nathaniel Page, who died July 31, 1819, aged 77 years,” remarking, “He carried the old flag with the minute-men to Concord Fight.” The difficulty of making any inquiry led me to accept all the remarks of my venerable friend, which I later proved to be well authenticated. The next of the name was found to be, “Nathaniel Page, who died Aug. 30, 1858, aged 83 years.” To this my guide remarked, “Born in the harvest-time following the fight at Concord, too late to have a part in the Revolution; but he was on hand in 1812, and was always ready to take part in the

[ p 188 ]

Cornwallis,’ when we celebrated the surrender of that General to Washington.” Having made out the successive generations, Uncle Leander made haste to call my attention to the stones marking the graves of Sergeant Christopher Page of the minute-men, and William Page of the militia, and paused to say, “Here ought to be a stone to the memory of Timothy Page, who was one of the militia at Concord, and was killed at White Plains.”

So faithfully had this aged man studied these modest memorials, that he led me to the graves of other Bedford patriots, where, now that my guide has passed away, I read, “Lieut. John Merriam, Sergeant James Wright, Lieut. Eleazer Davis, Fifer David Lane,” all of the militia who served in the opening of the war, also “James Lane, Jr., 3d, Oliver Reed, Jr., Samuel Lane, Israel Putnam, Jr., Samuel Bacon, Samuel Davis, Thaddeus Davis, William Maxwell, Samuel Meads, Samuel Merriam, David Fitch, Abijah Bacon, Ziba Lane, Josiah Davis, John Lane, Joseph Hartwell, Thomas Bacon, John Fitch, Samuel Lane, Jr., Job Lane, Jr., Matthew Pollard, Stephen Lane, Oliver Pollard, Jr., John Reed.” [*12]

Of the minute-men indicated by my guide, and later verified, I read, “Sergeant Ebenezer Fitch, 2d Lt. Timothy Jones, Joseph Meads, Jr., Reuben Bacon (before mentioned), Oliver Bacon, drummer, Jonas Gleason, David Bacon, David Reed,

[ p 189 ]

Nathan Bacon, Elijah Bacon, Lieut. William Merriam, Matthew Fitch.” [*12]

By the time we had gone the rounds of the Revolutionary list, my guide had become so aroused with the spirit of the days when these men left their homes at the midnight call, that he could not refrain from seeking out a very ancient stone, on which I read, —

In memory of Mr. John Abbott,
who died in ye army at Lake George,
Nov. ye 2d, 1756,
aged 25 years.

He also directed me to a space, apparently vacant, which he thought was reserved in memory of Nathaniel Merriam, who died in his Majesty’s service at Lake George, in September, 1758.

This faithful old man had thus adopted a method of marking the graves of the soldiers of the Revolution many years before any organization had sprung up to do it. The whitewashed slabs throughout that enclosure indicated the resting-place of a good share of the seventy-seven men from Bedford who were seen at Concord in the hottest of the fight. [*13]

Halting near the centre of the enclosure, my faithful guide repeated the effort made many times before this day, to straighten up one of the most ancient stones, but which as often settled back to its long accustomed position. While

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thus engaged, Uncle Leander seemed to have forgotten his youthful companion, and meditated in a half audible manner, “Dea. Israel Putnam, died November ye 12th, 1760.” When, having fully satisfied himself of the difficulty of changing the habit of anything, even a gravestone, which had followed its own inclination for more than a century, the old man turned about, and shouted, “Here, boy, let me tell you about this!” [^6] In a half-charmed, half-frightened state of mind, I stepped forward, and gave heed to the narrative, while my eyes were seemingly riveted to the rude carvings before me. [*6] “Brave man,” said he; [^7] “Israel Putnam was a relative of General Israel, who faced the wolf and the British as well. [^8] He settled over opposite here in 1721, and was one of the prominent founders of this town. [*14] He gave the land for this burial-place, and might well have this central location himself. He was the first deacon of the church and a leading citizen.” Having discharged his obligation to the memory of one who took the first steps towards the incorporation of the town of Bedford, my guide turned about, and, placing his trembling hand upon a stone near by, said, “This marks the grave of Jonathan Bacon, whose daughter Sarah became the wife of Israel Putnam. Hence you see their close relation in death is suggestive of their intimacy in life.” I must confess that it was only the main fact that was intelligible to me in my youth,

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the minor points having later become realities to me.

Jonathan Bacon, “a principal inhabitant,” was the leader in the formation of the church and town, and one whose years gave him the precedence in the entire enterprise. [^9] Another stone which was the object of the old man’s care made up an interesting trio. On it I read, “Doc. John Fassett, died January 30th, 1736, aged 66 years.” “He was the first resident physician, famous for bleeding and blistering. If he had lived a few years longer, there might not have been so many of those little stones as you see over there.” With this remark, accompanied by a wise shake of his gray locks, Uncle Leander moved on, keeping a sure grasp upon his pail and brush, of which he occasionally made use. Halting before a sunken memorial, he said, “This triple stone, and that one over yonder, suggest the ravages of a throat distemper which brought sorrow to a good many families in this town and throughout the country.” By careful examination I found that my guide was doubtless right; for I there learned that within ten days, in the year 1754, Mr. Christopher and Mrs. Susannah Page parted with three little children, and that many other little mounds were made in that burial-ground during the same time. Coming to the north-east corner of the enclosure, my guide said, “This was the African reservation, the place where the family slaves were buried,

[ p 192 ]

and the paupers as well.” This locality was conspicuous for the absence of memorial stones; the levelling hand of time had failed to obliterate the mounds that lay in methodical rows, each mouldering heap as suggestive of mortality as though dignified by the sculptor’s hand and the motto, Memento mori.” [*15]

“A good many old slaves lay there,” said my guide, flourishing his brush as though he would like to wipe out that part of the annals of the town, and that peculiar chapter in the history of the New England colonies. [*16] In passing along, my oracle did not fail to express his contempt for one who had lived in the community, — “a miser,” said he, “lived to be almost a hundred, but how much better was the town for his having lived in it?” [*17] A flourish of his brush, and a thump upon the stone, gave emphasis to the old man’s indignation. Leading on to another locality, my guide directed my attention to a stone of which he remarked, “Queer old minister, that Penniman, — a sort of a Tory he was; [*18] thought he was doing his duty by staying at home and praying on the 19th of April, 1775, when all his parishioners were up in arms.” While the old man gave vent to his feelings in regard to the minister of the town during the Revolution, I was endeavoring to remove the lichen which hid the inscription; for the old man’s whitewash brush had not been applied here, any more than it had been on the stone last

[ p 193 ]

noticed. My surprise at not finding the sepulchre of the minister brought forth the exclamation, “Oh, no! that parson was hurried off; but he has left us a record of his peculiarities in the inscriptions which you read there on the stones at the graves of his children.”

Hannah, daughter of Rev. Joseph Penniman
and Hannah, his wife,
who died Dec. 22, 1790,
aged 18 years, 4 mons., 11 days.

Ah! now no notice do you give
Where you are and how you live!
What! are you then bound by solemn fate,
To keep the secret of your state?
The alarming voice you will hear,
When Christ the Judge shall appear.
Hannah! from the dark lonely vault,
Certainly, soon and suddenly you’ll come,
When Jesus shall claim the treasure from the tomb.

On the stone at the grave of Molly, who died in 1778, at the age of 3 years, 6 months, 3 days, is to be read, —

Ah! dear Polly, must your tender parents mourn,
Their heavy loss, and bathe with tears your urn,
Since now no more to us you must return.

The diverted attention of my guide led him to be unusually free with his wash; and seeing the pail was empty, he thoughtfully leaned over to me, raised his trembling voice, and said, “I shan’t be here long to attend to these patriots’ graves. [^10]

[ p 194 ]

You boys must do it; for if it had not been for such men and women as lay here, we should be crouching beneath the paw of the British lion to-day.” [*16]

[ object sketch ]
Stone at Grave of
Captain Jonathan Willson in Bedford
(the same design is seen at top of the stone erected
to the memory of
Captain Isaac Davis at Acton)


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. Willson,Wilson,
  2. section, ∨ section;
  3. FassettFasset
  4. Stearns’ ∨ Stearns’s
  5. his brush ∨ the brush
  6. about this!” ∨ about this.
  7. said he; ∨ said he,
  8. Putnam ∨ Putman
  9. inhabitant,” ∨ inhabitanc,”
  10. shan’t ∨ sha’n’t

WORKS CITED


ANNOTATIONS

  1. “Uncle Leander”: Leander Hosmer: b. 1796 – d. 1888 (BHB) II: p 18
  2. “benignant”: kindly
  3. “Uncle Leander’s door”: 165 Concord Road
  4. “the Old Burial-Ground”: the Old Burying Ground: 7 Springs Road
  5. “sepulchres” (i.e., “sepulchers”): graves
  6. “rude”: rough-hewn
  7. “fathom the fourscore years”: penetrate the eighty years
  8. “dainty”: delicacy
  9. This sketch reveals that Fassett’s epitaph continues:

    Death cannot make our souls | afraid
    if God be with us there
    we |
    may walk through our darkest | shade
    and never yield to fear.

  10. “scores”: many
  11. “the old residence”: Domine Manse: 110 Great Road
  12. “Meads”: [ a variant of ] Mead
  13. “hottest”: most intense moments
  14. “over opposite here”: in a house evidently lost to fire several decades earlier
    Now the site of an apartment building: 18 Springs Road (HPN) pp 173-174
  15. “mouldering” (i.e., “moldering”): crumbling
  16. “lay”: [ an error for ] lie
  17. “a miser”: the legendary “Hezekiah Pendleton”
    cf. Brown’s Glimpses of old New England life [1892]
  18. “queer”: strange

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