Monday, August 27, 2012

Forefathers Burial Ground

Chelmsford, Middlesex County, MA.
Forefathers Burial Ground is one of the oldest cemeteries in the Merrimack Valley, dating from 1655. The oldest extant stone dates from 1690, and commemorates Grace Livermoar, Chelmsford's first midwife, born in Dedham, Essex, England in 1616. Captain Joseph Warren, who roused the Chelmsford Minute Men for the march to Lexington and Concord, is here, as is Joseph Spaulding, who fired the first shot in the battle of Bunker Hill against the British in 1775.

The condition of many of the slate stones are excellent; some of them are as crisp and clear as if they were cut just months ago, rather than centuries. As expected in pre-1800 New England, there are numerous examples of the winged skull motifs, many with hourglasses and/or crossed bones, indicating the fleeting nature of life and mortality, and serving as a reminder to the living.

 A magnificent, heavily 3D example of the the skull and bones style, below, for Oliver Fletcher, Esq. The stylized pine cones represent either immortality, regeneration or fertility, or perhaps all three. The stylized urns with eternal flames represent everlasting life, and Memento Mori - 'Remember Death' - adorn many stones of this time period.
 Madame Sarah Bridge, who died at age 64 in 1776, the amiable consort of the Reverend Ebenezer Bridge, whose much larger stone stands to her right:

Ebenezer's portrait is unusually large, surrounded by four funerary urns. He is dressed in a Puritan fashion, wig and all, with the interesting detail of his cloak partially turned aside. He must have been held in high regard by the parish he ministered to for 52 years, to warrant such a large slate.
Inscription: "BY the church of Christ in Chelmsford, in testimony of their esteem and veneration, this sepulcrial stone was erected to stand as a sacred memorial of their late worthy pastor, the Rev. Ebenezer Bridge, who, after having officiated among them in the service of the sanctuary for more than a year above half a century, the strength of nature being exhausted, sunk under the burden of age, and joined the congregation of the dead, Oct. 1, 1792, AE 78."

 Another lovely slate stone, carved florals up both sides, stylized wings flanking a face; generally thought to indicate release of the soul.
"Here lies the Body of Capt Daniel Proctor who departed this Life Jan 28th 1775 Aged 69 years 1 month and 17 days.
Behold and see as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death & follow me."

 "Here lies the body of Deacon Samuel Foster Aged 83 years Died July the 10 1702"
..and the Deacons wife:

"Here Lyes the Body of Esther Foster Wife To Samuel Foster Aged 70 Years Died April 16 1702"
The good Deacon, born in England in 1619, followed his wife to the grave almost exactly three months after her passing, and they remain side by side to this day.

..and then there are the children; there are always so many children in these old burial grounds. One epitaph read:
"Here lies the Body
of Mrs: Betty Blood
late wife of Mr: Ephraim
Blood who depart
ed this Life Decr:
28:th 1771 Aged 58
years 7 months
& 12 days
She was the mother of 7 Children
which all ly at her feet."
Mrs. Blood spent 5 years & 3 months of her life pregnant; only to bury each and every one of her children.
The rusted gate to a family plot, probably from the mid/latter 1800's. Birds in flight, a weeping willow, and two lambs resting in flowers.

^photo credit: K. Perry

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