OUR BURIAL GROUND
have alluded several times to our
Graveyard. Our Meeting may be somewhat unique in that we have never had
family plots. For the most part people are buried seriatim. The graves
on the west side from the middle are the oldest. Among these are to be
found many rectangular cement markers—markers which I must confess are
not very appealing. Around the turn of the century, Charles T. Thomas
had these blocks cast by workers on his farm. They were to identify
otherwise unmarked graves. Out of concern for simplicity, many early
Quaker graves had no identification of any kind. Others were marked by
simple field stones. You will see many such stones still there. I love
them. I would suggest that a good project some day would be to replace
those ugly cement markers—some of which are beginning to deteriorate
anyway—with plain field stones.
Another feature of our Graveyard is the presence of numerous partial
rows of so-called "foot stones." These are marked with the
initials of the name appearing on the head stone. It was a practice
which apparently became fashionable about a century ago. These foot
stones are sporadic with the result that much valuable space is wasted.
My thought is that, as we need space, these rows be used for cremations,
with the foot stones replaced with "head stones" to mark the
new grave. By this procedure we should have burial space for many years
to come. We no longer have space for full burials in our present yard.
Let me now share an intriguing early minute of the men's Meeting. As
of September, 1813, this minute reads: "The Committee of Men and
Women Friends who were appointed to take into consideration the burial
ground, agreed to recommend that the south end of the ground be divided
for a moderate distance into two equal parts by a small passage between
them. The west division to be for the internment of such persons of
color as Friends may judge it proper to admit." (Emphasis mine).
"And the east division for strangers." (Presumably
Now, without ever having given it much thought, I had always assumed
that burials began at, or near, the time our Meeting House had been
built. But not so: the earliest graves were not until 1814—at least
eight years later. So this recommendation in 1813 involved the initial
layout of the Graveyard, before any internments had been made—which
perhaps adds to its significance. And, given that I have always thought
our Meeting was quite conservative in such matters, this is an amazing
proposal. There is no indication, either then or later, whether the
recommendation was approved and there is no trace today of any division
or "passage." In any case, the very fact that a proposal such
as this was even considered can give us some satisfaction.
The next reference to uses of the graveyard wasn't until 1868 when
detailed "Rules and Regulations" were minuted. Interestingly,
they included specification that the stones were to be no more than
eight inches high. But they contained no provisions for minorities. By
1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the ardor for caring for black
people, as in the 1813 plan, had probably abated.
It's only a hunch, but, somehow I associate that 1813 plan with
Elizabeth Downing. Against the background of her steps to free slaves
and her part in establishing the School—one reason for which was
likely to educate black children as well as white—it seems altogether
consistent that she would have been concerned to provide for their
proper internment at death.
That this recommendation came from a "Committee of Men and Women
Friends", as the 1813 minute states, struck me immediately as
unusual. The only other joint committee mentioned in the minutes was
years later, in 1871, when a committee of men and women was appointed to
care for the Library. From the beginning it was the men who supervised
the burial ground. The initiative for the 1813 joint committee,
therefore, must have come from the women. And who among them would have
been more likely than Elizabeth Webster Downing? For these several
reasons she stands out as one of the important personages in the history
of our Meeting.
Download the current list of graves in our
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