The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Old North Cemetery of Holliston, Mass.

The MHS recently acquired a small volume of records of a cemetery in Holliston, Mass. that contains some fascinating information about this 19th-century town. The volume is not the original record book, which has apparently been lost, but a manuscript copy made by local historian John Mason Batchelder between 1894 and 1916. The loss of the original book makes this copy that much more significant, since it may contain records that exist nowhere else.

The North Burying Yard of Holliston, now known as the Old North Cemetery (or the Old Indian Cemetery), was established on an acre of land bought from Henry Lealand in 1801. Subscribers purchased lots for their families, and the appointed clerk, Samuel Bullard, recorded “the death and age of all persons buried in any of the Lots in said yard.” The burials listed in this volume date from 1803 to 1876. The entries are brief, but include some interesting details.

 Many of the townspeople interred here are members of the Bullard, Eames, and Lealand families. Included is Civil War soldier Emerson Eames of the 22nd Mass. Regiment, who died on 22 Oct. 1862. (His remains have since been moved to the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.) The cemetery also contains several veterans of the American Revolution, including Aaron Eames (d. 1827), Reuben Eames (d. 1818), Timothy Lealand (d. 1843), Ephraim Bigelow (d. 1834), and Aaron Pike (d. 1848). In recognition of their military service, some or all of these men received new headstones from the U.S. government in 1916, as noted by Batchelder. Pike's story is especially poignant: he was buried as a town pauper at the age of 82 and apparently had no grave marker at all before 1916.

 Also buried in the pauper section is the “child of an Irish family,” who died in 1838 at 16 months. Elsewhere we find 14-year-old Isaac Allard, a victim of typhoid fever in 1860; the unnamed baby daughter of a “single woman”; and poor James Bigelow, who “came to his death by his neckhandkerchief being caught in the turning lathe.”

 Sadly but not unexpectedly, most family lots hold the remains of a husband and wife and any of their children that died young. For example, Eleazer Bullard and his wife Patty are buried with their children: Luke (10 mos.), John (3 days), Peter Parker (3 years), and Martha (4 weeks). Grown children of Eleazer and Patty were presumably buried elsewhere.

 The Old North Cemetery also contains the graves of a few black residents of the town, including Jane Muguet, a state pauper and “colored girl” who died in 1846 at 16. Reuben Titus was another pauper who “lived with Wm Lovering until aged and infirm” and died at about 90 in 1855. The earliest recorded death of a black resident is that of Rose, “negrowoman of Isaac Cozzens,” in 1812.

After copying the records, Batchelder compared his book against the headstones in the cemetery, checking off the names he found there. About half of the names are not checked off, indicating burials recorded by the cemetery clerk but graves unmarked at the time of Batchelder’s visit. (These names are also missing from the Old North Cemetery name index compiled by the Holliston Historical Society in July 2011.) There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy: an error in the original record book or the transcription, a grave that was moved, or one that was never marked in the first place, such as those of the paupers. If the original volume really is lost, this copy may be the only record of the final resting places of Isaac, James, the four Bullard children, Jane, Reuben, Rose, and many others of Holliston.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 December, 2014, 1:00 AM


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