Monday, March 14, 2016

The "Dead Center" of Boston - Part One (King's Chapel Burying Ground) (Boston #4)

King's Chapel Burying Ground - Photo by Jim Schmidt
Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy visiting historic cemeteries (see a list of previous posts on historic cemeteries at the end of this post). I had the good fortune to visit two very historic cemeteries - the oldest cemeteries I've visited to date, in fact - when I was in Boston late last summer: Granary Burying Ground and King's Chapel Burying Ground, both of which are stops on Boston's Freedom Trail.

In this first of three parts, I'll share some general information about King's Chapel Burying Ground and some photos; in the second post, I'll do the same for Granary Burying Ground; the third post will have a little more "nitty gritty," with a focus on a few famous gravestones in the cemeteries, background on Puritan era gravestone craftsmanship and iconography, and some book and article recommendations.

"King's Chapel Burying Ground" takes its name from the church - "King's Chapel" - that adjoins the ground, but it is not officially associated with the church. From the Freedom Trail website:

King's Chapel - c. 1900 - Library of Congress
In 1688, Royal Governor Andros directed that King’s Chapel be built on a town burying ground when no one in the city would sell the congregation desirable land on which to build a non-Puritan church. This first structure was a small wooden chapel used by a small but growing Anglican community in Boston. By 1749, the building was too small for the congregation, which had grown to include a number of prominent merchants and their families. The present granite structure was built around the original wooden chapel, which was then removed through the windows of the new construction and rebuilt as an Anglican chapel in Nova Scotia.

King's Chapel - Boston - Photo by Jim Schmidt
From the wayside marker at the cemetery:

From A History of King's Chapel, in Boston: The First Episcopal Church in New England (1833)
This is Boston’s oldest burying ground, established in 1630 on what were then the outskirts of the new Puritan settlement. It was first called simply “the burying place” and, when Copp’s Hill Burying Ground opened, “the old burying place.” After 1760 it started to be called “the Chapel Burying Ground,” using the name of its neighbor, King’s Chapel, even though it has never been affiliated with that or any church. Those buried here in the first thirty years were predominantly English-born immigrants who came to the “New World” seeking religious freedom and new economic opportunity. Today there are approximately 600 gravestones and 29 tabletop tombs left to mark the more than 1,000 people buried in this small space.

When Boston opened additional burying grounds after 1660, town selectmen passed ordinances barring burials at the Old Burying Ground. However, because of a rapidly expanding population, burials took place in the graveyard until around 1896. The burying ground was first fenced in 1642. As its boundaries changed, new fences were constructed over the next two centuries. The current fence along Tremont Street was built in 1854. The subway ventilation shaft in the southwest corner was built in 1896 when Boston’s subway system became the first in the country. The human remains from disturbed graves were reburied in another part of the burying ground.

You can get a quick tour watching the "Boston History in a Minute" video from Ye Olde Tavern Tours, below:

King's Chapel Burying Ground - Photo by Jim Schmidt
Winthrop Family - Photo by Jim Schmidt
John Winthrop (12 January 1587/88 – 26 March 1649) - a wealthy English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of immigrants from England in 1630, and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years of existence. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill" dominated New England colonial development, influencing the governments and religions of neighboring colonies.

Capt. Roger Clap - Photo by Jim Schmidt
The marker of Captain Roger Clap (ca. 1609-1690/91), who was born in Exeter, Devonshire, England. In his Memoir he wrote “So, God brought me out of Plymouth [England] the 20th of March, in the year 1629/30, and landed me in health at Nantasket on the 30th of May, 1630, I being about the age of twenty-one years.” He came on the ship Mary and John as part of the Winthrop fleet. He settled in Dorchester with his wife Joanna (Ford) Clap (d. 1695) and was a farmer and soldier. In 1665 he was appointed Captain of the Castle, the fort protecting Boston on Castle Island. He resigned in 1686 rather than serve under Governor Andros. He and his wife then moved to Boston where he died at the age of 82.

"Soul Effigy" Motif - King's Chapel - Photo by Jim Schmidt
There is a remarkable diversity of iconography on the Puritan-era headstones in King's Chapel Burying Ground - from "death's heads" of Clap's above to winged "soul effigies," as in this example. In Part III of this series, I'll discuss the iconography and feature some well-known gravestones from King's Chapel Burying Ground with some terrific Puritan-era iconography, including Elizabeth Pain's (thought to be an inspiration for Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter) and Joseph Tapping's (considered the finest example of Puritan headstone craftsmanship in Boston).

King's Chapel Burying Ground - Photo by Jim Schmidt

King's Chapel Burying Ground - Photo by Jim Schmidt
Given it's age and historical importance, it's not surprising that the cemetery has attracted many visitors, and it has been the subject of several guidebooks,including this interesting one from 1853:

You may also like these posts on this blog:

Other Posts About Boston:
Boston #1 - Poe Statue
Boston #2 - Robert Gould Shaw/54th Massachusetts Monument
Boston #3 - The Boston Massacre and the Old State House

Other Posts About Historic Cemeteries: 
 St. Louis Cemetery #1 - New Orleans, LA - My YouTube Video here
Jewell Cemetery State Historic Site - Columbia, MO
Sunset Hills Cemetery - Boonville, MO - here and here 
Galveston (TX) Cemeteries - here and here 
Jefferson City (MO) National Cemetery   
Springfield (MO) National Cemetery - (blog posts here, here, here)

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