Hallowed place for loved ones final rest

  • Snow covers the Old North Cemetery in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. James W. Spain—For the Monitor

  • Snow covers the Old North Cemetery in Concord, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. James W. Spain—For the Monitor

  • Snow covers the Old North Cemetery in Concord, one of the oldest in central New Hampshire. James Spain / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 12/4/2018 1:21:00 PM

Before the little town of Concord existed, there were people that arrived here by ox and wagon, horse and on foot. They were plain people, seeking a new life where they could simply provide for those that they loved.

They arrived when New Hampshire was a British province and ruled by a governor appointed by the Crown so very long ago. Some did prosper, while other perhaps not, but they did live … and when you live, sadly, you must also die.

Before the plantation of “Penny Cook” became the town of Rumford and eventually our little town of Concord, our ancestors sought a place, a hallowed place, to bury their loving family members when they perished. Survival itself was a challenge and sadness a way of life, but a place was found and established to provide eternal rest for those in need. The Old North Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in central New Hampshire, provided this eternal rest and a place for the people to memorialize those they had lost. A place to say a prayer and shed a tear onto the hallowed ground beneath.

It is here, on this most hallowed ground, that we find all are equal. For you have people, common for they were all loved, now equal in their rest. We find war heroes, politicians and prominent people, and we find people that had a good heart, honest hard-working people that were indeed loved, such as the free slave, Nancy, now residing together in the same resting place as a president of the United States.

It was on March 3, 1730, that a committee sought suitable land for a “burying place” in our town. One of the oldest gravestones in the Old North Cemetery was erected by the Rev. Timothy Walker, in memory of his first child, Sarah Walker. Sarah was just a young child when she died at the age of four years, six months. Her grieving parents buried her in 1736 and marked her grave with a thin sheet of granite that was roughly shaped. Additional burials followed in the Old North while we remained a British province, providing eternal rest for our earliest ancestors, burials during the French and Indian Wars when the concerning cries of Native Americans were heard surrounding our town and we stayed in our garrisons for safety.

Many of the earliest burials do not have monuments. Granite was not harvested in Concord in the 1700s and the skilled men that carved slate for gravestones were more than 40 miles away in Massachusetts. The living could not afford the luxury of a gravestone and many rest in this way to this very day. In 1790, there were only six properly finished gravestones in the Old North Cemetery belonging to the remains of Dr. Ezra Carter, James Osgood, Jeremiah Stickney, Jeremiah Hall and the two children of Thomas Stickney; Mary and Jeremiah. Inscriptions are plainly incised in shallow Roman capitals of various sizes and attest the desirability of slate as a memorial stone.

After the Revolutionary War, more stones were placed as members of our town perished. Several tombs were built above ground in the Old North in the mid-1800s with only half of them used and the other half empty to this day. There were concerns for sanitary reasons for fever was taking some of the young.

My very own great-great-uncle William Spain died at 1 year old and was joined in eternal life by his parents Michael and Catherine Spain, facing the glorious sunrise each morning for our early burials always faced east.

The prominent deaths were celebrated in grand fashion. It was the custom for the bearers to be presented with gold rings, gloves and mourning scarfs for the burial of people of means.

When the Rev. Timothy Walker passed, certainly a prominent citizen and loved by the people in his community, gifts were presented to the pallbearers as well as additional items expensed. His funeral records show that there were eight gold rings, the coffin, horse, provisions, grave digging and a gravestone purchased for his funeral procession. It is also recorded that the gold rings cost nine pounds while entertaining guests cost two pounds, six shillings and three pence.

As we pass our Old North Cemetery each day, it is certainly important to remember the history, our beloved ancestors’ experiences. They came here to the wilderness in search of a better life, lived in garrisons and struggled for a nation to be independent. There was civil strife when the union was in question and much sadness as well as celebration as our little town grew.

On a blustery afternoon, as I pass the grave of abolitionist Nathaniel P. Rodgers, I reflect on what his thoughts might be today. He was the editor of the Herald of Freedom and fought a fierce fight for the oppressed people living in our civilized union, in this little town known as Concord. Nathanial gave up a lucrative law career to help people that were less fortunate and oppressed by slavery. Yes, we have moved forward since Nathaniel Rogers passed away on Oct. 16, 1846. We held our great country together and found all people to be equal. As I look east with the setting sun behind me, I find great comfort, for to my left I see the gravestone of President Franklin Pierce, and just a short distance away I find our beloved Nancy resting in the same cemetery together. And I find great comfort and hope for the future.

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