Categotry Archives: Graves

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The Forgotten “Negro Burying Ground” at Middletown Friends Meeting

Categories: Black History, Graves, Langhorne, Maps, Middletown, Quakerism, Racism, Slavery

Negro Burying Ground - Street View

Just southwest of the Middletown Friends meetinghouse lies a small burial ground purchased for the interment of African Americans 225 years ago, at a time when almost a third of the county’s black population remained enslaved. There are no headstones or any other visual indicators to distinguish this plot from the rest of the meeting’s shaded lawn, and like other Quaker meetings in the area, Middletown did not begin keeping burial records until after the Civil War. It is therefore unsurprising that this burial ground has been forgotten in the intervening centuries. The current overseer of the cemetery was unaware of its existence, and while a “Negro burying ground” is referred to in the meeting’s property records, I was not able to identify it’s specific location until I discovered the original deed for the land in the archive of the Friends Historical Library.

Throughout the colonial era, burial grounds were places of great social importance to enslaved Africans. For example, in Philadelphia the section of the Strangers’ Burial Ground (now Washington Square Park) that was set aside for blacks drew large crowds on Sundays, holidays, and fair days. During these gatherings the burial ground became an autonomous African cultural space where participants came together to perform African dances and to speak and sing in their native languages. This was not the case in rural Bucks County, where the small scale of slaveholding meant that the enslaved had few opportunities to interact with other Africans. Slaves were permitted to attend the fairs that were held twice each year Bristol, but only on the last day.

Records indicate that early Quaker settlers initially permitted the burial of Africans in their burial ground, but this was quickly curtailed. Middletown Monthly Meeting, located on the western border of Langhorne Borough, set aside a portion of their burial ground for blacks in the early 18th century, but the meeting vacillated with regard to their treatment of the African dead. Middletown Meeting segregated their burial ground in 1703, noting in their minutes, “There having been formerly some Negros Buryed in friends Burying Yard which they are not well satisfied with therefore Robert Heaton & Thomas Stackhouse are ordered to fence off that corner with as much more as they may see convenient, that friends burying place may be of itself from all others.” After the construction of a wall around the burial ground in 1734 the Friends reaffirmed their opposition to sharing their burial ground with African Americans, ultimately declaring in 1739, “this meeting having had the Matter under Consideration it is unanimously agreed that hereafter no Deceased Negros be Buried Within the walls of the graveyard Belonging to this meeting, & Adam Parker, Jonathan Woolston & Joseph Richardson are appointed to keep the keys of the Said Graveyard & take Care that none be Buried therein but such as they in the Meetings Behalf shall allow of.” The black residents of Bucks County would not have a dedicated burial ground again until the Society of Friends changed its stance on slavery in the late 18th century.

The acknowledge by the Society of Friends that participation in the slave system violated their religious teachings also sparked a broader concern about the economic and spiritual well-being of African Americans. After Philadelphia Yearly Meeting banned slave ownership in 1776, they also added the treatment of free blacks to the list of religious queries that their constituent meetings were expected to address. Bucks County Quakers responded by appointing committees to meet with black families, holding meetings for worship for blacks, and eventually purchasing a small plot of land adjacent to Middletown Meeting as a “Negro burying ground” in 1791. This parcel measured sixteen and a half feet wide by 136 feet long, large enough for perhaps a few dozen burials. While the section allocated for blacks in 1703 was almost certainly meant to be used for the burial of slaves owned by members of the meeting, this small lot was purchased for the use of the free black community.

The meeting did not record the burials in this lot and few details about its use remain. The only documented burial that has been identified at present is that of Cato Adams, a free black man who resided in Middletown for a number of years before moving to Bristol. The will that Adams drafted in 1810 demonstrates the burial ground’s importance to the local black community. Although Adams had a number of children and grandchildren to consider when writing his will, he set aside five pounds “for the purpose of keeping in repair the Burying ground appropriated for the interment of black people near to the meeting.” He also left his “first day clothes” to his son. The use of the Quaker term “first day” rather than “Sunday” indicates that he may have attended meeting for worship at Middletown Meeting, although like most African Americans who worshipped with Quakers in this period he was not a member of the Society and does not appear in the meeting’s records. When Adams died in 1812, Orphans’ Court records related to the settlement of his estate show that his executors paid Isaac Gray, a founding member of the independent black Methodist group the Society of Colored Methodists, to dig his grave. The small lot purchased in 1791 was apparently approaching full capacity by 1816, when Middletown Meeting bought an additional lot for the burial of African Americans at the northeast corner of their property along what is now Green Street. This parcel constitutes the northern half of Mt. Olive Cemetery, which was used by Langhorne’s black community into the 20th century. Before the establishment of Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817 these burial grounds were the only public spaces in Bucks County to which African Americans could claim a collective right.

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Although evidence is scarce, at least two other African-American burial grounds were created by Quaker meetings in the region. The first was  Byberry Preparative Meeting, which established a small African-American burial ground in 1780. This burial ground is now part of Benjamin Rush State Park near the border between Northeast Philadelphia and Bensalem Township, only about four and a half miles away from Middletown Meeting. Joseph C. Martindale provides a brief account of this burial ground in book A History of the Townships of Byberry and Moreland in Philadelphia (1876):

Previous to this time the colored people who died in the townships were generally buried in the orchards belonging to their masters or in the woods; but forty or fifty had been interred in a kind of cemetery for them, on the lands lately owned by Charles Walmsley. It was located in the field fronting the mansion house, not far from Watson Comly’s line. All traces of it have long since been destroyed, and hundreds have since passed over the spot not knowing that they were treading upon the graves of the long since dead. Another of these graveyards was on the farm lately owned by Mary Hillborn, where several slaves were buried. The exact spot is not now known. Many persons by this time had had their attention drawn to the matter, and efforts were made to secure a proper place for the burial of such people. Accordingly, in this year [1780], we find that Byberry Meeting purchased a lot of Thomas Townsend for a burying place for the blacks, and the practice of burying on private grounds was discontinued. The record says that the first person buried there was “Jim,” a negro belonging to Daniel Walton.

Later, after discussing the local potter’s field where white indigents were interred, he writes:

The graveyard for colored persons… is still kept for that purpose. Some years since a portion of this yard was plowed up, and most of the “little mounds” were leveled with the earth around, so that the exact spot where many of this race were buried can no longer be seen. What a pity that man should ever be willing to disturb the resting-places of the dead in order to add to his coffers! Of late years more care has been taken of this place, and it is now kept in good order by Byberry Meeting.

The only historical map that I’ve been able to locate that shows the Byberry African Burial Ground is the “Atlas of Greater Northeast Philadelphia” in Franklin’s Proposed Real Estate Atlases of Philadelphia, Vol. 7 (1953). The small lot is not identified as a burial ground, but the property boundaries are visible:

African American Burial Grounds at Middletown Friends Meeting

More detailed maps, photographs, and other documentation are provided in Byberry Librarian Helen File’s paper on the burial ground and an archaeological study of the site performed by the US General Services Administration in 1993.

The second Quaker meeting in the area to establish an African-American burial ground was Buckingham Friends Meeting, which laid out a small section of their existing graveyard for that purpose in 1807. They report in their minutes:

We have laid out a small portion of Ground within the large Grave Yard at Buckingham to Bury Black People in, Beginning at a stone standing at the North Corner of the Old enclosure, thence N 50 [degrees] E two Perches to a Stone, thence N 40 [degrees] W to a Stone standing at the back Wall of the Yard And to be comprehended by these two lines, the Back Wall, and the Foundation of the Old Wall. The Meeting Uniting therewith, directs Burying in rows beginning at the North End…

Unfortunately the exact location of this plot is unclear, but it is probably located in the northwest section of the current burial ground. Further examination of the meeting’s property records may yield a more exact location. While the author of the Buckingham Meeting’s National Register of Historic Places nomination claims that “The African American burials here were made unnecessary within a few years” after Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed nearby in 1837, a recent archaeological survey of the site conducted by Meagan Ratini suggests that the burials may not have taken place there until the 1860s. If that is the case, the African-American burial ground at Buckingham Meeting may have been in use for half a century.

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Edward Hicks & The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Categories: Documents, Graves, Newtown, Painting, Quakerism

Newtown Friends Meeting

The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Among the documents that I recently deposited at the Friends Historical Library was this petition to Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings for permission to meet for worship as an indulged meeting, which is simply a group that meets to worship but doesn’t conduct any business on its own. This meeting would eventually become Newtown Friends Meeting. In 1815 they began meeting in the county courthouse, which had been abandoned after the county seat moved to Doylestown in 1812. In 1817, they built their own meetinghouse. Interestingly, some of their funding for the construction came from the sale of liquor. Joseph Jenks contributed $100 that he made by distilling apple whiskey, and others reportedly did as well. 

Edward Hicks

This document appears to have been written by Edward Hicks. Today Hicks is remembered as a famous painter, best known for his work The Peaceable Kingdom. During his lifetime, however, he was better known as a preacher. In fact, he faced criticism from fellow Quakers for creating decorative art. He even gave up artwork and tried to subsist by farming and only utilitarian painting, but couldn’t make a living doing so and eventually returned to his art.

Peaceable Kingdom

Hicks was the last to sign the petition, and the certain characteristics of his handwriting seem to match the text of the petition. The “H” in “All Heads of fammilys” following the signatures is identical, a number of the i’s are not dotted in the letter, as in his signature, and the nearly vertical c’s match as well.

Edward Hicks

Hicks’ authorship also fits with what we know about the early history of the Meeting. Hicks was a prominent member of the meeting, and he was the first preacher to speak at courthouse in 1815 as well as the new meetinghouse in 1817.

According to the meeting’s website:

Edward Hicks’ grave, with the low headstone preferred by Friends, may be found near the sycamore tree across from the front porch of the meeting house that he loved so much.

The Petition

While the document is undated it clearly predates 1815, the year in which Friends began meeting in the former county courthouse. It is addressed to both Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings because Newtown drew members from both.

Hicks writes:

Dear friends

We have believed it Right to revive the subject respecting a Meeting in Newtown, by calling the attention of friends in a Monthly Meeting capacity once more to that important subject, desiring that a [state?] may be sought after of judging wether [sic] the time has not arived [sic] when an Indulged Meeting might be granted might be granted with advantage and safety.

Interestingly, both men and women were listed as heads of families. However, it appears that the names of each couple were written by the same hand, so perhaps the husband signed both names.

They seem to have gotten a positive response from Wrightstown Meeting, which appointed a committee of six men and six women to look into the matter.

Full text below:

Newtown Meeting Petition_back1

Newtown Meeting Petition_frontNewtown Meeting Petition_back2

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Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery Tour 2013

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Categories: Death, Graves, Quakerism, Solebury

Solebury Cemetery Tour

Next weekend I’ll be leading a tour at Solebury Friends burial ground. It was a big hit last year, with about 80 people in attendance. The press release is below. Hope to see you there!

Quaker Cemetery Tour

WHEN: Sunday, October 27, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery
2680 North Sugan Road
New Hope, PA 18938

Local historian Jesse Crooks will lead us through the fascinating stories of those buried at Solebury Meeting Cemetery, which opened in 1809. Along with seeing the burial plots of many locally famous Quaker families like Reeder, Eastburn, Paxton, Ely, Comfort, and Kitchen, we will visit the plot sites and learn the histories of freed slaves and the unknowns in Stranger’s Row. Insightful points of Jesse’s talk cover daily elements of people’s lives and how they dealt with the great issues of the Civil War, slavery, pacifism, and the poor.

Please join us for this very popular, free event. Donations, however, are welcome!

Light refreshments will be served.

QUESTIONS? Call 215 297 5091 or email info@soleburyhistory.org.

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Solebury Friends Meeting Burial Map

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Categories: Death, Graves, Maps, Quakerism, Solebury

SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

This map of the Solebury Friends Meeting graveyard was drafted in 1907, based on an earlier map from 1866. Unfortunately the 1866 map has suffered some damage and it’s difficult to make out most of the handwriting. The handwriting matches that in the burial book in the Swarthmore archive, which also dates to 1866. That book makes reference to a previous burial chart used as a reference for the 1866 map. It cites “extracts from the old chart” about decisions the meeting made about laying out the graveyard. There are also sections in the list of graves in which the writer of the 1866 book omits names, stating that they were illegible on the old chart.

Illegible on Old Chart

In all likelihood this original map no longer exists, and the names omitted on the 1866 map are probably lost forever.

The 1866 and 1907 maps were almost lost as well. My great-grandfather used them as a reference when creating the modern burial map in the 1960s. Apparently he never returned the maps to the meeting, and I found them in a box of maps that had been stored in my family’s barn.

I deposited them in the archive of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College along with the rest of the meeting’s original records. While there, I used their excellent overhead scanner to digitize the maps. Click on the map above to see the full image.

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A Trove of Documents Saved from Destruction

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Categories: Abolitionists, Buckingham, Graves, Langhorne, Maps, Middletown, Plumstead, Quakerism, Solebury

Petition to Congress

A few months ago my grandfather decided to a do a little spring cleaning. There was a storage unit in our barn that hadn’t been touched in years, full of mildewy furniture and worthless miscellany. He came across a metal container full of maps, mostly showing local topography and zoning. My aunt suggested that I might want them, so they escaped the trash heap.

When I got down to the barn I found a pile of mostly junk, covered in a plastic tarp because we were expecting rain. I found a few items worth keeping: the sled my great-grandmother had when she was a little girl growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, a wooden tricycle that belonged to my grandfather, and a few plastic trucks for my son to play with. I found the box of maps and popped open the latch, and immediately knew that the contents were far more important than my grandfather had realized.

There were dozens of maps, but among the rolls of paper I recognized a draft of the map my great-grandfather made for the Solebury Friends Meeting burial ground in the 1960s. Then I noticed another roll that was clearly a much older material. With the box sitting in the gravel driveway, I rolled the map out a few inches and discovered that it was in fact two maps rolled together.

SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

The first was from 1907.

The second was from 1866.

They were the original maps that by great-grandfather used as a reference for the modern map, and they’d been sitting in our barn for decades, totally forgotten.

I called the person currently in charge of the graveyard to tell him about my find and offered to bring it to the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College to deposit it with the rest of the Meeting’s original records, and I held on to them for a few months until I had time to make the trip.

A couple weeks ago I finally I finally had a day off, and decided to bring the maps to Swarthmore. My timing was fortuitous. That Monday I led a graveyard tour at Plumstead Friends Meeting. We assembled in the meetinghouse, and as I led the group outside towards the burial ground, a woman approached me with a box of documents about the meeting. At the time I was too focused on the tour to discuss it, and suggested that she talk to the clerk of the meeting. The next day, however, I was consumed by curiosity. I already had plans to go down the the Friends Historical Library that week, and thought I might be able to bring those papers as well. Luckily I ran into her in Doylestown a couple days later and proposed that I take them for her. She agreed.

When she dropped the documents off the next day, she brought a lot more than the Plumstead material. She also brought a collection of documents from Buckingham Meeting, and there was so much that it took her two trips to unload it from her car.

The Plumstead material turned out to be the notes and research prepared for a pamphlet published for the meeting’s 225th anniversary celebration on 1953, as well as notes about the ceremony itself. There were also two large photographs that were used in the pamphlet, one from c.1875, and one from 1953.

The Buckingham material was rather varied. One box contained about a dozen copies of the book published for Buckingham Meeting’s 225th anniversary in 1923, as well as a block print of the meetinghouse that was used for that book. There was a folder with newspaper clippings and other 20th Century material. Finally, there was a cardboard box that had been saved from Buckingham Meeting by the woman’s father. At some point a few decades ago, the members of Buckingham meeting had decided to indiscriminately “clean” their attic, and this box was a subject of the purge. Like the burial map from Solebury, these documents were almost destroyed.

When I opened this final box I got goosebumps. I could tell by looking at the parchment that they were old. Really old. Most of them were tied together with string into little bundles, with a few groupings of loose papers between them. I saw the date “1776” peeking out from one of the bundles. When I brought them home and examined them further I found that some documents dated back to the beginning of the 1700s, and in addition to material from Buckingham, a lot of the documents actually came from Middletown Monthly Meeting. Most of them were excerpts from annual conference of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and epistles from the yearly meetings in London and Philadelphia. Some were testimony against members of meeting, or letters from people willingly leaving the Society of Friends. There were a few more recent documents that dealt with the Civil War. Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter written from a Quaker aid mission during the British occupation of Boston. She had kept them in storage for years, hoping to eventually deposit them in the archive, and I was finally able to bring them for her.

Swarthmore Donation - Stack of Papers

For the sake of brevity, I will show the individual documents in separate posts:

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The Twice-Buried Murderer Joseph Blundin

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Categories: Bristol, Crime, Death, Doylestown, Graves, Maps, Tags:

A man sharpens a cradle scythe, similar to Joseph Blundin’s murder weapon.

Today a house sits on the southern corner of Court & East Streets, as nice and unremarkable as any other house in Doylestown. Few would guess that 177 years ago a murderer was buried here. Even fewer would guess that 157 years ago they dug him back up.

This is the story of the executed murderer Joseph Blundin and Doylestown’s forgotten burial ground.

A Crime of Passion

Joseph Blundin was a farmhand with a young family at the time of the crime. He appears on the 1830 US Census living in Bristol with his wife, both in their 20’s, and three children, all under 5 years old. The account of the crime and the public support for Blundin in its aftermath paint him as normal man driven by his circumstances to commit a horrendous act.

The murderer and victim were harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly, probably the S. Headly marked with a red “X” on this map from 1857. The murder occurred somewhere on the road from Headly’s farm to Bristol.

On the day of the crime Joseph Blundin and his victim, Aaron Cuttlehow, were working together harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly near Bristol. J.H. Battle recounts the details of the crime as revealed during the trial:

The prisoner and deceased were at work on Sunday, July 27th [1834], with other men, five or six, engaged in cradling oats. At dinner one of the hands ran out of doors with a pie, deceased and the prisoner chasing him. In their playfulness a shoe was thrown which hit the prisoner. Shortly afterward the deceased came into the house crying, and said the prisoner had hit him on the head with a stone. This disturbance was settled, and they all went to the field to cradle oats. When nearly done a quarrel arose between the prisoner and the deceased, and the prisoner was thrown down and received several blows from [the] deceased in the face. The deceased with another then helped him upon his feet, and his knees giving way under him, they assisted him up a second time. The prisoner then took his cradle and started for home. He was asked to ride twice, but refused, and said, angrily, he would walk. From fifteen minutes to half an hour later he was overtaken by the wagon, walking slowly. He was asked to get up and ride. The prisoner made no reply, but raised his cradle from his shoulder and struck at the deceased hitting the cradle of the deceased, which he raised to guard the blow; the deceased at the same time losing his cradle from his hand, which fell upon the ground. The deceased (Cuttlehow) then sprang from the wagon to make his escape, but stumbled and fell as he reached the ground. When he had crawled a few paces the prisoner came upon him with his cradle uplifted and struck the scythe through the neck of Cuttlehow. The latter cried, “Take it out, take it out!” sank on the ground and died in one or two minutes. Some one said to the prisoner: “He will die,” who replied: “Let him die.” Liquor had been used in the field, but there was no satisfactory evidence that the prisoner was intoxicated. The jury was out eleven or twelve hours, and returned a verdict of murder in the first degree.

We don’t know who started the fight, but it’s clear that the dead man had seriously beaten Blundin in the earlier scuffle, and that Blundin was emotionally distressed by the fight. Instead of escalating the conflict he attempted to walk home alone, only to be confronted again. After being pushed one last time by the other farmhands, he lashed out and killed Cuttlehow with the tool he happened to be carrying. All of this evidence portrays the crime as a temporary lapse by an otherwise decent man rather than the premeditated work of a cold-blooded killer.

After he was sentenced to die by hanging, the public rose up in support of him. While the facts of the crime were not disputed, the death sentence issued seemed harsh and unnecessary. Battle reports that even Charles E. DuBois, the Deputy Attorney-General for the Commonwealth, “was overcome with emotion in reading the indictment to the unfortunate man.” The citizens of Bucks County appealed to the government for mercy, petitioning the Governor Goerge Wolfe and both houses of the State Assembly in an attempt to have his sentence commuted to life in prison. They attempted to save Blundin through multiple avenues, begging for the Governor and legislature to take action in his case specifically as well as attempting to change the state laws regarding criminal sentencing by giving the governor the power to commute death sentences to life in prison or by abolishing the death penalty altogether.

The general thrust of their appeals can be seen in the debate that took place on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where a representative named Harrison introduced an amendment:

…in accordance with the wishes of a large number of constituents; men of the highest respectability who believed, and honestly believed what is set forth in petition to the legislature, that at the time Joseph Bliindin committed the act for which he has been sentenced to death, he was not in a sound state of mind. The unfortunate individual was born and brought up in his vicinity; he has a family consisting of a wife and several children, and a general feeling pervades that community, that he should become the object of legislative mercy. In addition to these wishes in of Joseph Blundin, a general feeling was manifested in favour of the abolishment of capital punishment in all cases…

Unfortunately, Blundin’s supporters failed in their attempts. Those opposed to the measures claimed that any action in his case was unconstitutional, either by violating the separation of powers or because such a law would affect one man instead of all people under their jurisdiction. Finally, after multiple stays of execution, Blundin was scheduled to die on Friday, August 14th, 1835 between noon and 3pm.

Blundin made one final attempt to save his own life by escaping from the Doylestown jail. Battle describes the failed escape as follows:

On a Sunday in May Blundin attempted to make his escape from the jail. He managed to cut off the rivets of his hopples, burn a hole through the floor, and, after gaining the jail yard attempted by means of a rope formed of his bedding, to scale the outer wall. The fastenings gave way when the prisoner was near the top and he fell to the ground, where he lay in a bruised and helpless condition until found in the morning by the sheriff. Such was the sympathy of the public that a rumor that the sheriff left the means of escape within reach of the prisoner and then left the building to give him an opportunity to use them, obtained general credence and no marked disapproval. The unfortunate man was carried back to his cell and on the day appointed by the governor’s last respite was executed in the yard of the jail. The prisoner was unable to stand on account of his injuries, but he met his fate with resignation and courage.

Then, by way of the gallows, Joseph Blundin found his temporary resting place in the now forgotten potter’s field.

The Doylestown Potter’s Field

In the first half of the 19th century this plot of land was the county potter’s field, a burial place of last resort for the indigent and a site to inter the unclaimed bodies of strangers and prisoners. Very little is recorded of the Doylestown potter’s field. Like the almshouse, the courthouse, and the county jail, the potter’s field probably came into being around the time that the county seat moved from Newtown to Doylestown in 1812. I could only find the potter’s field on one map, W.E. Morris’ 1850 atlas of Bucks County:

The only mention of those buried here comes from W.W.H. Davis’ History of Bucks County, Volume II:

The old “potter’s field,” where several persons were buried, including one Blundin, of Bensalem [actually Bristol], hanged for murder about 1838, at the corner of Court and East streets was sold several years ago by authority of an act of Assembly and now belongs to a private owner.

I was able to act of Assembly that Davis mentions. Passed on May 7th, 1855, the act instructs Bucks County to remove the bodies and sell the land, stating:

…it shall be the duty of the commissioners of the county of Bucks… to remove or cause to be removed to the burial ground of the Bucks county almshouse, the remains of all persons now interred in the public burial ground, situate at the corner of Court street and East street, in the borough of Doylestown, and known as Potter’s Field, and that the same shall no longer be used as a place of burial.

The almshouse opened in the spring of 1810, and the first inmate to die there was a black woman named Dinah, allegedly 115 years old. According to almshouse records (List of Paupers in the Almshouse 1810-1833, p.31, available on microfilm at the Spruance Library), Dinah died on April 20th, 1810, and the almshouse supplied her with a “cape shirt hankercheif and coffin” for her burial. While I haven’t been able to find any information about the almshouse burial ground, it preceded the Doylestown potter’s field by at least a couple years and was probably used concurrently.

At some point, the almshouse stopped using their own burial ground and began interring inmates at Doylestown Cemetery. I talked to Kat Landis, whose family oversees cemetery, and she said that the back row of the cemetery was laid out as a “Strangers Row” with inexpensive plots. According to her, this area became the burial ground for inmates from the almshouse, prisoners from the county jail, and people who died at the Doylestown hospital. This “back row” is now in the center of the cemetery near the main gate, since Hope Cemetery was added next to Doylestown Cemetery and the two were later unified. My guess is that when these cheap plots became available there was no more need for a government maintained burial ground. I have found some written evidence of this in the Almshouse and Hospital Register 1872-1889, which reports that inmate Henry Puff was buried at Doylestown Cemetary on the November 29th, 1883.

Doylestown Cemetery was founded in 1849, and probably wasn’t in operation yet when the 1850 map was made. By 1857, however, the cemetery is presented in the atlas published by Khun & Shrope. You can see that the Dolyestown Cemetery has been added to the map, but the potter’s field is gone:

Whether Joseph Blundin and the others buried in the potter’s field were actually disinterred may be up for debate. The graves in potter’s fields are usually unmarked, and the success of disinterment would depend on how systematically the graves were laid out and how well the locations were recorded. I’m sure they made their best effort to clear the land of bodies before selling it to a private owner, but after 20 years in the ground did the county remember the location of Blundin’s grave? He probably lies on the almshouse grounds, but every time I pass the old potter’s field I wonder if any graves remain.


(The house now standing on the potter’s field.)

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The Origin of Strangers Row & The Removal of Monuments

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Categories: Buckingham, Death, Graves, Quakerism, Religion, Solebury

It’s been almost a year since I first discovered Strangers Row, the section of Solebury Friends graveyard dedicated to paupers and non-Quakers, and I finally found some written documentation of its existence. In 1906, Solebury Friends Meeting celebrated its first centennial, and a pamphlet was printed commemorating the event. Out of the many interesting pieces it contains, perhaps the most valuable is Eastburn Reeder’s account of Solebury Friends history, which he read before meeting at the centennial event. Below is an excerpted portion pertaining to the creation of the graveyard, abstracted from the Monthly Meeting minutes:

 Third-month 25th, 1808… the Friends appointed to enclose the burying ground, report the service nearly performed, and a committee was appointed to consider proper directions to give the grave digger and in what manner the dead shall be interred in our grounds.

Fourth-month 26, 1808. The committee appointed to consider the proper mode for the interment of the dead in our new burying ground, and also to particularaize who shall be interred therein, report:

“We the committe [sic] to take in view what method we shall bury in, and who may be admitted in our burial grounds, are free to propose, the following: First, That the whole ground to be ocupied [sic] shall be laid out in 84 squares, each to be 8 feet by 20 feet, 8 inches, and to begin at the upper corner of Moses Eastburn’s [property] line, and each family taking their square in succession as occasion calls for it. Servants and apprentices belonging to Friend’s families may be admitted, and such as are descendants of Friends and their families within the limits of this meeting; those of other description not included.”

Ninth-month 27th, 1808. Finding some difficulties to arise from this plan for burying, Friends reconsidered it, and decided that all transient persons who may have liberty to bury in our grounds, and not properly claiming a square, ought to be interred in a row on the east side of the burying ground, beginning at the northeast corner. This is the origin of the strangers row. The grave-yard has been twice enlarged. The first time in 1830 by the purchase of 80 perches of Aaron Paxson, Jr. The second time in 1877 by the purchase of one and a half acres of Merrick Reeder, making the whole amount of land now owned by the meeting over 5 acres.

Thanks to Reeder we have the original plan for the allotment of the graveyard, and we can appreciate the sympathy of these original Friends who set aside a burying place for people who had nowhere else to turn.

Reeder’s history of Solebury Meeting also illuminates another intriguing aspect of Quaker history: the shifting opinions within the Society of Friends with regard to the recognition of the deceased with grave monuments. In keeping with the testimony of simplicity, early Friends erected plain, unmarked headstones or no stones at all. At Solebury Meeting, you’ll find these simple brown slabs of local stone in the oldest section, located in the northwest corner. Eventually initials or names were added, but it wasn’t until the  second half of the 1800’s that engraving the name of the deceased with their dates of birth and death (and consequently the use of marble and other easily engraved stone) became standard practice. Viewing the list of graves at Solebury Meeting (available here), the recording of dates seems to begin in the 1860’s. I can’t help but think that the Civil War transformed the Society’s views on death and remembrance.

Below Reeder recounts the controversy over grave monuments that occurred when Friends began erecting marked headstones at Buckingham Meeting. (Note: Before Solebury Meeting was constructed in 1806, Solebury Quakers commuted to Buckingham Meeting.)

Monuments. The committee appointed to unite with a committee of Buckingham Monthly meeting on the subject of monuments in our grave-yards, made the following report in writing: “The committees appointed by Buckingham and Solebury Monthly meetings to unite in considering the subject of monuments of deceased persons agree to report, that they are of opinion that all fixtures to graves with inscriptions thereon in order distinguish one grave from another, is contrary to the direction of the discipline; and as a great variety of such have been placed in our grave-yard at Buckingham, some of them by members of Solebury, we believe it would be proper for the monthly meetings to attend to the removal of them. But as this departure may have been generally from a want of a perfect knowledge of the discipline, great tenderness toward the survivors ought to be exercised. We, therefore, suggest the propriety of using persuasive measures to be used to induce such surviving relatives to remove, or consent to the removal of these monuments.”

After consideration fo the report was adopted, and Moses Paxson, Oliver Hampton, Oliver Paxson, Aaron Eastburn, Hugh Ely, Aaron Paxson, and John Comfort were appointed to use their endeavors to induce such of our members as may have placed monuments to graves, to remove them, or consent to their removal.

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Corpse Thieves in Plumstead

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Categories: Crime, Death, Graves, Plumstead

If you visit Plumstead Friends Meeting, you’ll find it pleasantly sedate. The meetinghouse seems unconcerned with the passing of time (it’s only heat source is a wood stove in the center of the room), and there’s a simple graveyard enclosed by a plain stone wall, containing graves as old as the nation itself. But the graveyard has not always enjoyed this state of placidity. In the summer of 1856, some of the cemetery’s occupants were torn from their slumber in a daring grave robbery. The following advertisement appeared in the Intelligencer in the August of 1856:

Notice to Trespassers.

All those persons who, regardless of law and good order, recently trespassed on the premises of the Society of Friends of Plumstead, by abruptly driving into the Grave Yard with wagon and horses, disfiguring some of the graves, and opening others, and disinterring several coprses, and taking them away without consent of the Sexton or any of the Trustees, are hereby requested to come forward and render satisfaction for the same without delay, which may save cost, prevent exposure, and oblige the undersigned.

                                                                              ABRAHAM MICHINER, Committee

                                                                             THOMAS STRADLING, } of Trust.

                                                                             DAVID CARR, Sexton.

           Plumstead, 8th month 26th 1856 -3t.

           N. B.—Notice is also hereby given to all other persons not to commit the like depredations.

(The Spruance Library has a filing cabinet full of news clippings sorted by municipality and topic, which is where I found this little gem.)

An old grave, but maybe not that old. This etching may be the work of a vandal.

The inquisitive guest will find that this cemetery has another secret. If you climb over the far wall and search through the brush, you’ll find the last resting place of the burying ground’s most ignominious residents, Abraham and Levi Doan. They were part of the Doan Brothers gang (brothers Moses, Aaron, Mahlon, Levi, Joseph, and cousin Abraham) who gained notoriety first as Loyalist spies during the Revolution, and then as outlaws after the war. All of them were eventually captured, but Aaron, Mahlon, and Joseph escaped and fled to safety. Their leader, Moses Doan, was the victim of an extrajudicial murder at the hands of a vengeful posse, and is buried in a hedgerow somewhere in Plumstead. The other two, Levi and Abraham, were captured and hanged on September 24th, 1788, and buried at Plumstead Meeting, where they once were members. They lie outside the graveyard wall, forever branded outlaws:

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Stolen: The Restless Headstone of Lizzy M. Aingle

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Categories: Crime, Graves, Point Pleasant, Tinicum

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In the winter of 2003, some hooligan stole this headstone from a cemetery in the Point Pleasant area and threw it in a ditch on the side of River Road in Tinicum Township. Bill Moser found it there and had to pour boiling water on it to release it from the frozen mud. He tried to track down its rightful home, researching county death records and contacting local churches, but hit a dead end. Today, it sits in the office of his auto repair shop in Point Pleasant, but he’d like to return it to the grave site if he can find it. It reads:

The Resting Place

of

Lizzie M. Aingl[e]

daughter of

Alice Otto

Born [illegible date] 1869

Died August 18, 1870

Aged 1 Year

[?] Months And [?] Days

It’s followed by a long inscription, mostly illegible. Bill told me I could come back and do a grave rubbing, so hopefully we can reveal enough to find what it says. So far I’ve checked the 1870 US Census and Mortality Schedules for the Plumstead, Tinicum, and Kingwood Township searching for Lizzie and her mother Alice, but haven’t found anything. Bill thinks it stood against the graveyard wall because the back of the stone is clean and unworn, while the front was eaten away over the 130 years it stood outside. He also suggested that Lizzie may have been born out of wedlock, since her mother has a different surname.

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Another Dead Stranger Identified

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Categories: Death, Graves, Solebury, Tags: ,

Our Stranger Found Dead (10-28-1880) has been identified. Cold and alone he took refuge in the warmth of a lime kiln, but the gas from the cooking lime asphyxiated him in his sleep. He left in search of work and wound up dead, another unknown body buried in Strangers Row.

From the Doylestown Democrat from November 2, 1880:

An unknown man was found dead at John Conner’s lime kiln, in Solebury, on Thursday morning [this] week. He had visited the house of Jacob Parson the evening before, and said he was on the way to Lambertville, where he had the promise of work. This was the last that was seen of him until the next morning, when he was found dead near the kiln. A jury was summoned, and after due deliberation returned a verdict of death by suffocation. The body was placed in the hands of Wm. Large, overseer of the poor, and was buried in Solebury Friends burying grounds on the following Saturday.

This was apparently a common hazard. I found another article about an unknown tramp found dead near a lime kiln around this date, and I know that Albert Large (the so-called Hermit of Wolf Rocks) was found and saved after he passed out next to a kiln.

And what about Albert’s relative William Large, overseer of the poor? He died in 1888 and is buried at Solebury Friends Meeting. His title certainly lends credence to the idea that people were buried in Strangers Row out of charity.

At some point I need to track down some old property maps to figure out where our two strangers died. I’m not sure where Parson and Conner lived, but because the man was travelling to Lambertville I’d bet they lived along Lower York Road. Our previous dead stranger was found in Huffnagle’s woods, and I believe the hamlet near the old Heath mill where Sugan Road meets Stoney Hill was known as Huffnagle.

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