First Parish Burying Ground

me1Located on High Rd in Newbury, Massachusetts. The First Parish Burying Ground is home to several First Settler’s as well as several veterans that have served in wars including American Revolution War, Civil War, World War I and World War II.

This project began in the summer of 2015, one year after become the Veteran Grave Officer. In my first year I placed the flags and going off very limited information and guidance, and prior to me there was no official Veteran Grave Officer appointed in Newbury. I realized that the records of the veterans in this cemetery were non existent. I just walked around and tried to find old flags and clues around headstones.

In 2015, I became frustrated because I couldnt even see or found a lot of the headstones; when I left the burying ground I was covered in posion ivy. I decided that something needed to be done, this burying ground was in deporable conditions, itneeded to be cleaned up; it needed to be respected. I went to the Newbury Town Hall to find out who was supposed to be maintaining the cemetery, and who the property owner was. After much discussion about there being 3 different sections within the same cemetery, I learned that the First Parish Church has always been the owner of the majority of it, since the very first chuch was built.

I met with the church committee there to find out about their maintenance plan, and budget, and to ask what I could do to help. Learning they had no money appropriated for the burying ground, not even a bank account set up for the burying ground. I offered if I could help get the burying ground back in respectable conditions, and clear the overgrowth that has taken over. They welcomed the offer with open arms, however they had a few restrictions for liabitly concerns (use of chainsaws and power tools for example). Myself and a few friends of mine began the process of clearing the cemetery. Where the brush, thorns and saplings have taken over, we have been clipping, pruning and sawing carefully by hand to clear away the overgrowth.

Like many privately owned cemeteries, this one is in disrepair because of budgets and lack of volunteers to keep it well maintained. I strongly feel that this needs to change in the future. Some churches have deeded over their cemetery lots to the town it is in. Others have received trust monies and pays to have the town or a private contractor maintain it. In the same of many churches or old private cemeteries, there is no trust , the trust has run out, or the families have all died off that took care of them.

It is very rewarding to uncover a buried headstone and discover that it is in fact a veteran. Even more exciting to discover he served in the Revolutionary War. It is sad that the history and respect of that history has been lost or overlooked for whatever reason. The volunteers and I are always thrilled to find a significant headstone, like Rev. Thomas Parker and other first settlers of Newbury.

We have gotten a good start on the cemetery now thanks to a lot of generous people who have stopped in to give a few hours of their time. Many tell me their stories of their lineage back to the first settlers and show me their headstones. I hope to meet more people and hear their stories.

The First Video from the Project: