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Ye Antientist Burial Ground, New London facts for kids

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Ye Antientist Burial Ground: "In this ancient cemetery, the graves are irregularly disposed, crowding upon each other without avenues or spaces between families, and most of the head stones are either rude in form and material, or quaint and grotesque in the workmanship and inscription." (Prentis & Caulkins 1899)

Ye Antientist Burial Ground in New London, Connecticut is one of the earliest graveyards in New England and the oldest colonial cemetery in New London County. The hillside lot of 1.5 acres (6,000 m²) adjoins the original site of the settlement's first meeting house. From here, the visitor has a broad view to the east of the Thames River and, on the far shore, the heights of Groton.

Weeping European Beech Tree, Ye Antientist Burial Ground, New London, CT - October 6, 2014
Weeping European Beech at Ye Antientist Burial Ground

The lot had been reserved for a burying ground and recorded as such in the summer of 1645. The first decedent "of mature age" was duly interred there in 1652. But it is the ordinance of June 6, 1653 that legally sets the place apart and declares, "It shall ever bee for a Common Buriall place, and never be impropriated by any."

A later record notes the appointment of the sexton:

Whose work is to order youth in the meeting-house, sweep the meeting-house, and beat out dogs, for which he is to have 40s. a year : he is also to make all graves ; for a man or woman he is to have 4s., for children, 2s. a grave, to be paid by survivors (Caulkins 1860, p. 111).

17th century New London was yet a rough and isolated corner of early colonial Connecticut. Private interments were not customary, and this was the only common burial place.

The dead were brought in from a distance of six or seven miles (11 km), either carried in hurdles, or borne on a bier upon men's shoulders; large companies assembling, and relieving each other at convenient distances (Prentis & Caulkins 1899, p. 7).

Few of the early graves ever had inscribed markers. The New London of that time possessed no skilled stonecutters, and those early planters simply had not the means. A few surviving families did, however, seek to address the deficiency in later years. At least four stones dated in the 17th century have been found that could not have been placed before 1720 (Slater 1987, p. 221).

If the best man in the community was struck down, his companions could do no more to testify their regret, than to lay him reverently in the grave, and seal it with a rude granite ... broken with ponderous mallets from some neighboring ledge and wearily dragged with ropes to the place and laid over the remains to secure them from disturbance, and mark the spot where a brother was buried (Prentis & Caulkins 1899, p. 6).

As time wore away the unadorned burial hillocks, the older were "covered over with fresh deposits of the dead, so that the numbers here cannot be estimated by the evidences that now remain.... Yet here undoubtably [sic] were deposited nearly the whole generation of our first settlers" (Prentis & Caulkins 1899, pp. 5,7).

Early 20th-century postcard showing the cemetery
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