Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spending a Day With the Dead

Boston Commons Burying Grounds

During my time in Boston, I spent two days exploring the Freedom Trail which is a marked trail through the city linking many of the city's historic sites. Another day I spent north of Boston and one day spent south of Boston. I also spent two partial days doing other things required to keep the spouse happy since she isn't a history buff like myself.

A significant portion of my time was spent in various old cemeteries (or burying grounds as they refer to them) scattered throughout the city. Looking back, I think part of this is because nothing brings history closer to yourself than standing within a few feet of the remains of the person who was involved with it. Boston was the birthplace of our nation and so many of the people who fought to make it happen are buried there. It just seemed right to pay my respects to those people.

Above is a burying ground on the high point of the Boston Commons. Many of the British soldiers who died during the siege of Boston, Battles of Bunker Hill and Lexington/Concord are buried here. After the British fled for Nova Scotia to regroup and rethink things, many patriots who died in those same battles were reburied here. Also worth mentioning is the grave of Gilbert Stuart who painted many of the famous paintings we cherish to this day, including the one of George Washington which was used in the design of our one dollar bill.

Further along the Freedom Trail, I came to the Granary Burying Grounds which I believe is the third oldest in the city. It was nestled into an opening among all the buildings and held the graves of many of the patriots we remember to this day along with many others who the vast majority of us have forgotten about. Unfortunately, people where buried three and four deep, some standing up and none in orderly rows like what we see in modern cemeteries. So to encourage tourism over the years, the tombstones have been rearranged a couple of times in more or less orderly rows meaning you may be quite a ways from the actual grave unless the occupant is buried in a tomb.

Above is the tombstone of John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I would like to know more about him and someday I need to read a book about him because what I do know of him fascinates me. He seems like someone who came into riches through inheritance and initially seemed like he was in the struggle for independence simply as a means to increase his wealth. However along the way he underwent a transformation and became an ardent supporter of the cause spending large sums of his money. He was one of our initial presidents under the Articles of Confederation before the adoption of our Constitution, he was governor of the state of Massachusetts and he was a candidate in our first presidential election though he lost to George Washington and John Adams. He died a middle aged man and was largely forgotten for many generations though most people these days have heard his name.

Paul Revere is a name everyone has heard and he seems almost larger than life. Yet my sense is that as a patriot, he was more of a gopher who did errands for many of the those who led it. He carried messages for various leaders and of course made his famous midnight ride. He was a skilled silversmith and lesser known, kind of a jack of all trades. It was his dentistry work which led to the first forensics identification of the body of Dr. Joseph Warren after the battle of Bunker Hill.  Judging by the other people roaming around the Granary Burying Grounds and the pennies on top of his tombstone, he is perhaps the most famous resident these days.

Although many websites list the above grave as the grave of Mother Goose of fairy tale fame, most scholars soundly debunk this idea. Mother Goose was already in popular culture before Mary Goose of Boston died.

Robert Treat Paine is one of those people who should be more famous and well known but isn't. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and also lead the prosecution in the trial of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre against the defense led by John Adams. (On a side note, this is one of the many reasons why I am an admirer of John Adams and why he is my favorite president.)

Samuel Adams, cousin to John Adams, is known these days for the beer names after him. However, it was almost him who single handedly instigated the Revolutionary War with his passion for freedom from the British monarchy. Without him, I'm not sure the war would have ever happened and we might still be a colony of the British.

There were several other graves in this burying ground that I visited including the parents of Benjamin Franklin who was born in Boston, Peter Faneuil who was a prominent person in pre-revolutionary Boston history and whose name you see everywhere you look, those of the Boston Massacre victims and many others whom I won't bore you with details.

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