Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Meeting House Cemetery
First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
There is not a lot written about the Meeting House Cemetery, although it is over 250 years old and its population is quite large. It was laid out by the proprietors of Monadnock No. 1 in 1761, along with the Meeting House and the Common. The cemetery was first used in June of 1762 with the burial of Moses Hale, Senior. Its last burial was in 1986 for Emily Wood. Headstones with the names of 1,270 people can be seen by strolling through the cemetery; plus, there are some people buried without headstones. Back then, the deceased were either buried in the Meeting House Cemetery, or they were buried on their family farm.
Many of the deacons of the First Congregational Church, from the 1700s and 1800s, are buried in our church cemetery. Their names are etched in slate, granite, and marble gravestones along with their honored titles of Deacon. As you roam the Meeting House Cemetery, you will see headstones of many of our earliest deacons, including Francis Towne, Eleazer Blake, Hezekiah Hubbard, Ebenezer Brown, Luther Goddard, Joseph Breed, and Jeremiah Norcross. Deacon John Lovejoy, as noted in an earlier article, is buried here, too, but he is under the Meeting House itself.
An abundance of other members from the First Congregational Church are buried here, including Rindge’s first resident, Captain Abel Platts, and many of the original Standing Committee members. Captain Platts is buried very close to the north side of the Meeting House. If you enter the cemetery from the front of the church, there is a narrow entry way to the left of the building. Walk in and proceed towards the back of the church. You will pretty much walk into the Captain’s stone. Also, Reverend Burnham, our third settled pastor, sleeps in the Meeting House Cemetery. There are so many church members buried here from the old days that they won’t fit into this article. But, if you made a list of names from the Way Back When series, you would find quite a few of their family gravestones right here beside the church.
What were burials like back in the 1700s? In my research for what I thought would be a quick summary, I discovered a long story, some of which I will relate here. Let’s begin in the 1600s for some context. Burials by the Puritans were simple and plain. They did not pray over the dead. There were no readings, no sermon. The community and a minister would gather, a bell would toll, the coffin would be carried in silence to the burial ground, and they would stand by and watch the burial. Some verses might be attached to the bier or hearse, and these would be printed after the funeral for distribution. The Puritan customs stemmed from their rejection of papal rituals of prayer over the dead. In these earliest years, there were no gravestones.
As we move into the 1700s, some of the Puritan customs carried on, but burials became more involved and revealed more celebration of the deceased. Gravestones became prevalent, and their inscriptions gave words of wisdom and the reminder that death is an opening into another world where the soul lives on. Friends of the deceased would often write their own funeral poems (rhymed elegies) and epitaphs, which had a pun or joke built in. Prayers were given at the house of the deceased before the procession to the burial site. Funeral sermons continued to be printed, but not preached at the burial itself.
The day of a burial was a day off from work and school. Everyone would normally attend the burial. The towns owned the burial grounds and would maintain them; however, many towns did not have gravediggers, so friends would dig the grave and often would make the coffin. There was a strange custom of giving away gloves at a funeral. Depending on your closeness to the deceased or your position in the community, you would get fancy, expensive gloves, or less fancy ones. Some people would write into their wills who should get gloves and what kind. Glove-giving got out of hand and, later in the 1700s, some towns actually banned the practice. In the 1700s and 1800s, rings were also given away at funerals. Other customs were practiced through the years, and we don’t have time now to get into all of it; however, I will mention the custom of funeral liquor. Alcoholic drinks were always provided at funerals, before and after. When prohibition came in, some said that it was the end of fun funerals.
Back to Rindge…
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461