If you’ve ever wandered around an old cemetery, you know what a fascinating place it can be. From the shape, size and age of the stones, to the inscriptions and markings and dates of birth and death, cemeteries can tell us something about the folks who rest there as well as about the culture of their time on earth. We reflect and wonder at lives once as real as our own. We reflect upon not just the mortality of those who are buried there, but on our own mortality. Cemeteries are moving, rich, provocative places with powerful and positive meanings.
Raynham is full of cemeteries. By one count, listed in the Bristol County Cemeteries Database, there are thirty-three. Many of these are family burial grounds with names that are well known in the history of the town – Leonard, Dean, Hall, King, Gilmore, Williams, Wilbur and Shaw. These family cemeteries were a matter of practicality during the early days of the town. If a town or church cemetery had not been established, settlers would begin a family plot often in wooded areas bordering their fields. The Raynham Reconnaissance Report of the Massachusetts Heritage Landscape Inventory offers directions to one such cemetery in Raynham as “in a field a mile through the woods, south end of Maple Avenue” and another as being “behind the field on the brook.” Many of these were forgotten after a family moved away or died out.
Two of the cemeteries listed in the Bristol County database caught my attention. One was the Johnson Pond Island Cemetery site and the other was the Smallpox Cemetery listed as situated off Titicut Road. There is also another smallpox cemetery site listed as being off King Street. Several of these burial sites were recorded in the late 1880s by Charles M. Thatcher who compiled a handwritten list of burial inscriptions from 214 old cemeteries in Southeastern Massachusetts, including Raynham. Mr. Thatcher, an amateur historian and genealogist, was also director of the Middleborough Public Library. A typed transcript of his work may be read online in WordPress.
If you are as fascinated by old cemeteries as I am, you’ll want to be at the library at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, May 20, to hear the presentation, Welcome to the Graveyard, by the Gravestone Girls. For the past fifteen years, the Gravestone Girls have traveled throughout New England documenting interesting and unusual grave sites. Their 90 minute presentation is built on photographs recently taken of the burying places around Raynham, and charts the evolution of cemeteries and gravestones from the colonial period to present day. This program is made possible by a grant from the Raynham Cultural Council, a local agency, supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Space is limited, so please register in Coming Events on the library’s website,raynhampubliclibrary.org, or by calling the library, 508-823-1344.