Ye Antientist Burial Ground, New London

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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[1] 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[2] first meeting house. From here, the visitor has a broad view to the east of the Thames River[3] and, on the far shore, the heights of Groton.

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).

During the early 1700s, full Grave Carvers like John Hartshorne and James Stanclift were carving quality stones that were placed in the yard. Later in the century, Eastern Connecticut carvers such as Josiah Manning, David Lamb, Gershom Bartlett, and Johnathan Loomis carved stones of granite schist and carvers from the Portland region such as the Thomas Johnson Family and later generations of Stanclifts carved markers of brownstone that can be seen in the yard today. Many wealthy families purchased Slate tombstones imported from the Boston area or coastal Rhode Island, delivered through the New London Port. The work of carvers such as the Lamsons of Charlestown Massachusetts, the John Stevens Shop of Newport Rhode Island, and James Foster & Sons of Dorchester Mass can be found in this cemetery.

Early 20th-century postcard showing the cemetery

Notable people known to be buried here[4][edit]

  • Thomas Short (1682–1712):[5] Printer (1710) of The Saybrook Platform.
  • Gurdon Saltonstall (1666–1724): Governor of the Colony of Connecticut, 1708-1724.[6]
  • Sarah Kemble Knight (1666–1727): Author (1704) of The Journal of Madame Knight. (ISBN 1-55709-115-3).[7]
  • Lucretia Harris Shaw (1737–1781): Wife of Captain Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. She turned her home into a hospital and nursed wounded and sick soldiers returning from the infamous British prison ships at Wallabout Bay (Shiel 2004). As a result, she contracted the Gaol Fever herself and succumbed. The New London chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named in her honor, and her house, the Shaw-Perkins Mansion, has been preserved as the headquarters of the New London County Historical Society since 1907 (Claghorn 2003).[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Known by several names over the years, including Ancient Burial Ground, Ancientest Burial Ground, Antient Burying Ground, First Burial Ground, Ye Antientist Burial Ground, Ye Towne's Antientest Buriall Place, etc.
  2. ^ New London was known as Pequot Plantation until the name change was authorized in 1658.
  3. ^ The name is pronounced to rhyme with "James." The river was earlier denoted by several different names, including Frisius, Great, Great River of Pequot, Little Fresh, Mohegan, New London, Pequod, and Pequot.
  4. ^ There is no way of ascertaining which of the founding colonists might have unmarked graves here.
  5. ^ Operated first printing press in Connecticut, 1709-1712
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 41°21′33″N 72°6′1″W / 41.35917°N 72.10028°W / 41.35917; -72.10028