New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association

September 14, 2002


The fall meeting of the New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association was held at the Center Harbor Historical Building in Center Harbor, NH on September 14, 2002. President Joan Casarotto presided.


Barbara Benoit, Secretary of the Center Harbor Historical Society, welcomed us. She noted that there was a cemetery tour planned for the afternoon and passed out maps of the planned route.


Barbara introduced our speaker, Bob Woodward. Mr. Woodward has had a long career in forestry, and though his work has traveled extensively in New Hampshire. After he retired from active forestry work, he took up an interest in old graveyards.


He began his remarks by describing the two traditions for burial that are found in the various towns in the state. The Massachusetts tradition was to have a single central cemetery within the town. This tradition was followed in towns that were settled by people from Massachusetts. Concord is a good example of such a town. The second tradition, called the New Hampshire tradition, was to have many small family or neighborhood cemeteries. Such towns typically have one hundred or more cemeteries. Sanbornton in the 1880s had 130. Many of these sites are now overgrown. Family members have moved away and there is often no one to care for the site. Most of the towns that followed the NH tradition eventually establish a central burial location. Many of the older sites have no records, are not enclosed, and in some cases contain only uninscribed fieldstones to mark the graves. He noted one case where a new home had been built quite close to one of these old sites. Fortunately, the new owner has taken a responsible attitude, and maintains the old graveyard. Sandwich has done a great deal to preserve their old family graveyards. He enjoys touring these old graveyards.


The first gravestones were imported from England. There were no local carvers until about 1700. Point of Graves in Portsmouth is said to be the oldest cemetery in the state. Carving styles evolved over the years. The early Puritan style of skull and crossbones evolved into a skull with wings, the evolved further into a winged cherub. This last style is common in New Ipswich. Sunburst designs were introduced but never became very common. By contrast, the urn and willow design became popular very quickly. Other designs from this era are the urn and cypress, the hourglass and the winged hourglass. Later nineteenth century designs included the pointing hand, clasped hands, hands holding a Bible and a sheaf of grain.


Another marker that he mentioned was a simple iron cross leaning against a stick for support. Iron markers are quite rare. Most metal markers were made of white bronze, and manufactured in Connecticut. This material resists most chemical reactions. The majority of markers of this type are hollow and have been sandblasted to resemble stone. Metal markers never achieved wide social acceptance. In another case, a family erected an impressive monument over 20 feet tall, but could not agree on the inscription. It remains uninscriberd to this day.


The Shaker cemetery in Canterbury has no individual stones, only a single central stone. Colonial era stones often reflect old word usage such as “relict” and “latterly”. Some modern cemeteries have no stones. Some stones have a photo of the deceased mounted in a case attached to the stone. Other stones have portraits carved into the stones, a variation of the same theme. Many modern stones reflect a return to individualism, by including a carving of a favorite landscape or other view. On trapper had steel traps attached to his gravestone.


This very interesting talk concluded with the mention of an old Civil War war-horse buried near his owner. Because of a law prohibiting animal burials in a human cemetery, the horse was originally buried just outside the fence. But over the years the cemetery was expanded and now the horse’s grave is well within the cemetery. Each Memorial Day the grave is marked with a flag.


The regular business meeting followed the talk. Clark Bagnall read the minutes of the summer meeting. Doris Ashton, Corresponding Secretary, needs articles for the Rubbings.


Jean Mertinooke read the Treasurer’s report. She reported a balance of $2,413.95 as of September 10th. Her report was filed.


Clark Bagnall gave the Computer Committee report. He noted that a member of the Strafford Historical Society had raised copyright issues with regards to our web site. He reported that he had researched companies that provide domain name registrations for the Internet. He selected one company that could provided the registration for $14.50 per year if we signed up for three years. He moved that we appropriate the sum of $87.00 to register and, each for three years. The motion passed unanimously.  Trina Purcell reported on the designs she is creating for the web site. She anticipates having the site complete by November 1.


Joan Casarotto announced the meeting schedule for 2003. The May meeting will be in Goshen. In July we will be the guests of the Friends of the Valley Cemetery in Manchester. We will return to Derry for the fall meeting. Joan also passed out a questionnaire for members to suggest meeting topics.


We need a person to handle publicity for our meetings.


Nancy Vad Doorn, Scrapbook Custodian, displayed the current scrapbook. She noted that she has considerable additional material. She also noted an instance where a woman had started to remove gravestones from a graveyard on her property. This generated a general discussion of the laws governing ownership of graveyards. Louise Tallman mentioned the recent issue concerning the Locke/Philbrick site in Rye. Doris Ashton will reprint the applicable laws in the Rubbings.


Nancy Lucy of Madison announced that she is publishing a book on the cemeteries of that town. She showed us a sample of the listing for one of the smaller sites. All markers will be included, some of which have been buried for many years. Additional family members have been inferred from genealogical evidence. The cost of the book will be $25.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling.


Lars Nelson thanked the Association for the opportunity to speak at the summer meeting. He noted that he now has a brochure that describes the brace he designed.


After lunch we toured various town cemeteries.


Respectfully submitted,

Clark H Bagnall

Recording Secretary