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Early Burying Grounds

David Wadsworth

Reproduced, with permission, from Treasury of Cohasset History, ed. J. M. Dormitzer (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 44-47.

As early Colonial settlements planted their roots along New England shores, one of the important tasks of each scattered group of farms and homesteads was the setting aside of land for a cemetery or burying ground. Cohasset's early centers of population included small groups of homes located in various parts of the newly populated lands. The largest settlements were those near today's village and Common, at Beechwood, and along the shore road leading to the village called Jerusalem or North Cohasset near the boundary of Hingham (today's West Corner). Each of these villages developed a burying ground for the use of nearby families. Additionally a small burying ground developed midway on Cedar Street near today's golf course, serving families at the western end of today's North Main Street and along Hull Street.

Each burying ground served families in the immediate area, and family names visible on the "old slate" gravestones are those of the earliest Cohasset generations. Of the early burying grounds all continued to grow beyond their eighteenth-century beginnings to hold the town's nineteenth-century residents, and three remained active by the early twentieth century. Today's early burying grounds still active include Central Cemetery near the Common, Beechwood Cemetery, and until past the mid-twentieth century, North Cohasset or Green Gate on Jerusalem Road. The early burying grounds contain numerous examples of "old slates," the almost universal dark gray slate gravestones of Colonial times.

Expansions of the original burying grounds in the nineteenth century saw the introduction of white marble grave markers. This soft stone allowed the development of more intricate carving of decorative motifs and monuments. However, the white marble stones have suffered severely from erosion in recent time. By the mid-nineteenth century granite had supplanted white marble in Cohasset's burying grounds. Favored stone was Quincy granite, a dark gray stone from the quarries of West Quincy widely used as a high-grade construction material, including [for] Minot's Ledge Lighthouse off Cohasset's shore. Recent years have seen some return to the use of dark slate for gravestones, and to the shape and style of early Colonial markers.

At Central Cemetery the original Burying Ground, on the south-facing slope of the hill, is easily visible from Joy Place, itself the early "Road to the Burying Ground." Nineteenth-century expansions of Central Cemetery included an addition running southeasterly up the slope to North Main Street and another extending north to the shore of little Harbor. Slate, marble, and granite stones and monuments are found intermixed in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century expansions of the Burying Ground.

The oldest burial in the cemetery was that of Margaret Tower, wife of Cohasset’s first settler, Ibrook Tower, and her gravestone is dated 1705. Among the "old slates" of Central Cemetery can be found those of the Reverend Nehemiah Hobart, the town's first pastor, and that of the Reverend John Browne, Cohasset's Revolutionary War pastor, an ardent patriot who preached the cause of independence to troops departing for the battlefield. Also evident is the marker of the Reverend Joseph Osgood of Cohasset's First Parish, a respected community leader instrumental in the founding of the town's centralized school system and public library, who died in 1898. Clergymen, merchants, seafarers, actors, and summer colony residents are buried at Central Cemetery. Numerous [Cohasset] "Deep Sea Captains" and sailors can be seen memorialized, more than a few [having] gravestones [with] the legend "Lost at Sea." Central Cemetery is a virtual genealogical record of the town's early families and leading citizens. Originally a municipal burying ground, Central has been, since the 1860s, owned and maintained by a private organization, the Central Cemetery Association.

Beechwood Cemetery also contains an "old slates" area going back to 1734, as well as later marble and granite stones. At Beechwood generations of early families of that section are seen. Prominent is the stone of Aaron Pratt, called "Squire Pratt," many times a public benefactor to the Beechwood community and the town in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For more than two centuries Beechwood Cemetery was privately owned; today it is a municipal cemetery.

At North Cohasset, just off Jerusalem Road, Green Gate Cemetery also contains old slates [as well as] marble and granite stones and monuments. Burials there extend to as recent times as the 1960s. The cemetery, which includes Hingham as well as Cohasset names, is maintained by the Town of Cohasset under terms of the Charlotte Lincoln Bell Trust.

Midway along Cedar Street, amid the greens and fairways of Cohasset Golf Club, another small and early burying ground exists, active only from the 1700s to just past the mid-1800s. Cedar Street Cemetery once served a cluster of families in the Hull Street and westernmost North Main Street areas, but the last burial there dates from 1876. Cedar Street Cemetery is also kept up by the Town of Cohasset under a small trust provided for its maintenance. Today the town’s early cemeteries, including its historical burying grounds, tell much of the history of this New England community.

From David Wadsworth, “Cohasset’s Burying Grounds Reflect Town’s History,” Historical Highlights, Cohasset Historical Society, Spring 1993. Reprinted by permission of the author.