Oldest Cemetery in the United States Predates the Nation by More Than 130 Years

Nearly all Americans born here are aware that on July 4, 1776, the nation formally proclaimed its independence from Great Britain. The majority of pupils are also taught that the Mayflower brought the country’s first English settlers in 1620.

In late December, these earliest settlers—also referred to as the pilgrims—first anchored in the present-day settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts. First-hand recollections illustrate how ill-prepared the pilgrims were for the harsh realities of the New World.

There is compelling evidence that illness, along with a shortage of food and shelter, caused half of the Mayflower passengers to die in their first year of travel. Where those tragic trailblazers are buried, however, is far less definite.

Migration from Plymouth Colony

The first permanent English settlement in New England was called Plymouth Colony. The majority of the first settlers left, nevertheless.

In order to provide financial support for the colonization of the New World, the Virginia Company was established in London. The entire expense of starting a new colony was paid for by the Company. The attempted settlement was owned by the monarchy for seven years, during which the pilgrims were required to remain in one location in order to settle their debts.

In 1627, Plymouth was deemed a successful settlement, fulfilling the conditions stipulated in the contract. Many immigrants departed Plymouth for the adjacent land that was granted to them in exchange for carrying out their half of the bargain after that, according to Pilgrim Hall Museum.

The Cole’s Hill Cemetery

The first winter among the settlers was surprisingly hard. In Plymouth, construction started in late December. About half of the people who had survived the Mayflower’s first trip had perished by the end of the winter.

These travelers’ and crew members’ remains were interred on Cole’s Hill. The first skeleton remains were discovered in 1735 by construction workers, although there are no stone monuments.

William Shaw Russell, the county recorder for Plymouth at the time, authored Pilgrim Memorials and Guide to Plymouth. Shaw writes of the finding of more remains in 1855 in an updated version of his book. Shaw claimed that the remains’ state was in line with those of Christians at the time. There were no coffins, no Native American items buried with the bones, and the skulls faced west. When coupled with an expert medical assessment, this demonstrated that the remains belonged to pilgrims who perished in that first winter.

Cole’s Hill is a National Historic Landmark even though it isn’t a visible burial cemetery anymore.

Burial Hill Cemetery

Burial Hill, previously Fort Hill, is located next to Cole’s Hill. Shaw claims that bones discovered at Cole’s Hill were reburied close to a memorial honoring Governor William Bradford. Bradford was one of the first settlers at Plymouth and took over as commander of the colony when the original colonist perished in the first winter.

Between 1621 and 1622, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony constructed a fort on Burial Hill. In his notebook, William Bradford wrote about the deaths and burials of a number of pilgrims in 1622. According to the journal’s writings, Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, is thought to be buried at Burial Hill. Bradford noted that the Native American ally passed away in 1622. The precise location of Squanto’s grave, as well as the graves of the pilgrims who perished in that year, is not made clear.

The original wooden grave markers at Cole’s Hill and Burial Hill have not survived to provide proof in modern times. But the oldest stone on Burial Hill is for Edward Gray’s grave—he passed away in 1681.

Myles Standish Burial Ground

In 1627, Plymouth Pilgrims received new land for cultivation. The militia commander of Plymouth Country, Myles Standish, received a piece of land in what is now Duxbury, Massachusetts.

By automobile, Duxbury is roughly 10 miles from Plymouth and 5.77 miles north via the connecting bays. Originally, settlers only spent the summers farming in Duxbury before moving back to Plymouth for the winter. The farmers, however, asked that the region be made into a distinct town from Plymouth. In 1937, their wish was fulfilled. In remembrance of Myles Standish’s childhood home, Duxbury Hall in England, the new town was named Duxbury.

The town’s own meeting house was constructed shortly after the Myles Standish Burial Ground was founded in 1638. The site is currently known as Standish Cemetery or Old Burying Ground. It is uncertain if the pilgrims interred their dead at Cole’s Hill and Burial Hill prior to Plymouth and Duxbury’s split in 1637.

It is acceptable to have a stone with Captain Standish’s name and his death date, October 3, 1656. As a result, the Standish Burial Grounds was recognized as the oldest continuously operating cemetery in the United States by the American Cemetery Association.

Charter Street Cemetery

Some academics, however, argue that there is another cemetery in the country that is the oldest and is still maintained. Salem town records from 1636 and 1637 describe the use of a designated burial place called “Old Burying Point,” despite the fact that it is much farther from Plymouth than Duxbury.

Salem, Massachusetts is home to Charter Street Cemetery, formerly known as Old Burying Point Cemetery. Salem is located between 50 and 60 miles to the north of Plymouth in a straight line.

Captain Richard More is also thought to be buried in Charter Street Cemetery. When More came on board the Mayflower, he was a small child. The only original gravestone of a Mayflower traveler that remains intact is hiss. Some historical documents indicate he passed away as late as 1696, despite the stone listing 1692 as the year of his death.

Nevertheless, the gravestone of Doraty Cromwell, which dates to 1673, is the oldest in the Charter Street Cemetery.

Which American cemetery is the oldest, according to official records?

There are even older, well-maintained burial sites in the county, according to some sources. The earliest cemetery in Boston was established as King’s Chapel Burying Ground.

The terms “graveyard” and “cemetery” are frequently used interchangeably. A cemetery is not connected to any particular church; it is just a place where people are buried. Because they can sprawl over a bigger area without having to remain inside the bounds of church property, cemeteries are often larger. In a cemetery, people of all religious and nonreligious beliefs can rest.

In contrast, a graveyard is usually located on church property and is connected to a church. This means that the only people buried on the church grounds are individuals who practice that religion.

The King’s Chapel Prior to its closure in 1660, Boston’s Burying Ground served as the only cemetery until it was first used in 1630. But King’s Chapel, the church, wasn’t constructed until 1686.Thus, one could claim that the Burying Ground was once a cemetery before becoming a graveyard.

According to some academics, St. Augustine, Florida, served as the official location of the nation’s first cemetery. Although Florida did not become a state until 1845, the country’s first permanent European colony was founded much earlier. Spanish explorers founded St. Augustine in 1565. Historical records mention settlers being buried during this period, even though there are no markers there today.

There is still much disagreement and room for interpretation regarding the location of the oldest cemetery in the United States. Though it is difficult to determine the precise facts because so much material has been lost throughout the ages.