Who’s buried where?

Phinehas Child stone. Images courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society

A recent news article discussed the current use of an old Boston cemetery, with the permission of the church, as a dog park, prompting a neighborhood discussion. (This reminded me of David Lambert’s post on finding a gravestone on the wall of a church bathroom.) The church, First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist, is located about a mile from my home. Founded in 1769 as the Third Parish of Roxbury, I had mentioned the church in a post I wrote last year about the “Genealogy of Churches” in Roxbury (now Boston). This cemetery has also been called the Jamaica Plain Burial Ground and Jamaica Plain Cemetery.

Within a local Facebook group discussion regarding the new dog park, the minister of the church shared several useful links from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society (JPHS) listing who is buried in the cemetery. I quickly noticed three Child graves: Phinehas Child (died 1813), his wife Elizabeth (died 1800), and their young daughter Abigail (died 1795). Phinehas was the grandson of my ancestors Joshua and Elizabeth (Morris) Child, who are buried in the Walter Street Burying Ground, the main focus of my post last year.

However, unlike the Walter Street Burying Ground, most of the stones in the First Church Cemetery still stand. Our journal, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, had transcribed the stones in 1856. This article is essentially a complete transcription (although they did miss a few, see below), as the article noted few recent interments; with the then-recent erection of Forest Hills Cemetery, public opinion had largely favored burial in “retired locations.” This article transcribed the gravestones of sixty-three individuals in the cemetery who died between 1785 and 1848. The article also transcribed four other gravestones elsewhere in Jamaica Plain that are not in cemeteries. Also noted in this article were whispers “that it would be good policy to ‘remove the deposits’ entirely; as by so doing two or three good house lots might be gained.” No such removal of gravestones has occurred!

This article transcribed the gravestones of sixty-three individuals in the cemetery who died between 1785 and 1848.

Going to the photographs and transcriptions on the website of JPHS, the first sixteen plots largely cover vaults or crypts that were not included in the 1856 inscription, as generally only a name or surname appears on the entry to the vault, occasionally with a date. In some cases, cinder blocks have replaced the original vault doors. The only “non-vault” of these first sixteen is grave number twelve, which is a pillar containing the names of nine people who died between 1829 and 1851. Within this pillar is Rev. Thomas Gray (1772-1847), the second minister of the church, who served for fifty years, and his son-in-law Rev. George Whitney (1801-1842), who was his assistant. As this pillar is not included in the 1856 article, it was either erected after 1856 or was missed by the transcriber.[1]

George Woods stone

Graves 21-24 and 64-65 are also tombs omitted from the 1856 transcription. Within the collection of JPHS are pictures of five other gravestones (the most recent from 1851) missed in the 1856 transcription.[2] Along with the nine names on the Thomas Gray pillar, this brings the total gravestone name count to seventy-seven. Only one grave (number 67), a pillar, has the top missing, making it impossible to note whose grave it was by reference to the 1856 transcription. Also in this JPHS collection is a photograph of the broken gravestone of George Woods, now in the basement of the church. So, of the seventy-seven names found on these gravestones for people who died between 1785 and 1851, all but seventeen survive. Not bad!

However, the cemetery page on findagrave currently lists 106 memorials (73% photographed). These include three of the four stones mentioned in the 1856 article that are noted as gravestones elsewhere in Jamaica Plain and not at this cemetery. Seven memorials are for deaths between 1913 and 2014 that are mistakenly attributed to this cemetery when they are certainly buried elsewhere. (The 2014 memorial even has a gravestone picture that was taken from another cemetery.) Also listed are the memorials for George Gray Eustis (1796-1858) and his wife Clarisse Duralde (Allain) Eustis (1800-1876). The memorial notes they are buried in the “Eustis Family Tomb.” George’s parents appear on the Rev. Gray pillar mentioned above, so it is possible George and Clarisse may be in one of the unmarked vaults, in which case Clarisse may be one of the last vault burials in this cemetery, although this couple had lived in Louisiana (where George died), and Clarisse died in France.

But the most peculiar memorial attributed to this cemetery is that of my own ancestor (in three unique ways), Captain Joseph Weld…

But the most peculiar memorial attributed to this cemetery is that of my own ancestor (in three unique ways), Captain Joseph Weld, who arrived in Roxbury in 1635 and died there eleven years later (123 years before the Third Parish of Roxbury was established). The vital records of Roxbury note his burial on 7 October 1646, from the church records of the First Parish of Roxbury, which would almost certainly indicate he was buried at the Eliot Burying Ground, which was then the only graveyard in Roxbury for English colonists. (Most burials here from the seventeenth century no longer survive.) There are two later Welds in the First Church in Jamaica Plain Cemetery: Thomas Weld (1751-1821) and his wife Esther (McClellan) Weld (1755-1811). Thomas6 Weld (Joseph5-3, John2, Joseph1) was the great-great-great-grandson of Captain Joseph Weld, as well a great-grandson of my ancestors Benjamin and Grace (Morris) Child. I’m sure I am distantly related to several other people in this graveyard.

So, while I do not have any ancestors buried in this cemetery, I do have several cousins. I’m glad the JPHS has taken an inventory of how the stones stand today. Maybe I will check out my cousin Phinehas Child’s grave sometime, but probably without my dog!


[1] In 1926, NEHGS published a transcription of Vital Records of Roxbury Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849. Burials in this cemetery were noted as “G.R. 4,” and include the four gravestones from the 1856 article noted as burials elsewhere in Jamaica Plain. As none of the eight names on the pillar who died by 1849 appear here either (nor do the four names that died by 1849 in the next note), it’s likely the 1926 publication was relying on the 1856 transcription as their source.

[2] Ruth Whitney (d. 1828), Sarah Sturtevant (d. 1791), David Craig (d. 1828), William Winchester (d. 1804), and Henry Lowder (d. 1851). Sarah’s gravestone is the oldest surviving gravestone in this cemetery.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

5 thoughts on “Who’s buried where?

  1. Hopefully, you or someone will take the time to contact Find A Grave to correct the incorrect burial locations you mentioned, by providing the source for the proper locations.

    1. Ideally, that should be done with locating the correct cemetery. Death records in Massachusetts after 1925 still need to be ordered from the Registry of Vital Records (the genealogy research room is scheduled to re-open next month). For the memorial of Cecil Schwickerath (1910-1913), I uploaded his death certificate to the memorial, which notes he is buried at New Calvary Cemetery, and suggested the edit to the memorial manager.



  2. Many of my early ancestors are known to be among those in Eliot Burying Ground. I would be willing to help preserve and identify any unidentified grave markers and make them searchable to the greater public with images posted to find-a-grave. Perhaps even a “Think Big Project” and raise funding to do a proper preservation that encumpuses all of the early Roxbury Burying Grounds. Food for thought. Thank you Christopher Child for this article and all you do at NEHGS.

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