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Ancient Grave Plundering

For scholarly reasons, one has to describe some of the dark history as well as the good. Respect for the dead was not the #1 priority at times in history, and one can infer that the fear of death may have motivated the desecration of many ancient graves in Boston. Regardless of such tragic vandalism, the old burial grounds of Boston are sacred and extremely historic, more so than in any other city in America.

King's Chapel Burying Ground, Boston's oldest cemetery, was improved upon by a maintenance superintendent in the early 1800s. He decided to move many of the stones and lay them out into neat rows adjoining the paths in the ground. The result was that the original locations for many of the older markers are unknown.

Grave Plundering In Boston
Missing Marker's at Copp's Hill

At Granary Burying Ground, John Hancock's tomb was destroyed during a construction project in the 1860s. His resting place was marked by a simple white marble slab embedded in a wall. Several tombs were removed to allow the light to enter the basement of a newly constructed building on Park Street. An old reference states that no trace of his tomb still existed and that "[The bricks that comprised Hancock's tomb] may still be there somewhere, but not anywhere near his tomb; perhaps they were carted away with the old bricks, etc., or used as part of the foundation of the new wall. "John Hancock was buried in a lead coffin, and it was then mused it may have been used for lead pipes in a local building. A tall obelisk was erected in his honor many years later to substitute for the tomb.

The five victims of the Boston Massacre are buried at Granary Burying Ground. Their grave was unmarked, and a collective stone was later placed there. Christopher Snider, 1st Martyr to the Noble Cause, was likely buried at Central Burying Ground, and not at Granary as commemorated [Provincial Governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote that Snider was buried at Boston Common, possibly having been buried under the Liberty Tree at some point].

Copp's Hill Burying Ground also has a tragic past. The markers of Free Blacks and slaves, as well as others, were plundered in the 1860s and used for construction material. Some of these stones became front steps for local buildings. In the 1880s, Edward MacDonald, the Copp's Hill Superintendent, and local clergy, recovered several of these stones, but many were never found. The British of course also shot up a few markers at Copp's Hill in 1775, just before the Battle of Bunker Hill. And finally, in the early 1800s, a young vandal re-inscribed some dates on stones at Copp's Hill as a prank.

Central Burying Ground bears the saddest legacy. In general, it was a pauper's cemetery first, and later Roman Catholics were buried there. When Boylston Mall was laid out in the1830s, many tombs and remains were just covered over where they lay. Remains that were not claimed by a descendent were tossed into the then opened tombs, and the entire area was covered over by the new walkway. When the Tremont Street Subway was built in 1895, Boylston Mall was dug up, and over 900 remains were discovered. In late 1895, a mass grave and a marker was laid in memory of those now unknown by name.


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