As was also the English custom, graves were placed randomly in any available spot regardless of family relationship. Grave diggers would probe the soil with rods to determine whether or not a spot was occupied, and lay to rest the newly deceased when an available area was identified. Over time as space became a premium, bodies were laid on top of one another and grave markers became destroyed or misplaced in the process. Over the years, the burying ground was encroached upon by several forces, the first being by the First Church Society (Congregational) in 1712 when they petitioned to build a meeting house on the land. Granted the permission by the town, the church proceeded to build their meeting house atop land that held several gravesites. This was not viewed as a form a sacrilege but rather as an honor for those buried beneath the church, as in England, it was customary to bury renowned personages within churches.
Another portion of the burying ground was given over to build a school on Main Street just north of the church, followed by an adjacent strip of land along Main Street for retail establishments. When the Waverly Building was constructed at the corner of Main and Pearl Streets, several coffins and old bones were unearthed. By the 1890's the cemetery was not actively used and had become neglected. Gold Street at its southern border had become a sixteen-foot-wide alley of slums. A major effort, spearheaded by Emily Holcombe, a regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was undertaken to clean up the area and widen the street. In the process, remains of former generations were unearthed. Some were reburied within the cemetery while others were carted off to the dump.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, improvements were made that included construction of an iron fence around the perimeter of the burial ground and the installation of a memorial gate on Gold Street.
Today, the Ancient Burying Ground Association restores and maintains the grounds in honor of the more than 6,000 individuals who were interred therein. Here is list of names in PDF format as transcribed from church records (17491806).
The church today holds services as well as provides a venue for cultural events. A schedule of events may be found at their website.
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