Monday, July 6, 2015

...a churchyard in the center of colonial tourism...

"A piece of a churchyard fits everybody."
~George Herbert
Bruton Parish Church was established in 1674 by the consolidation of two previous parishes in the Virginia Colony. It remains an active Episcopal church to a three-centuries-old parish. The church is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the U.S. National Historic Landmark, and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Important Revolutionary men including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Wythe, Patrick Henry, and George Mason attended Bruton Parish Church. The churchyard is really my area of interest. 

While it was much more customary to be buried in family plots on one’s property, there are 17th- century graves in the churchyard. John Page donated this parcel of land to the church. No one is quite certain how many graves are here or even the date of the oldest burial since many of the markers no longer remain considering that they were typically wooden crosses.  In 1993 there were archaeological excavations that showed that there was not a standard depth or orientation for the burials. With the lack of markers, some burials were on top of older burials.

Before I arrived, I printed a Self-Guided tour from their website. By U.S. standards, this is an old cemetery. The restoration efforts even go back a century with Cynthia Beverley Tucker Coleman who organized the Catherine Memorial Society which was named after her daughter who had passed. In 1887, the society requested permission "to repair the old monuments in the Church Yard and to otherwise put in order the yard, as their means may justify." While vastly improved, the markers are not all in perfect condition. There were also some puzzling aspects including benches placed over the grave between the headstones and footstones. My fella and I speculated that this might keep tourists from bumping into the markers and destroying them although we pondered if it were really so appropriate to sit on one of the benches. We saw several tourists doing so. 

There were some beautifully detailed markers but unfortunately ropes keep you at a distance from many of the more intriguing markers. Most likely one can actually see the graveyard in more detail when it isn’t a holiday weekend with thousands of tourists.

The churchyard includes the burial plots of “the Custis children”, the children of Martha Custis who later married George Washington; and it also includes Letitia Semple, the daughter of 10th US President John Tyler. The interesting part of the Semple grave is that Mammy Sarah, “a devoted servant” is memorialized on the grave. This is quite unusual to find.

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