For the past couple of years, the focus of my Memorial Day remembrance has been the Revolutionary War soldiers of Salem, a rather forgotten lot when compared with their fellow veterans of more recent wars. There are seldom flags marking their graves this weekend, and rarely do their headstones even refer to their service. I wander through the old burial grounds of Salem looking for age-appropriate candidates, and then consult the (digital) volumes of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War when I get home. Last year I featured the Revolutionary War veterans of Broad Street Cemetery: this year I am focusing on Salem’s third-oldest cemetery, the Howard Street Burial Ground. Howard Street is primarily known for its associations with a spectral Giles Corey and as the resting place of a host of Salem sea captains (including a few famous privateers), but there are at least ten notable Revolutionary war veterans interred in this sacred space as well, and probably more: there are many damaged and “time-washed” stones in Howard Street, rendering them into potential tombs of unknown soldiers.
But then you get lucky, and run right into the well-preserved headstone of Stephen Wood (1747-1841), a “soldier of the Revolution”: I just love that simple, succinct, reverential phrase. Wood fought at the Battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Princeton, and White Plains with the 6th Massachusetts Regiment and lived, as you can see, to be 94 years old.
The original marker of the most famous “soldier of the Revolution” buried at Howard Street, Colonel Samuel Carlton, was presumably too humble for his family, who replaced it with a more stately edifice in 1898, inscribed with his impressive service at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The Reverend William Bentley noted his death in 1804: He was born in Salem in the next house to that which he died in Union Street. His parents were from Andover in this Country. He was bred to the seas & was a Master of a Vessel till the war, when he engaged in the Northern army & had a Lieutenant Col’s. commission under Col. Brewer, in the campaign of 1777. He was sick & returned home & for the last 14 years was unable to make any use of his lower extremities. He was a very cheerful man, original in his expressions, & capable of drawing attention in his conversation. He has left numerous descendants. No man ever endured so much with greater patience.
Then there is Captain John Collins, another master mariner who joined up in 1780 and served until the end of the war, Mr. Charles Richardson, yet another simple “soldier of the Revolution”, the long-lived trio of Ebenezer Burrill (1755-1826), William Prossor (1750-1842), and Captain Henry Tibbetts (1762-1842), all “revolutionary pensioners”, Jonathan Archer, and Scottish-born Captain John Melvill, who signed up in May of 1775 and served in Captain William Blackler’s Company, part of Colonel John Glover’s Regiment. I am confused about the stark marker of Moses Townsend, dated 1828: there were two Salem Moses Townsends, father and son, who served in the Revolutionary War: the elder was a prisoner of war in the infamous Mill Prison near Plymouth, England, where he died in 1777; the younger lived until 1843. Could this be a memorial to the senior, buried over in Old England, or another Moses Townsend entirely?
Just a few steps away from the Howard Street Burial Ground is the grave of General Stephen Abbott (1749-1813), safely guarded within the confines of St. Peter’s graveyard with its adjacent Sons of the American Revolution marker. Abbott is a rarity among Revolutionary War soldiers in that he is always remembered, more for the fact that he was the founder and first commander of the Second Corps of Cadets in 1781 than his earlier service with General Washington. Salem’s claim as the founding place of the National Guard is based on that unit, and so every year at First Muster time guardsmen gather to lay a wreath at Abbot’s grave site, in Abbott Square. I imagine that there were more SAR markers in Salem at one time, in Howard Street, Broad Street, and elsewhere: were they “lost” over the years? Could we obtain replacements?
May 29th, 2017 at 10:27 am
What an excellent and important post this is! Thank you for sharing this information. I write the Witch City Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the fourth book in the series “Grave Errors” which will release in August includes much action in the Howard Street Cemetery, as does Book #6 “It Takes a Coven” releasing in spring of 2018. I was born in Salem (on Halloween eve!) and appreciate so much your careful research and love of the city. Carol J. Perry
May 29th, 2017 at 10:51 am
May 29th, 2017 at 10:30 pm
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June 1st, 2017 at 8:56 am
I spent many years just before Memorial Day assisting my father, along with my brother and sister, in planting the American flags on veterans’ graves in both town cemeteries. Now, my father had two tools, and I wonder if Salem might have the same, or ought to think about compiling the same.
One of the tools was a list of veterans’ graves in the old cemetery, divided into quarters. It was helpful when one of the old SAR markers went missing. Though it took us several years to find the grave of one veteran. Turned out the headstone was for two people: the soldier, and his mother, and her inscription came first!
The other was a transcription of all the inscriptions on stones in the old cemetery, compiled back in 1878 by Dr. Samuel Green, one-time mayor of Boston, long-time secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Groton resident.
So, who’s responsible for putting up flags in Salem cemeteries? And do they have any sort of directory?
June 4th, 2017 at 7:05 pm
Have you ever come across a gravestone for James Osborne, who served as a Minuteman on April 19, 1775? He was a potter in what is now Peabody, I’ve looked for him to no avail, but thought I’d try to turn over your stone, just in case you’ve seen him.
June 5th, 2017 at 7:00 am
No, but Peabody’s graveyards are very decentralized as it was so rural and there are revolutionary war soldiers buried in the most unusual places! The Peabody Historical Society has a good inventory, so I would check with them.