From Daniel T.V. Huntoon's 

History of The Town of Canton, Massachusetts (1893)



The centre of population during the first decade of the eighteenth century was near the village of Ponkapoag; and here, on a hillside back from the road, the first settlers of Canton buried their dead.

The Proprietors' Lot.

I have no record of the existence of this place of sepulture anterior to 1708; but I know of no other spot, nor ever heard of any, where those who died between 1690 and 1716 could have been buried. Years passed ; and the heads of families, whose children had been interred on the hillside, and who expected to be placed beside them, deemed it expedient to procure a legal title to their last resting-place, and the deed was procured from Thomas Shepard on the 7th of March, 1741. The consideration mentioned was £5. The parties taking the deed were John Puffer and Benjamin Blackman, and "their associates hereafter-mentioned;" but no associates are mentioned. The land is described as being in Stoughton, and containing one quarter of an acre, on the west side of Shepard's farm, about six or seven rods to the southward of the public road. The deed provides that the proprietors shall have a right of way from the road to the place of burial, and recites that the land is the same that has " been improved as a burying place for more than thirty years past, and is now so used and known by that name."

In the mean time the centre of population had moved toward the south. The first meeting-house had been moved to Packeen Plain, now Canton Centre; and the Canton Cemetery, as it is now called, was first used as a place of interment in 1716. Naturally the older cemetery was disused; and only the descendants of the original proprietors buried their dead at Ponkapoag. Although many are buried there, the stones still standing are few.

Headstones were not used to mark the first interments. The early graves are marked with the rough stones of the field, with no inscriptions. The headstone of one of the original proprietors, "Old Lieutenant Puffer," as he was called, is in a sad condition; it is broken so as to be almost illegible, and some kind hand has set it up against the wall. When the man to whose memory this stone was erected was ten years old, his mother and his eldest brother, James, were killed by the Indians at Mendon, and he was probably present at the massacre. He was an early settler in Canton, receiving from his father, in 1691, 120 acres of land, bounded northeasterly by what is now the Milton line, and on the northwest by the Great Blue Hill. He married, Dec. 10, 1695, Mary Holbrook, of Roxbury. In 1705 he was appointed a constable for Ponkapoag. He was born at Brain-tree, Oct. 10, 1665, and died Jan. 19, 1750.

The English Graveyard

We have shown that the Proprietors' Lot was back from the country road, now Washington Street, and that the owners had a right of way to it. Let us now turn our attention to the land intervening. Among the earlier settlers of Canton were those who had been, in England, members of the Established Church.

Samuel Spare, who came over in 1728, was a member of Christ Church in Boston previous to his removal to what is now Green Lodge Street in 1738, and by will gives the interest of £ 13 6s. 8d. "for the use of the Church of England in this town forever." Joseph Aspinwall and Henry Crane, the great-grandfather of Margaret Fuller, lived at Packeen.

Jonathan Kenney, in 1754, held the fee-simple of the intervening land between the road and the Proprietors' Lot. He was anxious to increase the influence of the denomination with which he was connected, and he gives this land to "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, incorporated by royal charter, and to their successors forever." This gift he makes "in consideration of promoting the honor of Almighty God, and in the interest of the Church of England, as by law established, and for the better accommodation of the professors of that holy religion." The land is to be " for a situation for a church for the worship of God according to the laws and usages of the Church of England, as by law established, and for a cemetery or burying place for the dead." 

The land was described as containing twenty-seven square rods, beginning at the road and running six rods to "a burying place belonging to certain proprietors," then running southwest four rods and a half, thence to the road. Whether there was ever any line of demarcation between these two places of burial is doubtful. The line, if one existed, has long since disappeared; hence the two graveyards became merged, and the fact that they ever had a separate ownership was forgotten. The later name has been retained, and the enclosure is known as the English Churchyard.

The question of the title to this churchyard has agitated the town on several occasions. In 1806 Capt. William Bent and others, descendants of the original proprietors, petitioned the town to fence the burying-ground at the northerly part of the town; and a committee, consisting of Benjamin Lewis, Elijah Dunbar, and Samuel Blackman, was instructed to inquire whether a clear title would be given to the town in case it should fence the yard. The town treasurer was directed to take good titles of both yards from the proprietors. 

Whether the treasurer received deeds from either party at the time, I am not informed, but judge that nothing was done about the matter, for in 1818 another committee reported that the town runs a risk in fencing land not its own; that the agent of "the church" could claim the land contemplated to be fenced, or prosecute the town for fencing it; but the committee learned from the aged John Spare that the ground was not church property. This was true as to the church organization at Canton; and Mr. Spare probably was not aware that the fee-simple was in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

However, the wall was tumbling down; the trees were leaning against the old moss-covered stones and cracking them; and the town voted that a sum of money should be granted to the proprietors, "they to fence the land."

In 1843 the granite posts, which had once adorned the mansion of Gardiner Green in Boston, were reset, an iron gate took the place of the old red one, and a new wall was built. In 1883 the town granted the sum of $150 to put this burial-ground in good order; the wall was reset, and large stones were placed, one on each side of the gateway, bearing in old-fashioned lettering the following inscriptions:

Oldest Burying Ground       Here stood ye English church

1700.                                1754-I796


The Gridley Graveyard

The enclosure at the southerly part of Canton, originally the Leonard family burial-ground, known of late years a the Gridley Graveyard, from the fact that here for over eighty years the remains of Major-General Gridley reposed, was established as a matter of necessity, in a trying time. In May, 1764, the town was visited with the small-pox; and the records of its ravages, as they have come down to us, are terrible. "Awful," says the old pastor, "was the providence among the sick; two adult persons, heads of families, died, and a private fast was had in the Parish on account of the visitation." The following extracts are from the diary of Elijah Dunbar: —

        "May 27. Terrible time on account of small pox. 

        " June —. Vilet died this night, a very terrible time.

                        "Leonards folks taken with the small pox.

                        "Mrs. Vose dies of the small pox.

                        "Old Joseph Fenno dies.

                        "Polly Billings dies of the small pox. purple sort.

                        "Leonards family in great distress.

                        "Sunday Mrs. Davenport dies of the small pox.

                       "14th. Fasting on account of the great sickness. Poor Mrs.

                         Leonard died this forenoon, and Walley this afternoon, of ye small pox.

                        "17th. Nurse Howard dies of small pox. '"

               ' 23d. Ebenezer Talbot dies."


The following gravestones - all that are standing [in 1893] -  tell the sad story of three of the victims of the dreadful scourge:

"Here lies ye body of Mr. Walley Leonard, who died of the small pox, June the 14th. 1764, in the 44th year of his age."

"Here lies ye body of Mrs. Mary Leonard (and her new born babe), the wife and child of Ensign Nathaniel Leonard, who died of the small pox, June ye 14th, 1764, in the 39th year of her age."

"Here lies the body of Mary Billings, daughter of Mr. William and Mrs. Mary Billings, who died of the small pox, June 8, 1764, in the 18th year of her age."

Nathaniel was the son of Uriah, and was born March 7, 1717. He married Mary, daughter of Major John and Rebecca (Fenno) Shepard, Jan. 26, 1744. He purchased, in 1743, "London New," and is described as a "bloomer." He paid, in 1764, three shillings for every ton of iron ore he brought from Massapoag Pond. He resided in that part of the town known as the Hardware, and deserves remembrance for his public spirit in erecting the first milestone ever put up in the town. It stands just north of Massapoag Brook, at the point where Washington Street crosses it, a few rods from the original resting-place of Richard Gridley. It was found buried near the roadway, and was preserved by James Stratton Shepard ; it bears an inscription supposed to have been cut by Leonard's own hand: —

B. 17





[Editors note: Boston 17 / Miles / 1736 / Nathaniel Leonard]

After the death of Nathaniel Leonard, his son Jacob, in conveying the property to Richard Gridley, Edmund Quincy, and others, in 1772, reserves "one rod square for a burial place, and here some of the grantor's relatives are buried." Here Gridley buried his son, Scarborough, who died Dec. 16, 1787, and his wife, Hannah, who died Oct. 17, 1790, and he was himself interred in this enclosure, near the graves of the Leonards and the collateral Billingses; so that in 1821, when Adam Kinsley bought the little plat, it had been increased, and "three rods were reserved for the burying place."

In 1707 the population of the precinct had extended so far to the southward that it was decided by the Dorchester Committee to locate the meeting-house on Packeen Plain, now Canton Centre, and it was deemed convenient and desirable to have a burial-place near this meeting-house. The Indians cheerfully relinquished all their interest in the land, and the spot selected was that portion of the present cemetery which lies nearly west of Central Avenue, and extends to within a few feet east of the only row of tombs in the cemetery; it is bounded on the north by Prospect Avenue and on the south by the Washington Street wall.

In the northeastern part of this division of the burial-ground are interred many of the first settlers. Their graves can easily be distinguished by moss-covered stones half sunk in mould, ornamented with death's-heads, cross-bones, and hour-glasses, standing in irregular rows at an angle with Prospect Avenue. Here stands the oldest stone in the cemetery,— that of Gilbert Endicott, who died in 1716, and who was, says Mrs. Oliver Wentworth, who died many years ago, the first person buried in this ground. Here are also interred the first three ministers ; here too are buried the father of Roger Sherman, doctors, squires, colonels, deacons, and the heroes of the French and Revolutionary wars that have been famous in the annals of the town in days gone by.

There are several inscriptions in the Canton Cemetery that are peculiar and worthy of record. Some occur in other places of burial. Miss Thurston's and Mrs. Hannah Davenport's are far from original.

'" Stop, my friends, as you pass by. 

As you are now. so once was I. 

As I am now. so you must be ; 

Prepare for death and follow me."

William Glover's is as follows: —

"My Loving friends, as you pass by. 

On my cold grave pray cast your eye. 

Your sun like mine, may set at noon. 

Your soul be called for very soon."

This is Mrs. Mary Blackman's : —

"Stop here, my friends. and drop a tear: 

Think on the dust that slumbers here.

 And when you read this date of me. 

Think on the glass that runs for thee."

Mrs. Esther Tolman has the following epitaph : —

" Stop, pensive reader, cast an eye :

 Beneath such clod your flesh must lie."

This is Mr. Nathaniel Merion's : —

"Come, my dear friends, prepare to die. 

That you with me may reign on high. 

That when the last loud trump shall sound, 

At Christ's right hand we may be found."

Mr. William Shaller's is as follows : —

" Some hearty friend may drop a tear

 Over my dry bones, and say 

They once were strong as mine appear."

This is Miss Polly Patrick's : —

"Praise on tombstones are vanity;

 A good name is her monument."

Aaron Baker's daughter is described as —

"A lovely bud. so young and fair.

 Called home by early doom.

 Just come to show how sweet a flower In Paradise could bloom."

There is a peculiarity on two stones erected to the memory of members of the Billings family which I have not noticed in any other cemetery. They begin, "In memory of ye Ris;" then follows the name.

Mr. Jesse Wentworth's epitaph is as follows : —

"Mourn not for me; 

Death is a debt To Nature due, 

That I have paid. And so must you."

This is Eliza Tucker's, who died July 29, 1834: —

"Like a good steward what the Lord gave her she left in the 

bosom of the church. — £1,200.''

The following is the epitaph on the stone of Joseph Shelden, a native of Staffordshire, Old England, who was born June 13, 1804. and died Feb. 8, 1847: —

"I was a stout young man As you might see in ten ; 

Ann when I thought of this I took in hand my pen. 

And wrote it down in plain, That every one might see. 

That I was cut down like A blossom from a tree.

 The Lord rest my soul. 


In 1791 the parish voted to fence the burying-place near the meeting-house, putting a stone wall on the east side; and as there were several families in the parish who "do not make use of that Burying Place," it was agreed that "they shall have the portion of the fencing-tax remitted."

It was also agreed that "if George Crosman, Esq., will please to grant an addition to the Burying Place on the side next to his land, as it is said he has proposed, the Parish will build the fence the entire southerly side." This small plat of land served the needs of the town of Canton for one hundred years from the burial of Gilbert Endicott.

When the ancient place of sepulture became so crowded that it was necessary to enlarge it, the only suitable way to do this was by purchase of a piece of land on the west, - the adjoining land on the east being occupied by the meetinghouse. At the beginning of the present century, this vacant land on the west was used as a timber-yard ; and the valley which a quarter century ago bloomed with flowers and fragrant shrubs, seventy-five years ago was used as a sawpit It contains about an acre, and extends from the imaginary line before referred to, just east of the tombs, until it joins the land on which the meeting-house of the First Congregational Parish now stands. Under an article inserted in the town warrant in 1815, a committee, consisting of Deacon Benjamin Tucker, Thomas French, Jr., and Ezra Dickerman, was appointed to inquire into the expediency of enlarging the old, or laying out a new cemetery. This committee deemed it advisable to enlarge the original lot, provided as much of the adjacent land as would be necessary could be purchased at a reasonable price. They recommended that a committee be chosen to inquire the cost of the land, and report. The town appointed the same committee to attend to this matter, with the exception that Ezra Tilden took the place of Ezra Dickerman. The committee was instructed to ascertain the cost of an acre of land on the opposite side of the street ; the owner asking one hundred and fifty dollars for it. and Mr. Oliver Downes asking only fifty dollars an acre for the adjoining land on the west, the latter was preferred, and the committee recommended its purchase; also, that the money necessary be raised by subscription, the town to take the deed. A committee, consisting of Gen. Elijah Crane, Gen. Nathan Crane, Simeon Tucker, Samuel Carroll, and Israel Bailey, was appointed in 1816 to carry the purpose of the town into effect. They however did nothing about the matter, and subsequently the town treasurer was authorized to pay the money and receive the deed.

The deed of the land was obtained Jan. 1, 1817, when Mr. Downes, in consideration of fifty dollars, conveyed to the inhabitants of the town of Canton one acre of land bounded easterly on the burying-ground. The same year a committee, consisting of Gen. Nathan Crane, Joseph Bemis, Esq., Thomas French, William Shepard, Elijah Endicott, Ezra Tilden, Jr., and Samuel Leonard, was appointed to assign to particular families such portions or parcels of the land annexed to the burying-ground as should be convenient, having in mind "symmetry and order in the improvement." The committee allotted the "westmost" corner in the rear of the purchase for a place of burial of foreigners and people of color, who might die in the town. The committee proposed that such of the inhabitants as might die thereafter should be buried in the rear of the new addition, beginning at the "northeastermost" corner adjoining the old ground, there extending westerly until it reached the lot assigned for foreigners, filling in the first line all the way with the deceased, leaving a space between graves, and room at the rear for the erection of gravestones. The first line being full, a similar one was to be begun, and so on until the new addition was filled up. Fearing this arrangement for " symmetry and order " might not meet the views of some of the citizens, the committee recommended that those persons who desired might be allowed to build tombs, - the natural basin in the centre of the lot being adapted to such purposes. It would appear, therefore, that it was intended to have a circle of tombs around this basin; fortunately, few were built. A receiving-tomb was erected in 1837, and rebuilt from designs of G. Walter Capen, in 1882. In order to make a convenient passage around the basin, one rod and a half of land was purchased on the western border of the new addition, for which the town paid at the rate of sixty dollars an acre.

The first person buried in this addition to the burying-ground was Abel Wentworth, who was born March 21, 1764, and died July 9, 1816. It was known as the Meeting-House Lot, from the fact that the two meeting-houses which preceded the present one were located upon it. It is that portion of the present cemetery lying east of Central Avenue and extending to the path on the easterly brow of the hill, a few feet west from the beginning of Main Avenue. Its southeastern corner was, within the memory of some now living, determined by a stunted oak-tree, known as "the old oak." When this tree, about 1858, had decayed, a maple-tree was planted by Mr. Charles Mackintosh on the site of the old stump; it stands near the wall at the northeasterly boundary of the lot now owned by Nathaniel Dunbar. From this tree the line ran directly to Prospect Hill, thence turning to the north, extended in a straight line until it was intersected by the line from the old gateway, running through Central Avenue, which divided it from the original burying-ground on the west.

An attempt was made by the town, in 1829, to obtain this Meeting-House Lot by exchange ; but no satisfactory result being reached, the subject was dropped until 1840, when the question of a further addition to the cemetery was agitated. The town was desirous of knowing on what terms the old Meeting-House Lot could be obtained ; and at the annual March meeting, Thomas Dunbar, Elisha White, William Tucker, John Gay, Abel Wentworth, and Joseph Leavitt were chosen a committee to inquire into the matter, and also to ascertain the expense of removing the old wall, and building in its place a wall of split granite. The committee estimated the cost of a good wall, four feet high, at nine dollars per rod, and that thirty-one rods were necessary. They recommended that the old wall be removed to the back part of the yard and capped with long flat stones "to prevent thoughtless boys from rolling stones from off the top of the wall down the hill." The old Meeting-House Lot was at this time owned by the First Congregational Parish. The committee of the town reported that by a vote of the parish passed at a meeting held on the 3d of March, 1840, the parish agreed to convey the "Old Meeting House Lot" to the town, provided the latter would accept arid fence the same, and that the land be improved by them for no other purpose than a cemetery; and the parish further authorized their treasurer to give a quit-claim deed of the premises. A committee was appointed by the town, in 1841, to lay out the walks, and ornament the grounds by planting trees and shrubs. This committee consisted of Elisha White, William Tucker, and Leonard Everett. In their report they said that they had laid out a carriage-way from the entrance on Washington Street to the boundary wall on the northeast rise (Central Avenue), fifteen feet in width; and eight avenues, seven feet in width, running parallel to the street, subdividing the ground into lots fourteen feet wide. These strips the committee again divided into lots sixteen feet six inches long, by lines drawn at right angles with the street. The wall was ordered to be completed before the Fourth of July, 1841. The ladies of the Sewing Circle held a fair, the proceeds of which were expended in ornamenting the newly acquired grounds. The first person buried in this addition was the wife of Elijah Bailey.

A decade had not elapsed when the citizens again found that the cemetery was too small. Besides, a great change had taken place in public sentiment in relation to burial-places. The age had become refined. The laying out of Mount Auburn had quickened the hearts and minds of a few men, who, encouraged by the success attending the expenditure of the small amount of money on the old Meeting-House Lot determined to bring the matter before the citizens of the town at its annual meeting, and on the 8th of November, 1847, Hon. Thomas French, Leonard Everett, and Samuel Capen, were chosen a committee to take the matter of enlarging the burial-ground into consideration. March 6, 1848, the report of the committee was accepted; and another committee, consisting of Hon. Thomas French, Rev. Benjamin Huntoon, Capt. William Tucker, Ezra Abbot, M. D., and Silas Kinsley, was appointed, with power to purchase such additional land as they might deem expedient. This committee obtained, April 28, 1848, from the heirs of Oliver Downes, a deed of nine acres, three quarters, and twenty rods of land. The rights which the Canton Aqueduct Company had in the premises were reserved to them. This land was all that could be desired ; its situation was beautiful, the conformation of its surface being varied, and presenting undulations of hill and dale, — all admirably adapted for a "garden of graves."

At the annual town meeting in May, 1848, it was voted that the same committee with the addition of two - F. W. Lincoln and Virgil J. Messinger - be a committee to grade and lay off the lots, and "that they have full discretionary powers to lay out such a part or parts of said addition as shall seem best to their judgment, and make or cause to be made a plan of the same, and appraise the value of the same, and lodge the plan with the treasurer of the town, that the inhabitants of the town may select such lots as may please their tastes and judgment."

The following year the town voted to allow the Ladies' Sewing Circle of Rev. Mr. Huntoon's society permission to expend such sums as they should see fit in ornamenting the burial-ground, and that the care of the cemetery be in the hands of the selectmen. During the years 1850-52, $555 was thus expended by the ladies.

The following is the report of the committee last mentioned :

To the Selectmen and other Inhabitants of Canton, in Town Meeting assembled:

Gentlemen, —Your committee, chosen May 8, 1848, to lay out the addition to the burying-ground. with full discretionary powers, also to lay out such a part or parts of said addition into lots as shall seem best to their judgment, and make or cause to be made a plan of the same, and also appraise the value of said lots, and lodge the said plan with the treasurer of the town, that the inhabitants of the town may select such lots as may please their taste and judgment, having attended to the duty assigned them, would offer the following report: —

The first and most difficult task assigned your committee was that of laying out the grounds so that they should best subserve their intended use as a cemetery for the dead, and satisfy the taste and meet the convenience of the living. For this purpose a committee of two, Hon. Thomas French and William Tucker, were chosen to obtain an engineer or some other competent person to perform this work ; who at a subsequent meeting of the committee reported that the Hon. Henry A. S. Dearborn, Mayor of Roxbury, the gentleman who projected and laid out the cemetery at "Mount Auburn," and also the "Forest Hills" cemetery at Roxbury, had generously offered to come and give us his. services in laying out ours also, which offer was most gratefully accepted, as there is not probably a gentleman in the country better qualified for the work, by science, taste, and experience, than General Dearborn.

The preparatory work of cleaning the grounds of brush and under wood to fit them for the survey was assigned to the Secretary of the Board of the committee, who immediately hired hands and proceeded to the work assigned him. On the 29th of June, General Dearborn arrived, with his assistants, inspected, and commenced laying out the grounds with appropriate avenues and paths, as a general outline, to be filled out as future convenience might require,—the principal avenues being laid out sixteen feet wide, and the footpaths six feel wide. The 30th day of June being rainy, the work was suspended. On the 10th day of July, General Dearborn and the Secretary of the Board completed the work of laying out the grounds; and at the subsequent meeting of the committee, the Secretary was directed to proceed and mark out by cutting a trench on the side or sides of the avenues and paths, that they might be distinguished, and also to cut out the trees and brush that were within the avenues, together with all the birch-wood upon the grounds, and cause the same to be sold at auction for the benefit of the town, which was accordingly done. This closed the first section of the duty assigned your committee.

The next duty was that of laying out a portion of the grounds into lots for the purpose of family burying-places. This task was assigned to the Secretary of the Board, and Mr. Virgil J. Messinger. and confined to one tier of lots adjoining the old burying-ground, together with the plot which had been reserved for free interments in the old burying-grounds. This tier of lots, commencing at the southeast corner of the lot belonging to Mr. Nathaniel Dunbar, and proceeding northerly to the northeast corner of the old burying-ground. making nine lots in that range, each lot being sixteen and one half feet long from east to west, and fourteen feet wide from north to south, together with the lots ol similar size in the common ground of the old addition, were appraised at $5 per lot and a plan of them given to the treasurer of the town.

On the 5th of December, the committee accepted a plan offered by Hon. Thomas French and Rev. Benjamin Huntoon. who had previously been appointed a committee for that purpose, for laying out twenty lots, bordering on the easterly side of the old burying-ground ; namely, first, a walk or footpath eight feet wide ; then a range of ten lots fifteen feet wide from south to north, and twenty feet long from west to east : then another walk seven feet wide, and adjoining that another range of ten lots of similar dimensions with the above, bounded on the east by the Main Avenue, with a walk in the centre, running from west to east six feet wide, and a space of three feet between each lot from west to cast, leaving each lot separate from the other, and that each of said lots he valued at $10. apiece, also that the owners of lots on the west side, adjoining the walk eight feet wide. give the name to said walk, and the plan of said lots was given to the treasurer of the town. This closed the second part of the commission of your committee. The whole number of lots laid out by your committee is forty ; twenty of which were valued at $5. per lot. and twenty at $10. per lot. making the sum of $500 (and the whole land cost less than $350) ; and the whole of the land taken for these forty lots, including all the avenues, walks, and vacant spaces, is less than one half of an acre, at which rate, throwing out three acres of waste or useless land, leaves a residue to be sold by the town for $4,200. in available lots, as they must be wanted for the burial of its dead. Of the lots laid out by your committee, sixteen have been taken or spoken for, at the sum of $ 100. which is equal, lacking $500. to the price of three acre of the land, and not occupying one fourth part of an acre : your committee report also that the Messrs. Mackintosh, having taken three adjoining lots, have the privilege of enclosing the same in one lot, namely Nos. 102. 103, and 104, — as a family burying-lot, without regard to the spaces between them, as laid down on the plan.

Your committee also have surveyed the strip of ground on the bad or north side of the old wall, between the wall and the brow of the hill, and find that a tier of lots, twenty in number and twenty feet long from east to west, and fifteen feet wide from south to north, passing the Main Avenue, continued through to the north side of them, and a pathway between each of the lots of six feet in width, with a sidewalk of six feet north of them, might be laid and valued at $10 per lot. which would produce the sum of $200, and also that of the western side of said strips, eleven lots, of sixteen feet by fourteen, might be laid out. and reserved for free burying-ground, or valued at $5 per lot, making the additional sum of $55, amounting to $255, equal to the cost of seven acres of the ground. But your committee recommend that an avenue sixteen feet wide be made in the ground where the twenty lots might be laid out.

All of which is respectfully submitted. Per order of the committee.

Benjamin Huntoon. Canton, April 2, 1849.

The beauty of our cemetery has become renowned throughout the State, and visitors who have traveled far and wide have expressed the opinion that it is the most beautiful rural cemetery in the country. The superintendents of city cemeteries have visited it, praised its natural advantages, and admired the wide view from Prospect Hill. To our own citizens, the cemetery has become a matter of pride. Many expensive and beautiful monuments have been erected within its precincts; the greensward has been carefully attended to; and the whole ground presents' an attractive and beautiful appearance.

At the April meeting in 1870 the town voted that ten acres of land be purchased for the use of the cemetery, at an expense not exceeding $1,000; and a committee, consisting Hon. Charles Endicott, Oliver S. Chapman, and Virgil J. Messinger, was appointed to carry the vote into effect. The sum of $500 was also appropriated, to be expended on the cemetery, for that year. A committee, consisting of Virgil J. Messinger, Oliver S. Chapman, and J. M. Everett, was appointed to have charge of the cemetery After the death of Mr. Chapman, Hon. Charles H. French was appointed to fill the vacancy. The original committee named the principal avenues in the older parts of the cemetery. Fourteen tablets were also erected, properly inscribed, to the memory of those soldiers who were killed or died in service during the Rebellion, whose graves had not been previously designated. The committee purchased of Mr. William Horton about ten acres of land adjoining the addition of 1848, on the east side, the ground being admirably adapted for the purpose for which it is intended.

After various consultations with Mr. H. A. May, of Boston, and after a careful topographical survey by Mr. Frederic Endicott, a plan was ordered to be prepared by the committee. On the 3d of April, 1876, the town voted to give a lot in the cemetery for the purpose of erecting a monument to Gen. Richard Gridley. A fine elevation was selected by the Gridley committee, and the bones of the old hero were in due time deposited near it. He was the first person buried in the fourth addition to the cemetery. A lot has also been given by the town for the burial of the soldiers who fell in the War of the Rebellion.

This chapter would be incomplete without further mention of Oliver S. Chapman, who, except Benjamin Huntoon, did more to beautify and adorn this sacred place than any other. To him the town's cemetery owes much of its beauty. Here month after month he labored, directing the expenditure of the town's money, and when that was insufficient, freely drew from his own purse the necessary funds. But the last year was indeed the crown and glory of his well-spent life ; and the remembrance of it will be long treasured by those who have the welfare of the town at heart. During the thirty years of his residence among us he was ever active in all measures pertaining to the improvement and embellishment of the town. He was more than a good citizen; he was an active and energetic public man, always ready to give more than his share of time and money to benefit his townspeople. He was ready to serve on any committee where the public welfare was concerned. If a schoolhouse was to be built, there was no one so well qualified to superintend its erection as Mr. Chapman. Day by day he was at his post, directing, guiding, and taking a part himself if the work flagged. During the dark days of the war he sustained the government, and by his influence induced others to do so who were disposed to be lukewarm. He was to be seen at all public meetings ; and though he seldom spoke, he was ever ready to contribute his time and his money to encourage those less hopeful than himself. No one watched the course of events during those gloomy years with more interest than he, and no one was more gratified at the final result.

While the Boston and Providence Railroad was in process of construction, Mr. Chapman paid his first visit to Canton, where he was engaged upon a piece of work near the viaduct, and occupied, with his employees, the very house of which he died possessed. It was about this time that his friend and cousin, William Smith Otis, married, June 22, 1835, Elizabeth, the daughter of Deacon Leonard Everett, of this town, 

Mr. Chapman being present at the ceremony; but the happiness of their wedded life was of short duration, for on the 13th of November, 1839, at the early age of twenty-six years, Mr. Otis died at Westfield, having invented and perfected one of the marvelous mechanical inventions of the age, - the Otis steam excavator.

On the 23d of March, 1845, Mr. Chapman was married to the widow of William S. Otis. In 1863-64 he was sent as Representative to the State Legislature from the Eleventh Norfolk District. In 1856 Mr. Chapman was chosen one of the directors of the Neponset National Bank. He was born at Belchertown, Aug. 18, 1811, and died at Boston, of apoplexy, Feb. 8, 1877.


Back to the main page of