Three hundred years ago this location did not have ideal conditions for a graveyard. There were many underground springs which made it soggy and damp. Tomb owners routinely found their tombs filled with water, with caskets and bodies floating about. Since the grass grew quickly, the Boston selectmen, always looking to turn a profit, rented the Granary Burying Ground as pasture to gravedigger James Williams (d. 1734), with the proviso that the renter make good all damages "which may happen to the graves by reason of his Cows going there." By 1740 gravediggers complained that the burial ground was "so filled with Dead Bodies, they are obligated oft times to bury them four deep . . . . " In 1795, a panel of physicians warned of the health dangers from the "crowded state of these grounds and the exhalations which must frequently arise from the opening of graves" as well as it "being almost impossible to dig new graves without disturbing the relics of the dead already interred."To the memory of
On the evening of July 3, 1728, young Harvard graduate Benjamin Woodbridge (ca. 1708-1728), age 20, and Henry Phillips, age 22, quarreled at the Royal Exchange tavern. A challenge was given and they adjourned to Boston Common for a duel. Woodbridge was stabbed by Phillips and died the next day. Henry Phillip's father was Boston's leading bookseller and part of the French Huguenot community, so Henry fled to France where he died of grief within a year. Woodbridge was buried at Granary at the request of his father, Magistrate Dudley Woodbridge of Groton and Barbados.
James Otis (1725-1783), lawyer, politician, and writer, graduated from Harvard in 1743. Otis was an eloquent author and orator for the patriot cause, who John Adams described as "a flame of fire." He vigorously argued against the British Writs of Assistance, acts that allowed customs officials to enter private property to search for contraband. Otis was Boston's most brilliant attorney and he served in the Massachusetts General Court until 1771. In 1769, British official John Robinson hit Otis in the head during a tavern brawl, which led to the end of Otis' career. "I hope when God shall take me out of time into eternity, that it will be by a flash of lightening," Otis wrote his sister, historian Mercy Otis Warren. As he wished, Otis died in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1783, after being struck by lightening during a thunderstorm. James Otis is buried with his wife, Ruth (Cunningham), an alleged Tory, in her family's tomb (Tomb 40).
Dr. David Townshed (d.1829) was a volunteer surgeon at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He became the surgeon general of the Sixth Continental army in the American Revolution, servingfrom 1775-1783. He and his wife, Elizabeth (d.1833)), are buried in Tomb 55.
Rev. Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798) was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard College. He served as a minister in Dover, New Hampshire, until moving to the Federal Street Church in Boston in 1787. A published historian, Belknap's greatest contribution was as the catalyst for the founding of the first repository of America's history, the Massachusetts Historical Society, in 1791. He was also an early and ardent abolitionist and a benefactor of the Massachusetts General Hospital. He was buried in Tomb 33, but his granddaughter moved his remains to Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1837.
Tomb 21 is the burial place of two colonial schoolmasters, John Tileston (1735-1826) and Rufus Webb (1768-1827). Tileston was the headmaster of the North Writing School for 57 years. Webb was the master of the South Writing School for many years.
Esther (Martin) Lovering (ca. 1772-1798) married Joseph Lovering, Jr., a tallow chandler of Roxbury, and died at the age of 26.
Samuel Black (d. 1750) was a successful merchant. Unmarried, his will directed his executors to "free my negro boy Leicester and give him 400 (pounds?) at the expiration of his term of apprentice-ship" and to sell all his real estate "as my brothers and sisters are in Ireland."
Captain William Claghorn (ca. 1733-1793) was a prosperous New Bedford shipowner and merchant who died unexpectedly in Boston. His epitaph reads:
CAPT. WILL'M CLAGHORN
Who died in a fit of the Apoplexy
On a visit to this Town
Feb'y Ye 24th 1793,
In the 60th Year of his Age.
Here lies entomb'd, beneath
the turfed Clod,
A Man belov'd, the noblest work of God;
With friendly throbs, thine heart
beats no more,
Clos'd the gay Scene, the Pomp
of Life is o'er.