Buried in the Winthrop family tomb are 11 members of the Winthrop family. Puritan leader John Winthrop the Elder (1588-1649) was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the founder of Boston. In 1629 he was elected governor by the Massachusetts Bay Company while still in England. In 1630 he led the "Winthrop Fleet" of eleven ships and 700 colonists to the "New World." The fleet landed first at Salem, then moved to Charlestown, where Winthrop built his house. However, it was on the peninsula of Boston that the merchants and craftsmen set up shop. In a famous sermon, Governor Winthrop stated that he and the other settlers of Boston "shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us . . . " He served as governor for a total of 13 years and was considered religious, prudent, conscientious, and pious. He punished religious dissent and most famously banished both Roger Williams, who opposed any allegiance to the Anglican Church and subsequently founded Rhode Island, and Anne Hutchinson, who opposed strict allegiance to religious laws.
Margaret (Tyndal) Winthrop (d. 1647), the Governor's third wife, is known through her letters and diaries that give insight into life and relationships in early Boston. In addition their son John Winthrop the Younger (1606-1676), and three grandsons, Major General Fitz-William Winthrop (1638-1707), Judge Waitstill Winthrop (1642-1717), and Colonel Adam Winthrop (1647-1700), are buried in the Winthrop tomb along with great grandchildren and spouses.
Near the Winthrop family tomb is the First Church tomb. First Church was established in 1630 and was located on King (now State) Street before moving several times until it reached its present location in the city's Back Bay area. The tomb holds the remains of the church's first minister, Reverend John Wilson (1588-1667), as well as Reverend John Davenport (1597-1669/70), Reverend John Oxenbridge (1607-1674), Reverend Thomas Bridge (1657-1715), and the most significant religious figure in Boston's history, Reverend John Cotton (1584-1652). Ordained as an Anglican minister in England, Cotton was the pastor of St. Butolph's Parish Church in Boston, England. There he slowly implemented the simpler Puritan services, so by 1632 he was in trouble with ecclesiastical authorities. In 1633 he immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, with his family and became the leading cleric in the colony. Originally supportive of Anne Hutchinson's antinomianism, or the idea that goodness came from within and not from following church doctrine, he later sided with Governor Winthrop and supported her banishment, as well as that of Roger Williams. Cotton's son-in-law, Increase Mather, and grandson, Cotton Mather, were also prominent Puritan divines.
The Keayne tomb holds the remains of Captain Robert Keayne (1596-1656), a tailor and merchant who came to Boston from England in 1635. A devout Puritan, he collected three volumes of notes on Reverend Cotton's sermons from 1638 to 1646. He was a controversial figure in colonial Boston because he was very wealthy, which seemingly violated the Puritan ideals to which he was so devoted. His 53-page, 51,000-word will is one of the longest on record. Keayne left money to Harvard College, to the town of Boston for public projects, and established a fund to start a public school. Keayne was the founder and first Captain of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, the oldest military company in the country. The "Ancient and Honorables" still visit Keayne's grave on their founding day, "June Day," which is celebrated on the first Monday in June.
King's Chapel Burying Ground today has 505 headstones and 59 footstones remaining from the well-over one thousand burials that took place from 1630 into the 19th century. There are also 78 tombs of which 36 have tomb markers. This includes the large vault, built as a charnel house that was converted to a tomb for children's remains in 1833. The earliest tombs are scattered among the grave markers. Most are "table top" tombs that originally had inscriptions carved into the stone. The ravages of time have removed most of their memorial messages.
In 1715 the Board of Selectmen allowed the construction of 22 tombs along the east side (back wall) of the burying ground. In 1738 a row of merchant's tombs were constructed on the west side along Tremont Street. Most of these tombs are marked by well-carved slate markers with heraldic emblems. The tombs extend under the Tremont Street sidewalk and are accessed by a staircase that descends 8 - 10 feet underground. The tomb itself is a rectangular room made of brick.
The town Selectmen arranged for maintenance of the burial ground in 1657 by giving citizens such as Captain Savage the right to "use the ground" in exchange for "preserving the fence about the burying place and maintaining the fence, in good condition . . . " In the 17th century the burying place was a field on the edge of town with both wooden and stone markers scattered about. Captain Savage could harvest the long grass for feed or other use, or allow his sheep or cows to graze. In 1680 the selectmen decided that "noe Cattle be suffered to feed in them [the burying places]."