Granary Burying Ground

Revolutionary War heroes on the Freedom Trail

Granary Burying Ground - Boston Freedom Trail site
Granary Burying Ground, on Boston's Freedom Trail

Granary Burying Ground is where Revolutionary War heroes rest in peace, steps away from Boston Common and shadowed by the towering skyscrapers of the city's Financial District.

This Freedom Trail stop, one of Boston's oldest historic sites, dates from 1660. 

Due to the large number of famous patriots and revolutionary heroes buried in this quiet tree-filled space, you may hear it called the "Westminster Abbey" of Boston.

Explore its serene shade-dappled grounds, and you'll find three signers of the Declaration of Independence - Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine.

Granary Burial Ground - Paul ReverePaul Revere is here, along with the five Boston Massacre victims and many Revolutionary War veterans.

Wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, who built Faneuil Hall and donated it to the city in 1742, is here (with his name Anglicized, or perhaps just misspelled, as "Funel").

So are Benjamin Franklin's parents, 9 Massachusetts governors, and Judge Samuel Sewall, who presided over witchcraft trials.

In fact, the 21 foot granite obelisk placed over the tomb holding Franklin's parents and other relatives leads many people to mistakenly believe that Ben Franklin is also here. 

Unfortunately, the remains of this native son are elsewhere.

Be Careful Where You Step (Really)

A Boston tourist visiting Granary Burying Ground literally stepped into history on a cold January day in 2009 when the ground gave way beneath her and she plunged, hip-deep, into a hidden granite stairwell leading to an underground crypt about 30 feet from Paul Revere's tombstone. 

Fortunately, she wasn't hurt.  The unmarked 8' x 12' crypt may contain the remains of Jonathan Armitage, who died in 1738, according to records at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Apparently the stairwell had been covered at some earlier time with a piece of slate and covered with dirt.  At some point, the slate broke and enough dirt seeped into the crack to hold up the slate . . . but not permanently.

Restoration is now complete.  Unless you know exactly where to look, you can no longer tell that the ground has been disturbed during this century.

 

Momento Mori

Look farther among the 2,345 gravestones and 204 tombs, and you'll see 17th century stones carved with elaborate letters, death's heads, and fruits of paradise. As many as 8,000 men, women, and children are believed to have been buried in this old but beautiful Boston cemetery.

Granary Burial Ground - Boston Freedom Trail site

The oldest tombstone belongs to John Wakefield and is dated 1667.

The oldest inscription on a horizontal marker commemorates Hannah Allen, who also died in 1667 at age 21. The words on her tombstone, believed to be the first stone marker of this sort placed within the burial ground, read:

     Stay! thou this tomb that passeth by,
     And think how soon that thou may'st die:
     If sex, or age, or virtue bright
     Would have prolong'd to these, it might,
     Though virtue made not death to stay:
     Yet turn'd it was to be their way.
     And if with them thou wouldst be blest,
     Prepare to dye before thou rest.

Numerous gravestones have crumbled and decayed.  Many of the earliest markers were made from wood, and they've long since disappeared. The remaining stone markers have been rearranged at least a couple of times to make pathways and better landscaping effects.

 

Overcrowding Underground

Developed on what was then a corner of Boston Common because of overcrowding at the "old" burying ground next to King's Chapel, which you can see down the street, Granary Burying Ground was the city's third cemetery.

Granary Burial Ground GateOriginally known as New Burying Ground or South Burying Ground, it started being called Granary Burying Ground as early as 1737 because of the Old Granary located next door, which was moved in 1809 to make way for Park Street Church.

Sometimes visitors think that Granary Burying Ground is linked in some way to the church, but it is not.

A striking, although decidedly uncolonial, feature is the Egyptian-style gateway.  This was designed in 1840 by Boston sculptor and architect Solomon Willard, designer of the Bunker Hill Monument.

Granary Burying Ground became crowded by the 18th century. In 1740, a petition for more space from John Chambers and other gravediggers complained that they were having to bury bodies "four deep."   Most burials were prohibited after 1856.

 

Other Interesting Occupants

In addition to its well-known citizens, Granary Burying Ground also contains the mortal remains of lesser-known Bostonians.

Here are a couple of favorites:

  • Anne Pollard arrived as a 10 year old, part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony group that came to the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630.  Once they finally reached shore, she leapt ashore from the boat's bow - the first English girl to set foot in what would become Boston.  During the course of her long and eventful life, she raised numerous children, smoked a pipe, operated the raucous Horse Shoe Tavern alone after her husband died, and had her portrait painted at 103.  (A reproduction hangs in the Old South Meeting House.)  She finally died 2 years later at 105, mourned by over 100 descendants.

  • Elisha Brown organized his fellow tenants in Manufactory House, located at 120 Tremont, when the occupying British Army ordered them to vacate so that troops could be quartered there.  He and the other tenants refused to comply, and barricaded the building.  Finally the Redcoats went away after a 17-day siege, and instead, camped out in the mud on Boston Common.

 

Why visit Granary Burying Ground?

If you have any interest in old graveyards, old tombstones, or the final resting places of American revolutionary heroes, you'll find this burying ground fascinating.

Tour Guide - Granary Burial GroundYou can explore quickly, looking at just the marked sites - or linger longer, discovering 17th century inscriptions for Boston's early citizens.

Save some time for reading the signs . . . they have lots of details.

Many tours stop at this historic site. The guides, often excellent actors and historians, provide fascinating details about early Boston life and death.

If you have time to tour only one Boston graveyard, you may want it to be the Granary Burying Ground because of all of the historical connections.  Plus it's a lovely, peaceful spot - even just a few moments there will make you forget that you're in the center of a large city. 

 

Insider Tips

Granary Burial Ground - Samuel AdamsA Boston visitor recently asked this great question:  "Why are there small stones on top of Samuel Adams' gravestone and other graves here?"

In case you're wondering also, here's the answer: 

Placing the stones on top of gravestones originated as a Jewish tradition. The stones represent permanence.

A lot of people, whether or not they're Jewish, place stones on top of graves in Boston cemeteries to signify that someone visited the grave site.   It's similar to putting flowers on a grave, except that the stones don't wilt or die.   Also, here in Boston you can place stones when the weather is too cold for flowers.

More to check out:

 

Details and Directions

Open: 9 am - 5 pm; free of charge
Location: Tremont Street, near Park Street Intersection, Downtown Boston
Closest T station: Red and Green Lines/Park Street
For more information: Call 617-635-4505

 

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