Old Burial Ground in South Natick
A great deal of the history of South Natick was made by the folks whose graves are marked in the Old Burial Ground that was created nearly 290 years ago, just north of the present-day Eliot Church at the juncture of Eliot and Union streets.
You can easily recognize some of the family names on the heavily weathered grave markers: Peabody, Alger, Badger, Bacon, Morse, Sawin, Stowe and Bigelow, to mention a few.
The original one-acre plot for the Old Burial Ground was given by the village to its minister in 1731. It’s a convenient site that was close to the original meeting house of the “Praying Indians” that was built in South Natick, at the bend in the Charles River, in 1651.
The Natick Indian Proprietors transferred the plot to “Rev. Oliver Peabody and the English, for a burial ground forever.” Peabody was a Harvard College graduate who preached in the Natick church from 1721 until his death in 1752, during the time when the Algonquian residents of Natick sold most of their land to the English (to pay debts and for other reasons), and the “Praying Indian” population declined. Peabody and his family are buried in the Old Burial Ground.
The earliest known interment is in the family plot of David Morse: “Here Lyes Buried the Body of Mehettable Dyer, aged 30 years. Decd June ye 11th, 1733.”
Many inscriptions on the grave markers are old-fashioned, taking such forms as intense sentimental poetic verses and lengthy messages in Latin. Some were overwhelmingly emotional, like this memorial to an 11-year-old boy who died in 1819:
“The body drowned beneath the wave
Was hurried to the insatiate grave;
The soul, pure spark of heavenly flame,
Returned to God from whence it came.”
Some inscriptions offered “rapturous joys of endless blessedness,” like this one placed by a husband on his wife’s grave in 1784:
“Sleep on my friend and take your rest,
To call you home God thought it best.”
A number of 18th century names on Old Burial Ground markers are curious, to say the least. Today, we really don’t bump into too many folks with names like Hephzibah, Medora, Lerniah, Pardon, Lampetia, Euphamia, Olynda, and Josephame.
Among the notables buried here is Rev. Horatio Alger, who was the father of Horatio Alger Jr., the famous 19th century author. Rev. Alger also was the first president of the Historical, Natural History and Library Society of South Natick (which we now call, more simply, the Natick Historical Society).
The site was expanded in the middle of the 19th century, and in June 1850 the “Association for Improving the South Natick Burial Ground” was formed. A successor association was incorporated in 1913, and in 1973 Natick selectmen voted to assume responsibility for maintenance of the historic site.
Selected sources and additional reading:
Natick Historical Society collections.