Town of Bethlehem Connecticut
YARD OF OLD BETHLEHEM
WHERE LIES THE DUST OF MANY PUBLIC SPIRITS"
Some of the epitaphs are in the form of admonition to the living to reform their ways that they may die in peace - the Rev. Joseph Bellamy's stone.
Beneath the roots
of tangled weeds,
Article written by Harry E. Abbott, Bethlehem, September 11, 1911, for The American
On a hillside which slopes slightly to the east, about a mile north of the center of Bethlehem, is an old burying ground, full of interest to those who trace their ancestry back to those sturdy pioneer men who came from Farmington, Litchfield, and other nearby settlements, to carve out for themselves homes in the wooded hilltops of the "North Purchase," which was at that time a part of "ancient Woodbury" and afterwards in 1787, was set aside by the General Assembly as a township and called for many years "Bethlem".
Lying just south of the hilly road which, running east and west, intersects the Bantam Lake Turnpike to the eastward and has for its western terminal the township of Washington, this old graveyard is situated in such a manner that from any point with its enclosing walls, a beautiful view of the surrounding hills may be had. To the north, especially, is the view attractive, for lying snugly gripped between abrupt sloping meadows and wooded banks, lies for a stretch of fully a mile, the beautiful shining water of Long Meadow, a pond which, touching the roadway near the old cemetery, extends northward across the Bethlehem line into the township of Morris.
In the early days before Bethlehem was a town, the houses of the first settlers were strewn along the above mentioned road, which runs from east to west across the present township. To the east where William Howe now lives stood a tavern, owned by a man named Camp, on what was then called the "Litchfield and New Haven turnpike,: and an old tavern sign used to swing from a post set near this corner, inviting the traveler to stop for a "Bite" to eat or a sip off old Jamaica rum. The old tavern is still standing - and is used for a dwelling house. Across the road stands a building with a long sloping roof, now used for a barn but in those days occupied by one Roswell Eggleston - a post-rider who came all the way from Hartford each week bringing the Hartford Courant into the country whereabouts. On the corner now owned by Homer Waldron, lived Jonathan Steel, one of the first settlers of the town and in the square formed by the intersecting of the four roads at this point, stood an old school house with a huge stone chimney where in those by-gone days, nearly 100 pupils were wont to attend the long winter session - the only session of the year - and learn the rudiments of the simple education which sufficed for every day people of that period. Today the brick school house which stands on the same corner, built just previous to the Civil War is deserted and the few children of the neighborhood travel nearly a mile westward and attend Kasson District School. An old resident says that between the Watertown town line and the Kasson School, which stands east of Long Meadow Pond, there were at one time seven dwelling houses, all of which have since fallen into decay and disappeared. Such was the early settlement along this road when the plot of ground now known as "the old cemetery" was chosen as a fitting place to establish "God's Acre" and within its sacred borders rest the remains of many, if not all, of these pioneer settlers.
What is known as the oldest house in Bethlehem, the Myron Kasson place, now occupied by Joseph Hunt, stands less than half a mile estward from this cemetery, and the first sermon preached in what is now the town of Bethlehem was delivered by the Rev. Joseph Bellamy, then aged 20, on November 2, 1738, in a barn near the northeast corner of the meadow a few rods south of the Kasson Schoolhouse and within sight of where the first minister's remains now repose.
Few people today visit this little post of ground on the hillside, for 50 years at least, the dead have gathered into a beautiful new cemetery situated just south of the Center of Bethlehem and as the older families in town have died off or their descendants moved away only occasionally have persons visited the old burying-ground to care for the graves therein - and almost unconsciously it had become to a certain extent neglected until recently the "town fathers" came to its rescue and with the help of many public spirited citizens, cleared away the brush and weeds which hid in places the old sagging tombstones and restored the sacred place to a presentable appearance.
The old-fashioned habit of planting flowers on the graves of the departed loved ones, had its results in this old graveyard, for in the spring time the graves in a goodly portion of the enclosure are amass of fragrant lily-of-the-valley and sweet old-fashioned roses, while lilac bushes grown unheeded and unchecked and here the happy school children are wont to go on Sunday and gather handfuls or even armfuls of fragrant flowers.
A visit to this quiet spot will prove interesting not only to the Bethlehemite who may have some forebears lying therein, but also the causal observer who may enjoy reading the quaint epitaphs on the old brown headstones, with their death heads and willow sprays chiseled in sharp relief, or to ponder on the bits of local history which may be gathered from these old stones.
Perhaps the grave most pointed out to the stranger who may desire to visit this spot, is the grave of Rev. Joseph Bellamy, near the center of the cemetery. Recently the old stone which was in the form of a horizontal slab, supported slightly above the ground by several stones and which in the last 100 years had become so worn by the elements that the inscription was partly illegible was replaced by a new polished stone bearing the simple inscription "Rev. Joseph Bellamy, D.D., 1719-1790 - Frances Sherman, his wife, 1722-1785, - Jonathan, their son, 1752-1777.
The old stone has been taken to the center of the town where it will be preserved and placed in the vestibule of the Congregational Church, of which Dr. Bellamy was the first pastor, and from whose pulpit were preached those remarkable theological doctrines which together with the utterances of Jonathan Edwards, stirred the religious thought of New England and the world at a time when theology was considered much more seriously than today by the people of our country.
The old tombstone and the Bellamy pulpit, both reposing in the stately Congregational Church, will prove the Mecca of many theological students from the seminaries of our country for years to come. The inscription on the old Bellamy tombstone as deciphered by Percy Coe Eggleston of New London reads: "In memory of Revd. Joseph Bellamy, D.D. First pastor of the church in Bethlehem. He died March 6, 1790 in the seventy-second year of his age, and in the fiftieth year of his ministry.
Mark the single grave of Dr. Zephaniah Hull and his wife Hannah, "who departed this life November 10 AD, 1760" aged 32 and 29 respectively, at a time when "The Great Sickness" fell with terrible effect upon the town and people died faster than they could be buried. Dr Hull was the eldest son of Dr. John and Sarah Hull of Cheshire and was born August 15, 1728. He came from a family noted for their medical skill, for his grandfather was Dr. Benjamin Hull and his great-grandfather, Dr. John Hull. His eldest son Titus was a surgeon, serving during the Revolutionary War, afterward practicing in New York State, and he was the father of two sons, Laureus and Charles, who were also physicians. Dr Zephanian Hull married Hannah, daughter of Moses and Lydia Doolittle of Cheshire, March 28, 1749, and soon afterward moved to Bethlehem where thy lived in the house east of the present center of the town, now occupied by Jonathan Wooten. Dr. Hull was a great friend of Dr. Bellamy and was recognized as a man of high character and great influence, both as physician and citizen.
Blessed are the
dead who died in the Lord,
Near the grave of Dr. Bellamy is that of the Rev. John Langdon, who died February 28, 1830 aged 43. Mr. Langdon was a great scholar and conducted as did Dr. Bellamy and his successor the Rev. Azel Backus, an advanced school for students in the old parsonage which used to stand opposite the Post Office on the Hull property. The building now stands south of the Methodist church where it is used as a tenement. Dr. Bellamy and Mr. Langdon were the only ministers whose remains are interred in this sacred place.
One interesting stone near the grave of these ministers of the gospel is that marking the resting place of a 17 year old youth, a student who attended Dr. Backus' school and who died in "Bethlem". It is said that he was a youth of great promise and for his age a splendid scholar. The inscription on the stone is in faultless Latin and reads: Exuviae Mortales D. Matthel Ward Tilghman, Optimae spei juvenis, Et Morum suavitate ac virtute praediti: Qui studiis liberlibus meundis, Longe a domo, morte fuit peremtus: Obiit 25 Decembris 1808 aetat 17. Pater ejus Lloyd Tilghmande Maryland Moereus Hoc Salum Memorialse simulae higubre Hic ad sepulchrum fili denan Ergi deponique curavit.
The oldest stone in the cemetery which can be deciphered is that of "Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Garnsey, Sr. who dies AD 1753 aged 77. This is an ordinary stone whose inscription is almost obliterated by a century and a half of contact with sun and rain. There are many graves undoubtedly older than this one as many of the inscriptions on the old stones are now entirely gone.
One stone near the entrance, is interesting, in that it marks the place where Simeon Gitteau, the great-grandfather of Charles J. Guitteau (as later spelt) who shot President Garfield, lies buried. Francis and Joshua Gitteau were among the first dozen settlers of the North Purchase coming from the "First Society" in Woodbury. They lived in the western part of town and the tombstone mentioned is that of one of their descendants. That Simeon Gitteau was a God-fearing, charitable man is attested by the inscription on the headstone to his grave, which reads: In memory of Mr. Simeon Gitteau Who died May 29, 1815 age 64 and who bequeathed to the Church of Christ in Bethlehem the sum of $333.34, the annual interest of which is to be appropriated to the support of the gospel ministry in Bethlehem May his memory for this be respected; May others follow his example and be beloved.
The two small stones of slate which attract attention upon entering the gate, because they are so close together and alike, reveal to those who are acquainted with early Bethlehem history, a sad epoch in the annals of the town. The stones referred to Hull and his wife both died November 10, 1760, and were buried in the same grave. Two of their children, Hannah and Sarah, died the same day. Their daughter Lydia used to tell the following peculiar story of "The Great Sickness" which ravaged the town. Soon after her parents' deaths, during the afternoon of the same day, a flock of quail were seen to fly over the garden near the house and all of them fell to the ground. In a few minutes three rose and flew away and the rest were found dead, overcome by the malignant death which seemed to permeate the air. The family always looked on the occurrence as a prophetic sign, when only three of all the family who were sick at the time recovered. Stories about "The Great Sickness" are still told by the older folk of Bethlehem.
Besides Dr. Hull, several other members of the medical profession, who were early practitioners in Bethlehem, lie buried in the cemetery. There was "Dr. Phineas Meigs, who died August 12, 1805, aged 45," "Dr. Benjamin Hawley, who departed this life September 12, 1813 aged 70", "Donald Catlin, MD, who died June 22, 1830, aged 41," and "Lyman Caitlin, MD, who died December 23, 1836, aged 45 years."
Near the wall overlooking the roadway, is a single white slab which gives more family history on its surface than is usual with tombstones. It reads: In memory of Mr. Samuel Church one of the first settlers of this Town. He was a prosperous man and well respected. He died Dec. 1 AD 1776, 45 years. Mrs. Sara Bradley formerly wife of Samuel Church with whom she lived 21 years and by whom she had nine children. She lived a pious useful and exemplary life and dies as she lived Nov. 2 AD 1806, aged 86. The children of Sam'l and Sarah Church were - Esther, Born November 5, 1741 / Joshua, born April 3, 1744 / Jerusha, born October 14, 1745 / Sarah, born August 31, 1748 / Betty, born August 31, 1750 / Samuel, born September 7, 1752 / Ebenezer, born August 29, 1754 / Nathaniel, born November 14, 1756 / Amy, born July 24, 1759. So the monument stands in mute illustration of the fact that large families were not uncommon in those early pioneer days.
Not far from the last mentioned stone is one which reads: In memory of Col. Robert Hannah who died March 29, 1822 Aged 61 years. This stone is flanked on either side by stones marking the graves of Col. Hannah's two wifes, each of whom was names Jerusha McKane, his second wife being the niece of the first wife. Col. Robert Hannah served during the Revolutionary War under Washington and Mrs. Julia Ames of Bethlehem, who is 80 years old and the granddaughter of Col. Hannah, tells the following incident which occurred during her grandfather's service in the Continental Army near New York. "Col. Hannah was one day detailed with a detachment of light horse cavalry to go on a reconnoitering expedition. Riding along, Col. Hannah and one of the troopers came to a wild cherry tree by the roadside, loaded with fruit and while his companion held his horse, Hannah proceeded to climb the tree and pass down some of the cherries. From his lofty perch he suddenly discovered British troopers approaching and shouting, "The British are coming!" He sprang from the tree to his horse and off they started to find their companions. They rode up a sharp hill and down the other side, the British close in their rear. At the foot of this hill was a bridge partly hidden by trees and under this they dashed unseen by their pursuers who galloped overhead. When evening had passed, the two troopers came out and rode after, thinking to warn their comrades, but seeing the small numbers of the British who numbered only six, they determined to capture them, and riding along at top speed and shouting commands as though at the head of a body of troops, Col. Hannah and his companions surprised the British who surrendered." Nearly all the able bodied men of Bethlehem at the time of the Revolution enlisted in the Continental Army, and many of them are buried in the hillside cemetery.
To those interested in old epitaphs, there are of course many quaint and original ones on the headstones within this enclosure that make their appeal. Some of them are of a mournful note and are meant to bring the matter of inevitable death to the attention of the living. One reads: Farewell my friends and children dear, Prepare to meet me in silence here. Here I a pilgrim weary rest have found In the precincts of the grave low in the ground." This inscription is on the stone marking the grave of "Polly, wife of Ephraim Doolittle, who died February 18, 1857, age 77." This one over the grave of Salome, wife of Edmund Thomson, who died February 7, 1822, at the youthful age of 25, is characteristic of many other inscriptions on different stones: Farewell my friend and child most dear, Don't leave a sigh or shed a tear For God is just to what he will, Tis he alone your wounds will heal. A warning is meant to be conveyed by the epitaph on the tombstone of "Selina C. Kasson, eldest daughter of George D. Kasson, esq., who died April 9, 1809: The grass when dead revives no more We die to live again Beware lest (?) death should be the door to everlasting pain". Her father "George D. Kasson, Esq., who died June 5, 1828, aged 65" has the following verse: Far from this world of toil and care His happy soul has fled. His breathless clay shall slumber here Till Christ shall raise the dead. "Squire" Kasson was for 20 years the faithful clerk of the "East, North Middle School District in Bethlehem," and the records of this school which today is called "the Kasson School," commenced in the year 1798 and are splendidly written by the quill pen of George D. Kasson.
A familiar inscription is that over the grave of "Miss Olive, daughter of Mr. Daniel and Mrs. Anna Steel, who died July 26, 1774, in the 18th year of her age:: Ye young, ye gay, attend this speaking stone, Think of her fate and tremble at your own, For Death's a debt to nature due Which she has paid and so must you.
The oldest person buried in this grave yard as found recorded on the stones was Sally Smith, who died July 10, 1861, aged 100. The grave is in the southeaster corner of the cemetery.
On the stone marking the grave of Julia, wife of Levi T. Knox, who died May 4, 1856, aged 23, is a square chiseled hole in which at its erection and for many years after, a daguerreotype of the deceased reposed after a custom which prevailed in some sections at that time.
It would not be right to bring this description of interesting personages to a close without speaking of the monument of Gideon Atwood, the bachelor, who left the town of Bethlehem a legacy of $1,505. The monument is rather an elaborate one for its day, and bears on three of its sides the following length inscription which speaks for itself: In memory of Gideon Atwood Who died Feb. 9, 1827 Aged 85 "Honest and industrious and frugal, he lived and died a bachelor. During his life he made a donation of $1,000 to the Congregational Society for the support of the gospel ministry and by his last will he gave $500 to the Episcopal Society in Bethlehem, toward the erection of a church and after many sundry legacies to his friends and those who administered to his comfort in his old age, he gave the rest of his estate to the town of Bethlehem, to be permanent fund by the name of 'The Atwood Fund' - thus providing a support of the poor for years to come. This monument was erected by his administrator, D.B. Brins made agreeable to his last will." Mention might be well made of Gen. David Bird, David Ambler, Esq., Amos Lake, Barnard Brusie, Col. Fletcher Prudden, Deacon Phineas Crane and a score of other men who served their country, their state and their town in a patriotic and able manner, and now rest in this little-frequented spot, the work which they did in the interest of the town in which and for which they labored, being a more lasting monument that of the town in which and for which they labored, being a more lasting monument than any stone, however graven, but space forbids. To those who would honor these worthy men a pilgrimage to this old cemetery would undoubtedly prove interesting. "Beneath these tottering slabs of slate Whose tribute, moss and mold efface, Sleeps the calm dust that made us great. The true sub stratum of our race!"
NOTE: A complete list of people interred in the Old Cemetery on Bellamy Lane and the Carmel Hill Cemetery is available at the Bethlehem Public Library. These lists were made in 1934 and are called the Hale Report. Also available here.