History

The Ancient Burying Ground is the oldest historic site in Hartford, and the only one surviving from the 1600s. From 1640, four years after the arrival of the first English settlers, down until the early 1800s, it was Hartford’s first and foremost graveyard. During that period anyone who died in town, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic background, economic status, or religious faith, was interred here. The oldest gravestone is believed to be that for Timothy Stanley, who died in 1648.

Approximately 6,000 men, women, and children are believed to have been interred in the Ancient Burying Ground, which was originally considerably larger than it is today. Over the centuries commercial buildings, as well as the First Congregational meeting house, were erected on Burying Ground land, whittling it down it to its present size of four acres.

Since gravestones were expensive, the vast majority of people interred in the Ancient Burying Ground – perhaps as many as 90 per cent – never had one to mark their final resting place. In 1835 there were 563 stones in the Ancient Burying Ground; by 1877, 526 stones were left. Today, approximately 415 stones still stand.

Efforts to preserve the Ancient Burying Ground began with an 1836 campaign spearheaded by Daniel Wadsworth, whose father, Jeremiah. was one of the last to be buried here. As part of that project, a concrete obelisk, faced with brownstone inscribed with the names of the first settlers of Hartford, was erected.

In 1896 the Ruth Wyllys Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution significantly improved the site, had it enclosed with a wrought-iron fence designed by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Meade, and White, and preserved and restored some stones. Emily Seymour Goodwin Holcombe spearheaded the project, which also included clearing away slums along adjacent Gold Street. “The Gold Street Lady,” as Mrs. Holcombe came to be known, was honored with the rare privilege of being laid to rest in the Ancient Burying Ground, along with her husband and daughter. The Ruth Wyllys Chapter’s interest in and support for the Ancient Burying Ground continue to this day.

In 1985 the Ancient Burying Ground Association, Inc., a private, non-profit group, launched an on-going restoration program.The Ancient Burying Ground has been dramatically improved as a site, while cutting-edge knowledge and techniques have been used to clean, preserve, restore, or entirely replicate more than 100 gravestones to date. The Founders’ Monument, as the obelisk erected in 1837 had come to be called, had deteriorated drastically. The Society of the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford replaced it in 1986 with a new obelisk of solid pink granite from Stony Creek, Connecticut, to commemorate Hartford’s 350th anniversary.