|Old Hill Burying Ground, Concord MA|
|Site of America's first European settlement away from tidewater, Old Hill, looming above Concord's Monument Square, is now one of America's oldest cemeteries.|
Concord's first meetinghouse (church building) was constructed on this hill in 1636. Beside the building was the hamlet's first burying ground (cemetery).
A new meetinghouse was later built at the base of the hill (where the First Parish meetinghouse now stands), and the Old Hill Burying Ground was then expanded to cover most of the hill.
The Old Hill Burying Ground is open to visits all the time, for free. Just walk up on the hill and enjoy the peace, quiet, the eloquent old stones, and the view straight down Main Street and the center of Concord.
The Oldest Graves
The burying ground has about five hundred graves, some perhaps dating from shortly after Concord's settlement by English colonists in 1636.
According to the Cemetery Supervisor, the colonists may not have marked graves during the first four years of the settlement, or else they used wooden markers which have long since disappeared. After that, they may not have marked burials, not wishing for the nearby Indians to know how many Concordians had died.
The earliest identifiable grave is that of locksmith Joseph Merriam, buried here in 1677, at a time when the colonists decided there was no longer any danger from the Indians, who were friendly.
Why on This Hill?
This south-facing hillside may have been selected as a burying ground because the land was not good for cultivation, and its southern exposure to the sun meant that it was among the first places in the village to thaw in the spring. This allowed the earliest possible burial for those who had died during the winter when digging graves was not possible.
Why Two Burying Grounds?
According to town lore, it was looked upon as bad luck to transport a corpse across flowing water, so Concord soon established a second burying ground on the other side of the Mill Brook that runs through the center of town. The Old Hill Burying Ground came to be called the North Burying Ground, and the newer one on the opposite side of the Mill Brook by Keyes Road was the South Burying Ground.
Most of Concord's oldest graves are here in the Old Hill Burying Ground, including those of Revolutionary War heroes and other notables such as John Jack, an African-American resident of Concord. His grave is on the far (northern) side of the hill. The eloquent epitaph, ringing with history, was written by the Reverend Daniel Bliss, minister of the First Parish in Concord:
"God wills us free, man wills us slaves.
(See the photo of the gravestone in the right column on this page.)
Reverend Bliss (1714-1764) is also buried here. His grave is the lower of the two table-like rectangular tombs at the top of the hill.