Who owns Nantucket’s cemeteries?

Some of the island’s cemeteries (Prospect Hill Cemetery, the Jewish Cemetery, St. Mary’s Cemetery, the ‘Sconset Columbarium, and St, Paul’s Memory Garden) are privately owned by churches and organization.

Nine are the responsibility of the Town of Nantucket and are managed by the Nantucket Cemetery Commission in cooperation with the Department of Public Works. These nine are the Founders Burial Ground, the Friends Burial Ground (Quaker Cemetery), the Miacomet Indian Burial Ground, the Quaise Asylum Burial Ground, the Historic Coloured Cemetery, Old North and New North Cemeteries, Newtown Cemetery, and the Polpis Cemetery. Of these, all but one are closed. That is, there are no longer any burial plots for purchase. The only cemetery where there are still available plots is the Polpis Cemetery, and these are for “cremains” (ashes from cremation) only.

The question of ownership of the town cemeteries remains open. They were once part of the Common and Undivided Land governed by the Proprietors. In the past, when the Proprietors approved the use of land for burials, they did not set them off to individuals, churches, or organizations. Hence the town cemeteries appear to constitute a collection of the last vestiges of the commons.

When the Polpis Cemetery is full, there will no longer be space for future burials except in the private cemeteries. The only solutions to this are for the town to find space in the existing closed cemeteries or designate another piece of its land as a new town cemetery.

For more about Nantucket’s cemeteries, see Frances Karttunen’s book, Nantucket Places and People 4: Underground, available from the NHA Museum shop.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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