Founders Burial Ground

The Founders Burial Ground is a small plot of land located off Cliff Road and overlooking Maxcey’s Pond and contains two markers. It is unknown if more stones have been buried through time.

The main memorial, with the names of some of the island’s first male European settlers, is situated on the plot. The text of this memorial reads:

ERECTED A.D. 1881. BY
A DESCENDANT OF THE FIRST
SETTLERS OF NANTUCKET
IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHOSE REMAINS
ARE BURIED ON THIS HALLOWED SPOT
WHERE STOOD THE FIRST CHURCH
GATHERED HERE IN 1711,
SINCE REMOVED TO WHERE IT
NOW STANDS AS THE VESTRY OF THE
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL SOCIETY.
1609 – TRISTAM COFFIN – 1681
1598 – THOMAS MACY – 1682.
1604 – EDWARD STARBUCK – 1690
1617 – PETER FOLGER – 1690.
1624 – JOHN GARDNER – 1706
1664 – JOHN SWAIN. JR. – 1738.
1644 – JOHN COLEMAN – 1715.
1626 – RICHARD GARDNER – 1688.
1598 – CHRISTOPHER HUSSEY – 1686.
1640 – WILLIAM BUNKER – 1712.

Also on the site is a replica of John Gardner’s stone; the original was replaced in 1881 when Tristram Coffin raised funds to have a replica made. The original resides with the Nantucket Historical Association.

History

Reportedly, the first legal records mention of the “forefather’s burial ground” date from 1838:

“I mention that the ancient burial ground of our forefathers, the first settlers of this Island, at the eastward of Macy’s Pond (So called) which is about three hundred feet square, be reserved as a sacred spot and that the same shall not be laid out by the Proprietors of the common and undivided land on the Island of Nantucket to any individual, company or individuals hereafter and that the same shall not be appropriated for any other purpose and any set of men that have mind to enclose the same with a fence be permitted so to do.” (Record of the proprietors April 12, 1838. Recorded by Peter F. Ewer. Registry of Deeds, Nantucket, Mass.)

It is uncertain how long there has been only one stone in this burying ground. In Nantucket Scraps, by Jane Austin, copyrighted 1882, it is noted that “the only visible proofs remaining are one stone with its legend quite obliterated [the Gardner stone], and another in tolerable preservation” (p. 43). An article in the Weekly Mirror (November 29, 1851) states that only a “single dilapidated monument still remains” [the Gardner stone], but notes that three others were there within memory, that of Prince Coffin, Peter Folger, and John Jepson. Whether the stones have been stolen or covered over with the buildup of time is uncertain.

The Nantucket Historical Association was made the official trustee for this cemetery by the Nantucket Board of Selectmen at the June 20th, 1973 meeting.

 

At the April 23, 2008 meeting of the Nantucket Board of Selectmen, it was decided to officially name this site the”Founder’s Burial Ground.”

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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