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Documenting Middletown Gravestones

Fall 2020

Report by Nina Hirai (’23)

As course assistants for Professor Brunson’s class, ARCP204: Introduction to Archaeology, Nina and Nick designed a field trip to the Washington Street Cemetery on Vine Street in Middletown. The cemetery primarily contains 18th and 19th century graves of white residents of Middletown, but it also contains graves of several Black residents of the Beman Triangle. Due to the cemetery’s historical connection to the Black community in Middletown, we were fortunate to have Dr. Jesse Nasta, Director of the Middlesex Historical Society and member of the African American Studies Department, join us during our field trip. 

Following the classic study of New England gravestone seriation and dating by Dethlefsen and Deetz (1966), students worked in groups to observe how gravestones and their decorations changed through time. Our focus was a group of 18th century gravestones near the south end of the cemetery that are threatened by destruction due to erosion and other environmental causes. Students took photographs and measurements of gravestones, documented the state of the stones (whether they were heavily eroded, cracked, covered in moss, etc.), and even attempted to decipher the engravings on the stones, which proved to be quite difficult! Students collected crucial information about the people buried there, noting names, dates, ages, and even familial relationships. As a result, we have been able to start compiling photographs and data that will be shared with the Middlesex Historical Society to help preserve information before it erodes away.

Related Sites:

Learn more about The Beman Triangle

Learn more about The Washington Street Cemetery

Works Cited:

Dethlefsen, E., & Deetz, J. (1966). Death’s Heads, Cherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental Archaeology in Colonial Cemeteries. American Antiquity, 31(4), 502-510. doi:10.2307/2694382