Thursday, October 27, 2011

Point of Graves

The Point of Graves burial ground is on the south side of Mechanic Street, opposite Prescott Park, between Marcy Street and the Pierce Island Bridge.

Elizabeth Pike - Died 1719

John Pickering owned the South End of Portsmouth during the mid-1600s. His lands extended along the shoreline roughly from Mechanic Street to the South Mill Pond. Locals called the area “Pickering’s Neck”. 
Captain Tobias Lear IV - Died 1781

When John Pickering died in 1669, his oldest son, Captain John Pickering II, buried him in this plot of land near the Piscataqua River.

Two years later, he donated the burial ground to the town, with the stipulation that he and his heirs could continue to use the land to feed their cattle.

Sarah Macphaedris - died 1719

During Portsmouth’s bustling shipyard days, warehouses and wharves surrounded Point of Graves. Later, the shoreline here became a seedy, rundown slum filled with brothels, tenements, and bars. The graveyard fell into disrepair.

Joseph Small - Died 1720

In his book, An Old Town by the Sea, published in 1909, Thomas Bailey Aldrich describes the Point of Graves as “an odd-shaped lot, comprising about half an acre, enclosed by a crumbling red brick wall two or three feet high, with wood capping. The place is overgrown with thistles, rank grass, and fungi; the black slate headstones have mostly fallen over; those that make a pretense of standing slant to every point of the compass . . ."

That is exactly how Point of Graves looked in the 1902 picture below, untidy and unkempt, with warehouses and shops in the background:

Finding the correct angle to match the photograph from C. S. Gurney's book was a challenge. I determined that the photographer took the picture from the east side of the cemetery with his camera pointing west, towards Marcy Street. I took my 2011 photograph from approximately the same location.

These days the Point of Graves burial ground is well-maintained by the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee of Portsmouth. Visitors enter through a turnstile that was installed to keep cattle out. Signs highlight some of the more interesting gravestones in this old plot of land.

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