You have to be a certified history nut to enjoy visiting an old cemetery like Boston’s Granary Burying Ground, but this place oozes with history, sometimes literally. Built on what was once a lowland swamp, the graves are particularly shallow, many only 20 inches below the surface. Graves were not dug any deeper due to the high water table. Over the cemetery’s long history there have been occasions where human remains have popped up above the surface. Our own Freedom Trail tour guide relayed a story where a boy pulled a skull from the ground and chased him around the cemetery. In January 2009 the ground gave way under one poor tourist who fell hip deep into a previously undiscovered crypt.
It’s no wonder that bones surface from time to time as 4,610 bodies were buried in the small cemetery prior to 1831. As seen in the picture above most tombs in the Granary are below ground. Tombs held multiple bodies, sometimes with different families agreeing to share one tomb.
The Granary dates back to 1660, and was once part of the Boston Common. It got the name “Granary” due to the granary (storehouse for threshed grain) located near the graveyard. What makes the Granary Burying Ground special is the number of Revolutionary War icons that are buried within. John Hancock, famous for leading the colonies to revolt against Great Britain and signing the Declaration of Independence, is buried in the Granary.
While Benjamin Franklin is buried in Philadelphia, his father and mother are buried in the Granary. Josiah and Abiah Franklin’s grave was found and marked long after their deaths in 1744 and 1752.
Paul Revere also is buried in the Granary along with much of his family. Paul was twice married and had fourteen children, nine of which lived into adulthood. Revere died in May of 1818.
Samuel Adams is also buried in the Granary as well as the five victims of the Boston Massacre. Other notable Revolutionary figures laid to rest in the Granary include James Otis, Jeremiah Gridley, and Robert Treat Paine.
The Granary Burying Grounds is maintained through the City of Boston’s Historic Burying Grounds Initiative (HBGI). Boston has done an amazing job of preserving these historic cemeteries and is home to sixteen historic burial grounds. Much more can be learned about these cemeteries’ history and the people buried there through the HBGI’s website and monthly newsletter.