Dead Men (and Women) Tell a Tale

Burgess Family PlotWhen I was in elementary school, my class went on a field trip to the Old Village Cemetery in Dedham, Massachusetts, my hometown. I remember running around trying to complete tasks, such as finding the earliest death date and the oldest age listed on a headstone, as well as doing several grave rubbings. Though I’m sure there was a history lesson embedded somewhere in the chaos of twenty nine-year-olds running amok in a cemetery, I have long since forgotten it. What has stayed with me, however, is a love for older cemeteries.

A couple of weeks ago, after watching the Halloween movie Hocus Pocus, and now fully in the Halloween spirit, I decided to visit the cemetery for the first time in several years. While walking through, I came across a plot for the Burgess family.

Burgess MonumentThe progenitor of the Burgess family in Dedham appeared to be Ebenezer Burgess, who was born on 1 April 1790 and died on 5 December 1870. What struck me about Ebenezer’s headstone was how detailed it was; his profession, Pastor of the First Church of Dedham, was listed on his monument, as was his birthplace in Wareham, Massachusetts. The monument also includes the maiden name of Ebenezer’s wife, Abigail Bromfield Phillips, and her birthplace (Boston) along with her dates of birth and death.

The headstones of the descendants of Ebenezer and Abigail (Phillips) Burgess, which flank the monument, were also surprisingly informative. The front of each headstone listed the name of the deceased, including the maiden names of the wives of the Burgess sons along with dates of birth and death. The back of each headstone included names of parents, and in one instance, a birthplace.

Edward Phillips BurgessEdward Phillips Burgess and his wife, Mary (Burgess) Burgess, are buried side by side in the Burgess portion of the cemetery. His headstone gives his birthdate (28 June 1827), and death date (17 July 1901), and the back of his headstone declares him to be the son of Ebenezer Burgess and Abigail Bromfield Phillips.

The headstone of Edward’s wife, Mary (Burgess) Burgess, is very similar to that of her husband. The back of her headstone declares her the wife of Edward Phillips Burgess, as well the daughter of “John Kingsbury and Mary Mackie Burgess of Providence, R.I.”

John Kingsbury BurgessThough headstones can sometimes contain extensive genealogical information like those found on the Burgess headstones, I have come across very few headstones with this level of detail. As these headstones, and now the Burgess family, interested me, I started researching the family.

As it turns out, Ebenezer Burgess (1790-1870) was not just a minister; he was also an author. In 1865, he published a book entitled Burgess Genealogy: Memorial of the Family of Thomas and Anthony Burgess, Who Were Settled at Sandwich, in the Plymouth Colony, in 1637. In the introduction to the genealogy, which comprises more than 4,600 descendants of the immigrant Thomas, Ebenezer Burgess writes: “this department of research will be chiefly left to filial affection. Few, except the immediate kindred, can be expected to feel much interest in the lineage of a particular family. Curiosity can hardly be excited in the stranger, and the love of general knowledge does not find itself repaid.”

Perhaps it was Ebenezer’s interest in genealogy that led to such interesting and detailed headstones in the Old Village Cemetery, as a way to continue the Burgess genealogy. However these headstones came to be, they certainly sparked an interest in a family I have no (known) connection to, something Ebenezer Burgess clearly never expected.

Katrina Fahy

About Katrina Fahy

Katrina, a native of Dedham, Massachusetts, earned a B.A. in History and Art History from St. Anselm College. Previously, she interned at the New Hampshire Historical Society, constructing biographies of New Hampshire quilt makers as well as transcribing a mid-nineteenth century New Hampshire diary and creating an educational program based on its contents. Katrina's research interests include New England and South East regions, as well as the American Revolution.View all posts by Katrina Fahy