The Missing Burial Ground

The Case of the Missing Burial Ground

Lesslie Road Burial Ground

Linebrook Parish, Old Ipswich, Massachusetts

Story by: Bruce Laing

Toward a comprehensive documentation of the greater Ipswich burial grounds

In 1935 Arthur Warren Johnson and Ralph Elbridge Ladd jr. wrote Momento Mori, a map and transcription of tombstones in the area of Ipswich, Massachusetts. It was published by the Ipswich Historical Society, and the introduction includes this statement:

 “It is hoped that this present study is but the first of a series which will, when completed, comprise a complete transcription, with the necessary charts, of all the ancient and modern burial places in greater Ipswich. All the material has been collected and is in manuscript form awaiting publication. It includes, beyond the material presented here (the Old North, or High Street Burial Yard of Ipswich) its continuation, the Highland Cemetery, the South Cemetery, the Locust Grove, and the three cemeteries of the Linebrook Parish. It also includes the burial yard of the second or Chebacco Parish of Ipswich, now Essex, and a portion of the Hamlet Parish, now Hamilton, in use when these towns were part of Ipswich, and the private cemetery of the Nourse family in Ipswich Village.”

This presents us, antiquarians reading the above as I first did in 2003, with several mysteries worthy of attention. First, where were the completed manuscripts of the tombstones in all the other burial grounds? Second, was the little noticed and poorly documented Highland Annex, where immigrants were buried, included in the manuscripts? Third, where in the world was the third Linebrook Parish Burying Ground located? One at a time…

First, where were the other manuscripts? After a year of muddling around, asking each other where they could be, Pat Tyler, the next President of the IHS, located the Chebacco Parish and Hamlet Parish manuscripts, and page one of the South Cemetery manuscript, in the archives at IHS headquarters in the Hurd House. Chances are, the other manuscripts are somewhere in the collection, and finding them would be the ultimate act of preservation of historical records.

Second, since we have not yet found the Highland Cemetery records, we cannot resolve whether or not the Annex tombstones were transcribed.

Third, we of course know all about the first and second Linebrook Parish cemeteries (Old Linebrook Cemetery and New Linebrook Cemetery), and now we have learned a great deal about the location of the 3rd Linebrook burial ground, not to mention who is likely buried there, and something about their lives, which will soon become clear, since it is the focus of this exposition.

What’s all the fuss?

I must digress a bit to explain how I came to be reading Momento Mori and stumbling into these esoteric questions. I became intrigued by the old burial grounds in greater Ipswich based on both personal and whimsical and tangible reasoning, which led me to begin some amateurish research into the background and contents of these sacred yards.

The personal story is as follows: several years ago, my father Carl sparked my interest in our family history by describing his frustrated attempts to track our lineage beyond his grandfather Andrew Laing, whom my father knew as a child. One thing led to another, and I began to collect bits and pieces of the story, facts and recollections. The seminal remembrance turned out to be Carl’s story about his Aunt Bean, whom he always associated with Campbell’s Pork & Bean’s. This odd combination of canned goods with a relative’s name stayed in the back of my mind along with names, birthdates, and other tidbits of family history, as I ordered up Death Certificates, combed through old records, and scoured internet web-sites for leads. Months went by, with no definitive results, when my strategy of surfing cemetery websites and analyzing every Laing ever interred within 25 miles of the earliest known family homestead of Cohoes, New York, paid off in a very exciting way. I located one Robina [Laing] Campbell in the Waterford Rural Cemetery — just across the Mohawk River from Cohoes — died and buried circa 1934. The nickname “Aunt Bean” immediately lit up in my brain, and bells rang. It was only a matter of several more months before I had worked backwards to connect Aunt Bean with a reputed family homestead in the area of Guelph, Ontario, where I repeated the 25 mile strategy and found 14 year-old Robina, with her little 3 year-old brother Andrew, my father’s grandfather, on the census record beside her. The rest, as they say, is history, and we now track our ancestors and generations of our family’s journey from the 1500’s in Roxburghshire, Scotland.

The whimsical story is: it is hard to explain the interest in tidying things up, seeing that we have some meaningful sense of what and who was here before us, why they were here, what they did. The idea had to do with understanding that we are all just “pilgrims on the road” — in the words of the great songwriter Steve Earle — and wanting to know and others who have traveled this way, and where they ended up, and maybe learning something from it. Honoring the dead for the lives that they led, for the pioneering that enabled us to be where we are and who we are. The interest in things antiquarian seems to aspire to give worthiness and meaning to our lives in much the same way that a novel only becomes a great novel when it steeps you in a sense of place and movement and leaves the meaning up to you.

In any event, the quest and the knowledge I have gained from my search into my own ancestors has provided me with a sense of place and movement, a depth and richness of spirit, a distant sense of eternity that grows within and around me, and that I could not have garnered any other way.

My research and this story is my lame attempt to give someone else the gift I found waiting for me on a web page someone else had been interested enough to post.

The 1st and 2nd Linebrook Parish Burial Grounds

The tangible reason I got interested… not far from my home, a short walk for me and the dogs on a quiet county road, there is a fine old cemetery snuggled behind a three foot ivy-covered stone wall, at a sharp turn in Linebrook Road, where branches Newbury Road branches off to the north. I have always as referred to it as the Old Linebrook Cemetery (OL), because it contains the earliest burials in the area, starting in 1725 and continuing mostly through the late 1800’s, sparsely thereafter up to the last two, one in 1933, and then one in 1959. It is a gently haunted place. The plot is only about 75 by 300 feet, the stones are every which way and several are entirely toppled or split, and the far edge drops off at a slight incline to a wetland area. The ground is moss-covered, there are several wide empty spaces. I am told that one inch of detritus accumulates every 25 years. Which means that if a flat slate tombstone erected in the 1700’s toppled in, say, 1905, it would be four inches under the surface in 2005. Given the appearance of the burial yard, this is a likely scenario.

So, the thought occurred to me that it might be useful to others if I digitized and uploaded to the internet a transcription of the tombstones herein, so others could find their ancestors, and perhaps benefit from a sense of place and movement, as I had. Besides, I reasoned, the charming old place was a pretty spot and would be as good a place as any to pass the warm afternoons of early Fall.

I consulted with Stephanie Gaskins, a friend and, at that time, the President of the IHS, getting both support and motivation. Over the next few months of 2003, I sought out existing documentation of the burials from town records and historical archives. Vital records of deaths do exist and are relatively comprehensive, but not perfect, and they do not note the location of burials, let alone provide transcriptions of the tombstones. So their were no records right at hand. I resolved to make good by doing the field work myself. I did, and after a few months had transcribed everything that was still readable. Sadly, about 25% of the tombstones were at least partly unreadable due to erosion.

When I visited the Ipswich Cemetery Department (ICD) in early 2004 to try to reconcile my findings, the head man, Jim Graffum, was welcoming and interested in the project. He pointed me across the office to several small, heavy-looking army-green file cabinets. The drawers literally creaked and groaned open. Inside was a treasure I have relied upon ever since. Fortunately, in the early 1930’s while the country was experiencing the unfortunate circumstances of the Great Depression, the government’s Works Project Administration (WPA) got the assignment of documenting tombstones here and there around the country, including Ipswich. The army-surplus file cabinets were full of 3×5 index cards, carefully typed on both sides, with names and transcriptions from the old days.

I was able to complete many of the OL transcriptions that had not been eroded in 1935; apparently — over the course of 79 years — acid rain damaged much more than trees… I was also able to add and reconcile details from the WPA index cards. Now, we have a fully digitized record of the burials in this cemetery, along with the records from four other cemeteries, and a vision to do the same for all the cemeteries in Ipswich, and then get all the information onto the Internet.

A bit further from my home, going east on Linebrook Road, is the New Linebrook Cemetery (NL), as I refer to it, since the first burial was in 1835; only 12 individuals are known to have been interred in the entire 1800’s. Most of the burials are from the 1900’s. This is also a small cemetery, about 50 by 300 feet. It is located where #305 Linebrook Road would be, if it was an address. It is also much tidier than the OL, tombstones stand upright and in identifiable rows, the ground is grassy, there is room for more, and it is still in use. If the spooks were after you here, they would catch you on the flat at a dead-run.

I got a late start in the Fall of 2004, repeating the time-consuming process of documenting the NL, my fingertips and rear-end frozen, stooping over in the early snow and promising myself that future field work would be done in the summer.

Status of the Cemetery Digitization Project (CDP)

For context, at this point the digital database of burials includes all the known interments in the OL, the NL and the Highland Annex — which we have lately been referring to indecisively as the Immigrant’s Highland Annex Cemetery or the Highland Immigrant’s Cemetery (HIC). We have also digitized almost two-thirds of the transcriptions for the Old North Burial Ground (ON) and the entire Old South Burial Ground (OS). We have not started on Locust Grove (LG) or the Highland Cemetery (HC), nor the transcriptions for Chebacco or the Hamlet. None has yet been uploaded to the web, although the plan is to upload all of it.

The 3rd Linebrook Parish Burial Ground

In an attempt to get it right, this section contains a lot of details, some extraneous, and perhaps is best read as a sort of journal and exposition of the analysis.

To start with, Memento Mori authors Johnson and Elbridge were ambitious, thorough, and accurate. There were indeed three Burial Grounds in the Linebrook Parish, even though only two were commonly known by town historians, and only two were seen by Parish residents. The reason is painfully obvious, in retrospect.

David Kurcher, a member of the Ipswich Historical Society pointed out that the third Linebrook Parrish burial ground was actually located down the street from his home on Leslie Road, a few feet over the border and in the neighboring town of Rowley. In the old days, all of this area was part of the Linebrook Parish in Ipswich. The town border lines and the Parish boundaries had settled over the years with the burial ground apparently ending up next door from where it had started. It was not remarkable to casual passer-bys, nor even to this wooden-headed writer who would consider himself an interested party, that this ground was the 3rd yard referred to by Johnson and Elbridge. But so it was and is. The cemetery is called the Lesslie Road Burial Ground (LR).

Regarding the meeting-house of the Parish, which is always described as nearby the burial grounds, Felt, a noted historian, says this first meeting-house was erected in 1744 and finished in 1747. Felt goes on the say that this first meeting-house was eventually pulled down, and a new one was built “on the present spot, in 1828.” This spot is where a renovated version of the Church stands today, on Linebrook Road, many of the original timbers still intact.

Hurd, in the History of Essex County, Volume 1, pages 591-593 tells us that the parish was formed — as most were — because worshippers had difficulties traveling to distant meeting houses. The free-holders of the “West-End” of Ipswich, now Topsfield, petitioned for its own parish, and were eventually joined by the free-holders of Rowley. It was not stated but appears that the area of Ipswich west of the Turnpike Road aka Boston Road or Route 1, were the main component of this new Parish, since they are documented as the core of this Parish’s membership. Together, Hurd, says, they built a meeting-house in 1743, and finished it by the “last of October” 1747. He locates the meeting-house on page 591:

“It stood in Rowley-Linebrook, perhaps an eighth of a mile (exactly 40 rods, or 660’) across the Ipswich-Rowley town-line, on the road leading from the Ipswich-Linebrook school-house, a spot now called ‘up in the woods’.” And he goes on to say: “The present church edifice was built in 1848.”

(For what it’s worth, I discovered a forgotten boulder foundation at the corner of Leslie Road and Linebrook Road, on the northeast corner, that clearly squares with a small one-room school house. It is also plainly marked on an 1832 map of this area.)

Hurd goes on to describe the parish lands and indicates on page 592 that Lesslie built his house “a few rods west of his meeting-house” and notes that the site of the old meeting-house was sold sometime later to Mr. Joseph B. Perley. (In fact, there is an old cellar hole about where the house might have been, and that would place the meeting house and the cemetery right next door, which is not a certainty. Other researchers have placed them some distance apart. It would be a good thing to confirm the old deeds governing this transaction…)

But there are no tombstones here, standing or fallen; there are no ghosts pointing with crooked fingers, no clue for the casual passer-by that this is really the spot.

In 1939 a commemorative plaque was established by the Rowley Historical Society (RHS), and placed where the old cemetery is thought to be, on the western side of Leslie Road, ¼ mile beyond the Ipswich border into Rowley, at a place where in January of 2006 there are dueling mailboxes, one marked #163 Leslie Road, and the other marked #38 Ellsworth Road. The text on the plaque identifies the residents buried herein, as best known in 1939; the source of this information is not noted. Other sources of information will help us straighten out who is most likely buried here, later in the story, but here is the text from the plaque, to get us started.

Leslie Road Burying Grounds

Sacred to the memory of Rev James Lesslie 1763,
his wife Margaret,
James son of Joseph Lesslie 1756.

Jonathan son of Rev George Lesslie 1771.

Ebenezer Tenney 1795. His wife Ann 1753. His wife Mary Woodbury. His wife _____ Moore. His daughter Judith 1753.
His child 1754. His son Ebenezer 1757. His child 1762

Jonathan Ellsworth 1769. His wife Eunice Tenney 1813

Joshua Goodwin 1778

Eunice Tenney 1789

Joseph Metcalf 1761. His wife Sarah 1757. His Negro boy Scipio

Deacon Moses Chaplin 1811. His wife Hannah 1807. Their children Mary and Jeremy

And others probably 100 in all

Erected by Linebrook Parish, the Town of Rowley and descendants of those buried here, 1939

Another plaque was added to this area in 2004. It reads as follows:


Rev George Lesslie was the first Pastor for the Linebrook Parish that began on November 15, 1749. The Meeting House for Linebrook Parish was built just inside the Rowley boundary on Leslie Road. The site is marked with a sign down the road. The LinebrookChurch was taken down in 1847 and rebuilt in Ipswich on Linebrook Road. It was put in use again in 1848.

Pulpit Rock was next door to the Church building in Rowley. Reverend George Whitefield, on one of the important Church celebrations, preached to more than 2000 persons at Pulpit Rock. The congregation was too large for the Church so the people sat outside and listened as Rev Whitefield gave his sermon while standing on top on the huge rock. Pulpit Rock is still used today as a special meeting place for local churches.

Pulpit Rock is a granite ledge about 20 feet high and set back about 50 yards north of Leslie Road, heading northward on a side road known in the modern world as Ellsworth Road and in the past few centuries as the Meeting House Road. The Rock was surveyed in 1924, and declared to be 17 feet high, so perhaps there has been erosion around the base for the past 80 plus years. MVB Perley describes the view from the Rock on page 98:

“It was beautifully situated to the open field…”
Whitefield probably held forth in 1770. Today, over 235 years later, the “open field” is overgrown with brush and young 30’ to 40’ trees. This area is of particular interest because it is likely that this field formed one part of George Lesslie’s land, and/or a partially filled burial ground.

This paper proposes, as you will read, that as of 1770 there were approximately 85 burials in the yard, with more to come. Given the size of the area in discussion, there would have been ample room for an open field, not to mention a Church and a Reverend’s modest homestead.

On the reverse of the 2004 plaque is a note indicating that the research on the site was accomplished as part of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 15 Eagle Project, by Chris Girard. I spoke to Mr. George Pacenka, Scout Master of Troop 15, an interesting man who lives in a log cabin he built on 8 acres off Central Street in Rowley, where he pursues what most would consider an agrarian life style. George suggested a slew of additional contacts who might be able to help with the investigation of the LR. So far they have been, ironically, dead ends.

Just to be clear, my primary interests at this point were about both the location of the old burial grounds, and the names of those therein interred. Let’s look at the location first.

Are we certain about the location of the Leslie Road Burial Ground?

Mr. George B. Blodgette, writing in 1893, as quoted by Jewett in his History of Rowley, Massachusetts 1639-1850, says about the burial ground:

“…it is now without inscriptions, is wholly abandoned, and its site known to but a few.”

Part of the puzzle is that records are not complete or easy to find. Also, there are records relating to the location of the cemetery, but also to the location of the Meeting House, and also to the location of Lesslie’s house and barn, each of which confounds the others.

I called G Robert Merry, whose first initial is his way of distinguishing himself from his father of the same name, Gordon, who lives on the same street in Rowley as did the elder. He was described to me as a very helpful man about town, who has personal knowledge and interest in the historical record. G Robert generally explained the lay of the land around the LR, which prepared me for a walk of the place, as well as to better visualize the descriptions on the documents.

1753 Lease A cemetery… for land to set a house on…

The earliest document referring to any of these lands is a Lease from Lesslie to the Deacons of Linebrook Parish John Abbot, Jonathan Burpee, and Thomas Potter on July 5, 1753. (Thomas is mentioned as being scratched off the lease document because he dies on April 23, 1753, before the completion of the lease.) The author of this lease is the Reverend George Lesslie himself, and he refers to another lease “Bearing Even Date” with this lease, reflecting land he has received from the Deacons, apparently for his residential and farming use, in exchange for which the Reverend is swapping some of his land in Rowley to the Linebrook Parish for their sole use. One assumes this is for the Meeting House, but since the history is that the Meeting House was first completed circa 1743-1747, this land could have been reserved by the LP as a burial ground. The lease does not specify the use this lot will be put to.

The rectangular parcel described in the 1753 Deed begins at a stone in the N’ly corner, extends 19 rods (315’) to a stake and stone owned by Knowlton, [another note to self: identify the location of the Knowlton land] by Knowlton’s land for 2 ¾ r (45’), then to a stake and stone that is 2 ¾ r to the W of the first marker. The parcel is 53 square rods: about 14,000 square feet or 1/3 of an acre. The drawing only approximates the actual ratio of length to width, but clearly the lot is much longer than it is wide.

It is important to review the description Martin van Buren Perley, an important antiquarian and writer who describes this land as follows, in the Topsfield Historical Collection, Volume [need to verify the volume number], page 94.

“Mr. Lesslie exchanged land with his Parish 1 July, 1753 [note to self: check the registry of deeds for all 29 June to 3 July transactions] for land to ‘set a house on,’ but he recorded none of the deeds given him, and we have no knowledge of his realty purchases. The land adjoining the meeting-house, given to the Parish 13 February, 1743, by Joseph Metcalf, was bounded on the north by land of Nathaniel Bradstreet. (I assume the above two sentences refer to the same land.) The location of the land exchanged with the parish, in 1753, was on the north, ‘adjoining the parish land at the westerly end of said parish land.’ The land exchanged (leased for 999 years, for a cemetery) was 19 rods long and 2 ¾ rods wide and contained 53 square rods” [An essential question to answer: who is MVB Perley quoting, here? These last two remarks explicitly refer to the land Lesslie exchanged in 1753, being for a cemetery. Further, in the actual copy of the lease in the Registry the date is typed ‘fift-‘ which could be referring to the first or the fifth. In either event, the copy of the 999 year lease that I have does not stipulate Perley’s parenthetical comment about the purpose for which the land was to be used…]
MVB Perley goes on to say:
”…the land ‘to set a house on’ began at Wicom’s corner [note to self: identifying this name and associating it with a place would help!] and ran southwest 23 rods 7 feet [386.5’], then westerly 2 rods 2 feet [35’], then easterly 16 rods [264’], then 12 rods [198’ ] to the first mentioned bounds, containing 107 square rods. He [LESSLIE] built a two-story house [circa 1753-1754] and a barn on it. They stood a few rods west of his meeting-house. The house was 40 by 20 feet and the barn 44 by 23 feet.” [note to self: it appears that the land for house and barn was distinct from the cemetery, but these buildings were only a few rods, 35 to 45’, away from the Meeting House, to the west. That conflicts with current wisdom which places the meeting house to the southwest at a distance I paced off as 600’. I can live with the directional imprecision, but 600’ is quite a distance.]

Wicom’s Corner might have been on Lesslie Road, since the first dimension extends SW, which is one direction of Lesslie Road. But 380’ overruns any dimension on the 1924 cemetery plot plan.

A free-hand drawing, to try to contain all of the dimensions we are hearing about, will have to be drafted! Given the compass points, and if we are working on the correct side of the road, the above information suggests that the meeting house was on the corner of Lesslie Road, the house and the cemetery was a bit further still, to the west.

Per MVB Perley, Lesslie eventually sold his entire interest there on September 13, 1780 [note to self: get this deed from the Registry] to Elijah and Allen Foster for £80, including: first, the homestead of 107 square rods; second, a piece of land he bought from Knowlton (whom we know owned land in a southerly direction); third, another piece that was westward of Knowlton’s above land, and bounded by Capt Thomas Foster’s land on one side and by a proprietor’s road on the west [This reference to a Proprietor’s Road could be very useful. Is this the road going southwest to the left, off of Meeting House/Ellsworth Road? And why was this called Meeting House Road if the Meeting House stood 600’ away, as it is currently marked?] and NW’ly by land of Jeremiah Ellsworth, northerly by New Road [Is this the path to the south west?], easterly by County Road, and southerly and easterly by parish land; and a fourth piece of land on the other side of the road.

Perley tells us that the house was a few rods west of the meeting-house. Hurd tells us that the cemetery was a few rods north of the meeting-house. They all appear to be close together. In fact, the longest dimension we have found, is 386.5’.

A lot of water goes under the bridge before we hear about the land again, and herein there appears to be significant wiggle room for the precise location.

There is a green three-ring binder in the Rowley Library “Rowley 1640 to 1936”. The first 60 pages are missing. It describes Linebrook and mentions that Reverend George Lesslie bought land in 1733, which he later leased to John Abbot and Deacon Jonathan Burpee for use as a cemetery. The author tells us that the Parish marked the corners of the cemetery with stones, in 1928. This is the land of the 1753 trade. The author also tells us that if we travel just to the west of the corner of Haverhill Street and Daniels Road in Rowley [?], on the left there are two entrances to the road to the Linebrook Meeting House. One of these is surely Leslie Road itself. The other is unknown. The author also tells us that James W. Robinson and Elsie M. Lindholm owned land in-between these two entrances, in 1932.

1924 Survey

In 1924 apparently there was a survey of the land thought to be the burial yard, resulting in a plot plan that was filed in 1934. The boundary lines of this plot are supported by the 1939 Affidavit of Newman Saunders, noted below, and are based on recollections of recollections.

1934 Plot Plan

For those who subscribe to authority, the official location of the LR is precise, as found in Book 63 Plan 51 dated October, 1924, marked “received” ten years later on July 18, 1934, at the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds on Salem. It shows a five-sided pork-chop lot of just under one acre with granite bounds, plot lines, stone walls, and even a cross-hatch to mark Pulpit Rock. The land area is summarized as 88/100 of an acre, which would be about 38,000 square feet, or a square a bit under 200’ on a side. Or, 142 square rods. [This is 89 square rods more than the 53 square rods that were earlier said to be the cemetery; it seems likely that this land included more than the cemetery.] There is a ditch extending across one corner, which may somehow be useful in future field work.

The cemetery is portrayed on a section of Leslie Road (heading northerly and away from Ipswich) bending for some 117’, at about 15° E of N. On the western side of the road we see LR laid out. The only other road in the picture is labeled “Meeting House Road or Ellsworth Road”. It runs from the corner of Leslie Road NW 254’ to the northern-most point of the plot. The other three boundary line reach their southern-most point near the aforementioned ditch, in an area that is currently woodsy. The land to the S, W, and N are owned in 1924 by a man with the funny name Charles Chaplin.

1939 Affidavit

Five years and one day later, we see an affidavit related to this land. In fact, this affidavit results in the official boundaries for the Burying Ground. This fascinating document records the testimony of Newman Saunders. Newman was born in 1854, his father was John. (On an 1872 map, one “J [John?] Saunders” is marked and appears to be a neighbor to the NW of the area, next to an “M Conley” whose name appears to lie directly over the area in question.) Newman tells us that in 1867 his father purchased the “old Ellsworth place” on Meeting House Road and lived there until 1874, when he sold it to Mark Newman [note to self, look for deeds]. In the year of 1875, Joseph Conant (son of Joseph Lot Conant, who had lived in the old George Lesslie place “near the site of the First Linebrook Parish Meeting House and the Linebrook Parish Burying Ground”) was the easterly neighbor of John Saunders. Once again it appears that Lesslie’s house and the Meeting House and the Burying Grounds were close together.

Newman attests that the burial ground was located in the NE’ly corner of the old George Lesslie field at the junction of Lesslie and Meeting House Roads. He tells us that he saw three slate headstones near this corner, near an oil tree or walnut tree in the stone wall. He finishes up by telling us that John Connolly later owned the Lesslie place, and the word was that he tried to plow over the SW corner of the burial ground, but was stopped. Perhaps that is the ditch we can still see today; in fact, it does seem to stop rather abruptly.

1940 Deed

June 10, 1940, Linebrook Parish Assessors deed the surveyed land to the Town of Rowley. They refer to the Boston Soap Company, as the abutter to the SW at that time (remains of the factory can be seen at the site) [note to self, again: a drawing and the deeds would help], and mention a ditch as one landmark. They claim the plot surveyed in 1924 includes the land described in the 1753 lease.

There is a reference to the Lesslie Road Burial Ground in Jewett’s book published in 1946, which says it was located:
“at the corner of Lesslie and Meeting-house Road near the site of the first Linebrook Meeting-house. A few years ago a heavy growth of timber was cut on the lot.”

So in 2006 we might expect to see a portion of the lot on which the trees are no more than 60 years old, which is the case. Once again, I wonder if all these historians would use the word “near” to describe two locations out of sight of one another at 600’, as current wisdom has it.


Field Visit

Here is some wiggle room. The 1924 dimensions are too small to include the 1753 lease dimensions. They are too small by 50’, even at the best angle, to contain the 19 rod (315’) dimensions in the 1753 lease. So it seems that the peculiarities of the ages clipped 2500 square feet off the lot, either by legitimate sale, or by hanky-panky. This suggests that any search for the remains of buildings or graves may need to overextend the lot by 50’ to 200’, depending on what direction you are facing. Since the Lesslie Road to the east and the Meeting House Road to the north (or Ellsworth Road, the same) was described way back, it seems to me that the cemetery did not cross either road, so the obvious extensions should be in the south and westerly directions which are wooded.

On the other hand, Perley’s assertions about the land for a house describe 107 square rods, or 29,000 square feet, which is smaller that the 1924 plot of more than 38,000 square feet. This suggests that the house may indeed have been on a different lot, perhaps adjacent, perhaps not.

Something is awry.

It is not clear if the burial grounds, the Meeting House, and George Lesslie’s home and barn were or were not all on the same lot.

I walked the land, and it became a bit confusing, when trying to reconcile this 1924/1934 version with all the other documents and stories. More work is needed, and a better compass than mine will be required to keep it all straight, not to mention valid topographical maps of the area, or a sketch by a cartographer.

About 300’ up Meeting House Road, there is a 90° turn to the west. Almost immediately, to the right, you will pass a 50’ “cellar hole”. This westward way is a wide road for the first 200’ or so, then it splits right to a foot path which heads north and west to a northward running brook, which seemed too wide and looked too cold to ford on foot (but an enterprising pioneer could have easily built a timber bridge). The cellar hole was probably from the late 1800’s, but might mark the site of an earlier structure. The hole contains one obvious clue from the modern era, an old oil tank, either the last artifact to rust and rot away, or else it is someone else’s trash dragged here to be conveniently discarded in a pre-existing hole at the end of a less-traveled dirt road. The path continues out toward the Wilson Pond neighborhood of Rowley; perhaps it originally connected to Newbury Road. Where the westward way splits right, it also splits left to the east for several hundred feet up and down and up a few gentle slopes, and ends in the woods. (An old two-wheeled cart rusts on its side, rubber tires shredded, the small wooden-spoke wheels suggest the cart rode low to the ground, and are quite interesting to see. Perhaps it was used by the Soap Company. (note to self, take pictures of these places and sites!)

Area Landmarks

There are many landmarks in the Linebrook Parish area, not near the LR, but interesting in their own right. For one, the maps and histories allude to the ominous sounding Dark Swamp. Jewett describes it, in Rowley Records page 166:

“Before the Newburyport Turnpike was built there was a road which turned to the left just beyond Batchelder Brook on Haverhill Street (Rt 133). [note to self: I still have to discover this spot…] It skirted Batchelder Meadow for a short distance then turned right where it forked; the right fork leading to the present road to Georgetown, the left, after various windings and crossing the present Turnpike twice passed through “Dark Swamp” and joined the Lesslie Road not far from the burial ground. With the building of the turnpike during the first decade of the nineteenth century this road was discontinued except part of the way where it was used as a wood road.

Lesslie Road connects Haverhill Street with the Linebrook Road. Two roads formerly connected this road with Newbury Street; the one near the burial ground is known as ‘Meeting-house Road’. They are passable but part of the way at present. Newbury Street leads from the Boxford Road to the Topsfield Road in Ipswich and the Boxford Road as its name implies, to Boxford.”

(This so-called Topsfield Road is probably that section of today’s Linebrook Road that extends west toward Topsfield from the OL.)

Today, a swamp is located generally to the SE and the SW of the intersection of Route 133 and Route 1, an intersection that locals frequent because it is the site of the Agawam Diner, the source of the best beloved “glue food” for miles around. In the old days this intersection was known as Kent’s Corner, the site of a hotel and tavern. The hotel was owned by the Picard’s and the Chaplin’s as of 1796, and the Tavern was sold to Moses Smith in 1809. The Dark Swamp was the section to the west of Route 1, although in the old days it was probably — for all practical purposes — one swamp. Dark Swamp Road, or “the driftway” as it was called, passed through the Swamp and led roughly towards the Linebrook Meeting House, when it was still located on Lesslie Road back in 1839. By any name, this path through the DarkSwamp enabled herders to drive their animals to pastures on the far side of the swampy lands that are found throughout this area. The place is a swamp for sure, but it is populated by lots of scrubby trees and does not seem dark, at least not when viewed in the daylight. Evidence of the “driftway”, or of a road starting just east of Kent’s Corner, were not visible on a drive through the area. [note to self: this will take a mission on foot, all along that road] The road may have preceded the general course of Route 1, although this has not been confirmed.

Also, today, from the area east of Lesslie Road where one would have entered the Dark Swamp heading east — across from the likely site of the burial ground — is private land covered with low lying semi-collapsed wooden structures and “Keep Out” signs, perhaps an old chicken farm, in this section of Lesslie Road across the street and to the east of the intersection with Meeting House Road.

Another interesting landmark is the SmallPoxCemetery in Rowley. The site is found by turning off of Haverhill Street east of Kent’s Corner, proceeding down Longmeadow Drive, around Trowbridge Circle, and stopping across the entrance to Vineyard Way. There is a small and damaged sign marking the general area here, called Metcalf’s Rock Pasture in ancient days. It may be of interest to us, since the Linebrook Parish Church Records (LPCR) record at least two deaths due to small pox, Ruth Kimball, on September 9, 1751, and Aaron Wilder, who died during the night of May 17, 1779. The SmallPoxCemetery is on the west side of Prospect Hill, close to the back edge of the Ipswich Country Club and near the source of the water supply for the Town of Ipswich. (For those of us who worry about germs seeping into the water supply, fortunately the cemetery is at the base of the hill.)

There was also a so-called Rowley Pest House, designed for the care of those with small pox (to treat or exterminate, one wonders), operating in this area — the west side of Prospect Hill — during one of the epidemics. There is a blue binder at the Rowley Library, titled Rowley 1639 to 1730 that refers to the death of Dinah, Mr. Bradstreet’s negro woman’s child. She was known to have been at the Pest House, as either a helper or a victim. Perhaps further research will tell us who was where when. [note to self, check this further] There was another Pest House in Ipswich as of 1764, on Wolf-Pen Plain, moved to Scott’s Hill in 1775, and then to the area of the Poor House in 1804.

Felts history of the area lists all the “pests” that had to be reckoned with. First is the throat distemper, also known as throat-ail or “the putrid sore throat”. It was likely diphtheria, an illness born and carried by bacteria. It also seems to blur with a disease referred to as quinsy, which may have been tonsillitis that had infected the throat muscles. Even today, this disease has a remarkably high mortality rate of 10%. Routine immunization prevents it. It hit in 1734, 1753, 1776. Small Pox hit in many years as well; of interest to us was the 1770’s. The “putrid nervous fever” of typhus was present in 1773, as was scarlet fever in 1802.

Yet another landmark, closer to LR this time, and of a relatively modern age, was the old Boston Soap Company. It was set back a bit from Leslie Road just south of the cemetery as outlined above, and skeletons of the old frames and furnace chimneys can still be seen in 2006.

The Powder House, which blew up in [?], was located down and off to the left on Daniels Road, which runs north of Haverhill Road (Rt 133). Is it possible that Daniels Road extended southward across Haverhill and then connected to Newbury Road, as suggested by one of the authors, above.

An old Wagon Factory was across Daniel Road from the Powder House, and still stands, although I do not know to what use it is put today.

George Pacenka, master of the Boy Scout Troop that asserted the location of the LR, noted that the Ellsworth/Meeting House road split, a NNW fork running through the area of Wilson Pond and its circa 1990 neighborhood, then out to Ashley Road. The SW fork, he speculated, might run out to Newbury Road. In the field, there is indeed one other easily seen woodsy trail that leads off Meeting House Road to the SW in the general direction of Newbury Road. It runs to a brook, and crosses it in the general direction of the Wilson Pond development. At Wilson Pond, there is a dirt road that enters the woods right across the street and on the southeast end of the pond. It also runs up to a brook, which can probably be forded on a dry summer day.

The Reverend George Lesslie

The Reverend George Lesslie, the first in the Linebrook Parish, himself is a sort of a landmark, too. The Reverend was born in Scotland, 1728, graduated from Harvard in 1748. He and his wife Hephzibah Burpee (her mother was a Jewett) are interred in a cemetery in Washington, NH, where he preached for his last 20 years.

Here is an interesting story. The Ross family, members of his Church, had seventeen children. The 17th, Ezra, at the age of 16 and along with three of his older brothers, fought in the Rebellion. On the route home from his enlistment, Ezra fell sick in Brookfield and was cared for in the house of a retired lumberman named Mr. Spooner, and his wife. Ezra recuperated and later reenlisted.

On his 2nd trip home, Ezra visited the Spooner’s to thank them again for their aid.
Unfortunately, all did not go well. Listen to MVB Perley describe the characters and the circumstances:

“She (Bathsheba, Mr. Spooner’s wife and the daughter of Chief-Justice Ruggles) never knew the want of a luxury that money could buy and was haughty and imperious, and the house was divided against itself. He (Ezra) was youthful, had a fine physique, and stature far beyond his years; he was active, social, witty, handsome; she was artful, seductive, profligate. Mr. Spooner was in her way and he was removed.”

After an arrest of four persons, and a quick trial, Ezra was condemned to death, apparently for his advance knowledge of the deed, and the Reverend George Lesslie attended the gallows in Worcester on 2 July, 1778.

Who is buried in the Leslie Road Burial Ground?

The historical documentation is plentiful but sketchy as old deeds and directions tended to be, in those days, ‘from this tree to that rock’ and all. At this point, suffice it to say that LR was most likely in service for burials not much earlier than 1749 and not much later than 1813, when the Church membership all but disappeared, so that is the focus of our search for verification.

Based on the death dates on the sign, “those days” would fall between 1753 and 1813. So that was a starting point of reference. It is also known that the Linebrook Parish was officially in service as of November 15, 1749, and the last sermon was held on February 22, 1816 and is recorded as The Last Sermon, The Ancient Meeting House of the First Parish in Ipswich, from the IHS collection. So our dates of interest, for both the location and the interments, is well-bracketed as 1747 to 1816. We also know that up until November 28, 1785, the LR was located within the bounds of Ipswich. After 1785 a section of Ipswich which surrounded the LR was annexed to Rowley, but the Linebrook Parish kept authority for the LR until 1939 or 1940 when it was given to Rowley. In any event, the colonists and puritans who were buried here were from ancient farms whose bounds fell within the modern bounds of one or the other town at one or another time.

Further, we know that there are deaths recorded as early as 1750 in the Linebrook Parish Church Records, and Jewett’s History of Rowley, Massachusetts 1639 to 1850 quotes a Mr. George B. Blodgette, writing in 1893 that the Lesslie Road Burial Ground (which he refers to as the Linebrook Burial Ground) as “…used as early as 1747”

To reiterate: J. B. Felt in the History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton tells us that a meeting-house was erected in Linebrook in 1744, with a vote in 1747 to finish construction. “It was near the burying-ground.” As of 15 November, 1749, 16 members convene the Church. Felt says this first meeting-house was eventually pulled down, and a new one was built “on the present spot, in 1828.” This date in inconsistent with the sign on the ‘new’ Linebrook meeting house, which is 1847, but it is consistent with Hurd’s comments.

Further re-iteration: Hurd, in the History of Essex County, Volume 1, pages 591-593 tells us that the parish was formed because worshippers had difficulties traveling to distant meeting houses. The free-holders of the “West-End” of Ipswich, now Topsfield, petitioned for its own parish, and were eventually joined by the free-holders of Rowley. It was not stated but appears that the area of Ipswich west of the Turnpike Road aka Boston Road or Route 1, were the main component of this new Parish, since they are documented as the core of this Parish’s membership. Together, Hurd, says, they built a meeting-house in 1743, and finished it from 1746 to be finished by the “last of October” 1747.

We know Thomas Potter died in 1749 as one of first leases was being drafted, so perhaps he is an early resident. MVB Perley tells us that the parish population “diminished” over the years, partly due to residents leaving the parish in 1762 and 1763 to colonize Maugerville township, New Brunswick.

The dates of use at the Lesslie RoadCemetery

One reference book, Rowley Records by Jewett, I believe, describes this general area, and takes us on a journey out the Haverhill Road and notes:

In 1746, the Town (of Rowley) voted to give up ‘all there right of that way that leadeth to Ipswich Town To Jeremiah Clark (viz) as far upwards as to meet the County Road (Newburyport Turnpike was not yet built; was this county road Haverhill Street or most likely Lesslie Road?) Leading to the New Meeting house standing near Ipswich Line.”

The quote is from a paragraph about Lesslie Road. The text affirms the existence of the Meeting House near the Lesslie Road as early as 1746, so it is possible that burials had begun this early, without official documentation.

During Lesslie’s pastorate, until 1780, the flock diminished. As noted, many from this parish had left to colonize Maugerville, New Brunswick. For eight further years the parish could not settle on a new pastor, at which time the membership was nine males and fifteen females. By 1814, about the time that no further records can be found for the parish, membership is one male and 3 females. Mrs. Ruth Conant was, for all practical purposes, the only practicing member of the church from 1819 to 1826. (Note: there is a Ruth Conant interred in the OL; she died April 13, 1859. Ruth was nee Foster, wife of William Conant, Esquire.)

George Pacenka, Troop 15 Scout Master, referred me to Susan Hazen, the Rowley Town Clerk who was clearly willing to help, and to Jack Grunstrum, a volunteer at RowleyTown Hall who is documenting Death and Cemetery records. Susan supported the idea of talking with Jack. Jack is only in on Tuesdays and I have missed him on several attempts. Susan also suggested that I contact David and Donna Irving, who are considered the historians for the First Parish Church of Rowley; I must have the wrong number, no return calls. This also happened when I have tried to call the Rowley Historical Society… Finally, she suggested that I call Jack Cook, the cemetery commissioner, who turned out to be an extremely cordial guy who suggested that he could help with modern records, but not quite so much with the ancient ones I was seeking.

The candidates for burial at the Lesslie Road Burying Ground

Momento Mori, the book which did so much to inspire this adventure, ends its beginning in a way that is fitting with this work.

“In doing this work we are deeply conscious that we are but completing that which a long line of antiquarians had begun, but which, through a series of varying circumstances, was never brought to completion.”

So with no further adieu, and with recognition that there is still work to be done, here are the results what I did and what I can offer. I created a list of burials, based on extractions from the invaluable Linebrook Parish Church Death Records from 1749 to 1815. I pulled the names of the deceased who are not present in any other areas cemetery. I compared the list against burials and vital record deaths in the same time frame elsewhere in Ipswich, Rowley, Topsfield, and Byfield. (FYI: The First Parish of Rowley was one of the earliest cemeteries, the ByfieldParishCemetery came into use in 1702. The Second Parish of Georgetown first came into use in 1732.)

When all was done, I found a several good handfuls of the recorded deaths interred in these other cemeteries. What was left, I contend, is the most complete list of internments that took place in the elusive Lesslie Road Burying Ground.

 Click here to continue and read a list of our distinguished forebears

Copyright Bruce Laing 2006

Categories: History, Places

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