Old Washington (Burial Grounds)

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, September 11, 1910 [pt. 2, p. 3]

When the city was laid out in building squares and lots there were a number of private burial grounds in which the dead of the families and slaves of the original proprietors were buried.

These came, in some instances, in the lines of the streets and avenues. The Commissioners therefore made an order that there should be no further interment in them.

They also set apart two squares, one in he eastern and one in the western part of the city as public burial grounds. Later these came into use, and other burial grounds were provided within the city limits.

For half a century almost all interments of residents were made in the city graveyards. The sites are now covered by residences and other buildings.

From time to time, therefore, have those places been plowed up and human remains turned up, to the mystification of the people.. Not seldom were there reports that an ancient Indian graveyard had been unearthed.

One graveyard was at the southwest corner of Lafayette Square, the family burial ground of a family by the name of Pierce. At K street, west of 13th street, some slaves of Gen. John Davidson, proprietor of the Fort Royal tract, were interred. There was a graveyard on D street between 14th and 15th streets northeast, near the intersection of Maryland avenue and D street northeast, on the land of George Walker.

In Carrollsburg, on Georgia avenue between South Capitol and 1st streets southeast, the descendants of Charles Carroll had a place of interment. Near the navy yard gate, in Georgia avenue east of 8th street, was Prout’s graveyard.

Probably he best known of these private burial places was that on the Bealls’ level tract of David Burns, on the south side of H street between 9th and 10th streets northwest, in which some of the Burns family were entombed. A fine mausoleum, in which Marcia Burnes Van Ness and Gen. Van Ness were entombed, was built here about 1816. The site is now occupied by the Georgetown University medical school.

Georgetown Burial Grounds
Georgetown, being much older than Washington at that day had its public burial grounds. In the county there were the burial grounds of St. Paul’s Episcopal Parish at Rock Creek Church. At Queen’s Temple, west of Langdon, there was the Catholic burial ground.

There was evidently but little thought in those days that the entire city, platted into squares of building lots, would even be covered by homes of people. Graveyards were located in places now covered by fine houses.

With the exception of Congressional cemetery, all the graveyards in the original confines of the city have been abandoned. What were known as country graveyards at that time are now surrounded by well settled neighborhoods.

About St. Patrick’s Church, on he west part of the square between F and G, 9th and 10th streets, there were a number of graves, some marked by stately monument or modest tombstone. On G street was the receiving vault.

Some interments were made in the days of Father Antony Caffry, 1794 to 1804, but the most of the dead were buried there in Father Matthew’s pastorate, extending to 1854. These were mostly of the families of the original members of the church.

The parish graveyard was on Florida avenue at the head of 2d street west embracing two and a half acres of ground donated by Mrs. Ann Cazanave, daughter of Notley Young, an original proprietor, in 1808. It was the leading Catholic graveyard till the opening of Mount Olivet in 1859.

The bodies were removed from here subsequently. It was sold under an order of the court. By 1800 the land was plotted for building purposes and is now well peopled by the living.

In 1806 the corporation established a poorhouse on the square between M and N, 6th and 7th. The northeastern portion of the square was used as a potter’s field until 1846. The colored graveyard of 1833 was in the neighborhood of 6th and N streets, extending northeast.

Corporation Burial Ground
Square 109, between 19th and 20th streets, on the boundary, was the corporation burying ground from 1807 till abandonment about 1870. This and another square hereafter to be noticed had been assigned by the Commissioners as a burial ground for the interment of people of all denominations.

An act of the councils provided for the inclosing and maintaining it as such. The Commissioners were authorized to plat and sell grave sites at $2 each to white persons, but to make no charge when the dead was a slave or a person of color.

This was known for many years as Holmead’s graveyard. Many dead of the leading families of the city were interred there. Probably no other city of the dead was so well populated as this.

Phillip Williams was the sexton for a number of years. Afterward Guy Graham was there for over thirty years.

The last interment was of Louis Payne (or Powell) in June, 1869. He had been executed at the arsenal July 5, four years before, for complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln.

The other bodes were then being removed. In the following year, 1870, those unclaimed were taken to Rock Creek cemetery. Needless is it to say that stately dwellings now rest on this ground.

Thomas Monroe, superintendent, in 1808 conveyed to Henry Ingle he other square designated as a public graveyard, between 13th and 14th streets, Florida avenue and H street. This being found too wet, in May following, square 1115, between E and G and 18th and 19th streets southeast, was conveyed to Mr. Ingle. Square 1026 was, however, used as a corporation graveyard, governed by the act noted above. There were, however, but few interments, for it was regarded as out of the way. Long since building lots were made over the grave sites.

Congressional Cemetery
On square 1115 in 1808, was started a graveyard. In 1812 it was conveyed by Mr. Ingle to the vestry of Christ Episcopal Church and was known as the Washington Parish burying ground, till 1840, when it became Washington cemetery.

It has long before been known by the name of the Congressional cemetery. As early as 1816 Congress made an appropriation for the purchase of grave sites for deceased members and made subsequent appropriations.

As may be supposed there were many prominent men in official life buried here.

Some years since provision was made for its perpetual endowment. Since the first conveyance all the land east of 17th street and south of E street has been taken in.

About 1821 St. Peter’s Catholic Church was established at he corner of 2d and C streets southeast, and about the church a number of interments were made. The parish then included all the eastern part of the District and a larger cemetery was needed.

In 1825 square 808, between H and I, 4th and 5th streets northeast, was conveyed by Nicholas Young to Ambrose Marechal, Bishop of Baltimore, in trust for a graveyard, the granter preserving lots for himself and family. This was used by the congregation down to war times, but some years since it was abandoned and the bodies removed to Mount Olivet.

In the late twenties square 276, between Q, R, 12th and 13th streets, became the graveyard of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and during is existence to about 1850 became well filled with the deceased of the parish.

The Methodists in ante-bellum days had graveyards in either end of the city. The Ebenezer, now the Trinity, in 1824 purchased square 1102, between D and E, 17th and 18th streets, southeast, directly opposite Congressional cemetery.

Many years since a resurrection took place there. Most of the bodies were transferred to the Congressional Cemetery.

Old Foundry Cemetery
Between 13th and 14th, V and W streets a burial ground was opened about 1830 and was popularly known as the Foundry, although bought in the interest of Wesley Chapel, at that time connected with the Foundry. The cost at a public sale at Williamson’s Hotel, now the New Willard, was $300.23.

A portion of this ground was set off for the colored people. In the forties the square eastward was bought for the colored people exclusively.

South of the Methodist graveyard on 14th street St. Matthew’s parish burial ground was established soon after the church had been erected at 15th and H streets. It was not a densely populated one, and was virtually abandoned by war times, and about forty years since the bodies were removed to Mount Olivet. The site is now well built up.

In 1820 George Beall, Joseph Warren and Francis Catcher, as trustees of the Columbia Harmony Society purchased for $100 square 475, south of Florida avenue between 4th, 5th and S streets, and established the principal graveyard for their race. Until the war it was in use. Later a site was bought in the county, to which the bodies were removed.

In 1853 the establishment of graveyards within city limits was prohibited by act of the corporation. The establishment of Oak Hill cemetery at Georgetown, the enlargement of Congressional, the opening of Glenwood on Lincoln avenue, the subsequent establishment of Prospect Hill cemetery and St. Mary’s, the improvement and enlargement of Rock Creek or St. Paul’s cemetery went far toward the relegation to the past of city cemeteries.

The Congressional cemetery alone remains in the old corporate limits. But so far has the spirit of improvement spread that the cemeteries in use by residents of the District are to all intents and purposes in the city.