Old Washington
Congressional Cemetery, 1807 to 1825

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 11, 1912

The many cities of the dead which were within the old corporation limits in the last century have, with one exception, disappeared, as also the funeral customs of the early days.

Congressional cemetery, at the southeastern extremity of the city east of 17th street, south of Potomac avenue and E street bordering on the circle, and the ground now being reclaimed along the Anacostia, is the only remaining "city of the dead" embraced in the lines of the old city limits. Like the rest of the city, it has grown in the more than a century of its existence, and in its thirty acres the number of silent tombs and graves is rapidly approaching 100,000. Among them ever condition of life is represented-senators, representatives, judicial officers, military and naval heroes, as well as many who stood high among the early families of the District.

Originally the country hereabouts was included in the farm lands of William and Abraham Young, and at the time the city was laid out the mansion house of Mrs. William Young was in the present cemetery, as also was the family graveyard. It is evident from the fact that the city authorities established a wharf at the foot of 14th street, and also that Greenleaf, Ferdinand Fairfax, Benjamin Stoddert, Col. Tobias Lear, Thomas Munroe, John Kilty and others invested there, that rapid improvement was expected, although the initial valuation of the ground was but one-half cent per foot, reduced soon after to one-eighth. There was also what was known as Wheeler's upper ferry at 14th and Water streets, which was subsequently displaced by a bridge.

In early days there was little improvement, until nearly half a century, and then it came slowly. The naval magazine, on the south part of reservation 13, and Mrs. Young's mansion house were the principal objects in the section, until the location of the Washington Asylum (poor and workhouse), in 1846, and the jail in 1870.

Family Graveyards in City
There were on the site of the city when it passed into the hands of the commissioners several plantation or family graveyards, one of them near the southwest corner of Lafayette Square. Probably the first denominational graveyard, not adjoining a church, was that north of Florida avenue opposite the head of 2d street, known as St. Patrick's, which was used from about 1808 until the establishment of Mount Olivet, just before the civil war, St. Patrick's Church, at the corner of 10th and F streets, had about it quite a number of graves, some of them dating from 1794, and on G street was a vault. There was also a small graveyard at St. Mary's Chapel, better known as Barry's Chapel, at Half and N streets southwest, which existed from 1804 until after the erection of St. Peter's Church, at 2d and C streets southeast, about 1820. In 1798 the commissioners of the District set apart two squares as public graveyards, one of those at the head of 12th street west, and after the establishment of the municipality passed to its control, in 1807. This was popularly known as Holmead's, and was used from that time until after the civil war, when the bodies were disinterred and it has since become improved building sites. While used for cemetery purposes there were many prominent people buried here, among them being Lorenzo Dow, the eccentric and successful Methodist preacher, who died in this city in 1834. About the last interment made there was Lewis A. Paine, convicted as one of the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln. His body rested here but a few months, as shortly after its interment all the unclaimed bodies were removed to Rock Creek cemetery.

The other public burial ground was square 1026, between 13th and 14th streets, H street and Florida avenue northeast. It was under the direction of the commissioners appointed by the corporation and was a burial place from 1802 until the civil war. It was not, however, a popular place and interments were not numerous. In 1862 the bodies were removed and the title reverted to the United States, the lots being sold. From the first the place was regarded as unsuitable owing to the ground being moist and marshy and being far removed from the more settled portions of the city. It was because of this condition of the ground and location that Congressional cemetery came into existence.

Start Another Cemetery
There had been considerable settlement near the Capitol and Navy Yard about 1800. In consequence of the conditions and the necessity of maintaining in that section of the city a public burial ground Henry Ingle, who was associated with George Blagden, Griffith Coombe, S.N. Smallwood, Dr. Frederick May, Peter Miller, John T. Frost and Commodore Thomas Tingey, in 1807 started a subscription for the purpose of purchasing a square for a burial ground. That, known as square 1115, containing 197,708 feet of ground between E, G, 18th and 19th streets southeast, adjoining the southwest corner of reservation 13, was selected. On May 6, 1807, the subscribers to the fund appointed Messrs. Coombe, Blagden and Ingle trustees to plat and enclose and care for the cemetery and to provide a sexton. E. Vidler was appointed, and it was made his duty to lay off the grave sites and to superintend digging and covering the graves at $3 each. It had been decided April 4 previously, the sum of $200 having been paid for the ground, to enclose the square with a substantial post and rail fence; that the ground should be laid off in lots three by eight feet and that holders cold possess up to fifteen lots at $2 each. The deed for the property was from Mr. Munroe to Henry Ingle as agent and was dated March 25, 1808, and it recited that the conveyance was for a burial ground for all denominations of people and subject to such regulations as the vestry of Washington parish should establish; there should be set apart one-fourth of the square for the gratuitous interment of persons dying without means, and that the price of grave sites and privilege of burial should not exceed $2.

Until 1812 the affairs were in charge of the original trustees, and March 24 the committee in charge reported that the burial ground was free from debt and a resolution was adopted that Mr. Ingle present to the parish the ground, with the proceedings of the committee. Mr. Ingle did so a few days later, giving the necessary deed. The vestry at that time was composed of Rev. Andrew T. McCormick, rector; Commodore Thomas Tingey, Peter Miller, Griffith Coombe, Samuel N. Smallwood, Joseph Forest, James Young and Henry Ingle. Among those interred there prior to that time were Uriah Tracy, senator from Connecticut, who died in 1807, the first buried here, and Senator Francis Malbone of Rhode Island, who died in 1809; Representatives Ezra Darby of New Jersey, 1808; Gen. Thomas Blount of North Carolina, 1812; Elijah Brigham, Massachusetts, and Richard Stanford of North Carolina, who died in 1816, and Vice President Clinton of New York, who died April 20, 1811, and whose body was removed to New York a year ago. There were also Samuel A. Otis, secretary of the Senate, and Vice President Gerry of Massachusetts, who died in 1814, and Col. Tobias Lear, secretary to President Washington, who died in 1816.

Sites for Members of Congress
In this year the vestry appointed a committee to select 100 burial sites to donate to the government for the interment of members of Congress, and four years later the same privilege was extended to the heads of the departments and members of their families and those of members of Congress. By this time it was thought advisable to enclose the square with a brick wall, but the money received from the sale of sites did not justify it. Various measures looking to this improvement were suggested and it was finally decided to ask the aid of Congress, and the rector, Rev. Mr. Allen; Commodore Tingey and Capt. Smallwood were appointed, November 23, 1823, to ask for this aid. May 24, Congress appropriated $2,000 for that purpose. With this appropriation a bond was required, securing to the United States 400 sites for the interment of members of Congress and other government officials. The sites previously donated had been located in the northeast portion of the grounds, and December 15 the vestry set apart the additional 300 sites. The bond was duly executed and in May 1824, the wall was erected. By this time burials had become so numerous as to require the whole time of the sexton and his assistants.

Among those buried there up to 1825 were Benjamin Moore, who had established the Washington Gazette prior to 1800, and who died in 1812; Benjamin G. Orr, once mayor of Washington; a daughter of Henry Clay, a child of John C. Calhoun, Benjamin King, master smith of the Navy Yard; ex-Mayor Smallwood, Col. Frank Wharton, commander of the Marine Corps; John Crabb, Thomas Dunn, doorkeeper of the House; Gen. George Beall, Frederick Greuhm, the Prussian minister; Mme. Bresson, wife of the secretary of the French embassy; Push-ma-ta-ha, a Choctaw chief, who died in 1824; Dr. John Harrison, who for twenty years was in the United States Navy; Senators Burrill of Rhode Island 1820, Gen. W.A. Trimble of Ohio and William Pinkney of Maryland, who had a rifle corps at Bladensburg and was minister to Russia, in 1822; George Mumford of North Carolina, David Walker of Kentucky (1820), N. Hazzard of Rhode Island (1820), Jesse Slocum of North Carolina (1820), William L. Ball of Virginia (1824), representatives; Elias B. Caldwell, clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Dr. Cutbush, United States Navy.

As may be supposed, the streets in that section were in a primitive condition, generally on a natural grade. At that time, there being few public conveyances, the funerals were mostly what were called walking funerals. Seldom were there any teams other than the hearse, and not infrequently so little settlement had been made that they came over meandering roads.

The old Young house, on E street between 17th and 18th streets, was then occupied by Richard Spalding, and eastward of this was a small house belonging to Richard Barry. Near the latter was the old naval magazine, near which Edward Barry resided as the keeper. Some idea of the small expenses of funerals and interments in that day may be held from the price of sites, as stated above, and of opening and filling a grave, $3 more. An undertaker's bill on file at the courthouse, reads: "To one coffin, $10; three carriages, $9; total, $19." And this the funeral of a prominent citizen!