Old Washington
Congressional Cemetery, 1825 to 1839

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 18, 1912

The Congressional cemetery up to 1825 was to all intents and purposes, in the country, for there was no settlement east of the Navy Yard, commons intervening between the plot set apart for burials and the town, although at long intervals there was some gardening and not a few squares of corn, oats, potatoes, etc. The square west, now included in the grounds, and some others south were so used, and it is related that the farmer thereof, with some of his family, repose on the ground he once cultivated-the spot on which a dance took place at the marriage of his daughter being now the family burial lot.

But little improvement had been made to the avenues and streets, but the travel to the graveyard, the naval magazine and the Naval Hospital at 10th street had worn a passable road. Over this the funeral processions passed, for, owing to the few public conveyances obtainable, more people walked than rode, and when there was a military, naval or fraternal escort bands of music played "Mary's Dream" and other marching tunes. It is needless to say that when the honors called for a salute by cannon there was ample room on the commons north.

Up to 1825 there had been but few deceased members of Congress interred there, the term "Congressional Burial Ground" was often applied and already there had been erected over them cenotaphs whose unique form attracted the attention of visitors. These are uniform in size, shape and material, after a design by B.H. Latrobe, once architect of the Capitol. They are of sandstone on a base about six feet square, on which a square block about three feet in height, surmounted by a cone-shaped top, the whole being about five feet above the ground. With but few exceptions the inscriptions on them are as follows:

"The Honorable ____, a member of Congress of the United States, from the State of ___ (or in the case of a senator, reading senator). Born ___, died ___."

Two years before, in 1823, an appropriation was made for a monument over Vice President Gerry, who died in 1814.

Nearby other burial grounds had been established-one for the members of the old Ebenezer Methodist Church on 4th street southeast, now Trinity M.E. Church, 5th and C streets, and another for colored people-and travel to and from these helped to solidify the roads. The first was on the square northwest of Congressional cemetery, known as square 1102, which was bought in 1824 of Col. Elgar, commissioner of public buildings. This contained about the same amount of ground as the Congressional, and was located between 17th, 18th, D and E streets. The sum of $150 was paid for it. It was used as burial ground until after the civil war. Over twenty years ago it was sold and converted into building lots, the bodies being removed to the Congressional ground.

These two cemeteries became well populated, the families of the Methodist persuasion using their own ground, but the Congressional was in general use. Among those buried here were Daniel Rapine, bookseller and printer on Capitol Hill, and in 1812 mayor of Washington; George Hadfield, architect; Capt. Michael Bulley of the Navy Yard section; Richard Bland Lee, judge of the Probate Court, who died in 1826; also Representative Christopher Rankin of Mississippi.

Representative James Jones of Georgia, who died in 1801, was first buried at Rock Creek cemetery as also was Gen. James Jackson of the same state, an officer of the Revolution; Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown, who died in this city in a home on the site of the present Riggs office and theater building, in February, 1828, was buried in Congressional Cemetery a few days afterward with full military honors. Dr. William Thornton, who designed the Capitol, was buried a month afterward, also Commodore Tingey, the commander of the navy yard from 1800 to his death in 1829. Gen. Philip Steward, a representative from Maryland, an officer of the War of 1812, and at the time of his death residing at 6th street and South Carolina avenue southeast, was interred here in August, 1830. Among others buried in the following year were Col. Samuel Hanson, Col. William Benning, M. Booth, long clerk at the navy yard; Henry Timms, doorkeeper of the House of Representatives; C.H. Varden and William Smith, who was at the time the sexton or superintendent of the ground. The latter had succeeded Benson McCormick, and after him came Robert Clark.

Representative Alexander Smyth of Virginia, who died in 1830; James Noble of Indiana, senator from 1816 to his death in 1831; Representative Jonathan Hunt of Vermont, Charles C. Johnson of Virginia, who was drowned near Alexandria, June 18, 1832; George E. Mitchell of Maryland and Philip Doddridge of Virginia were buried here in 1832. James Lent of New York, who died in the same year, was buried in Congressional cemetery, but his remains were removed soon afterward. Thomas D. Singleton of South Carolina, who died en route to Washington at Raleigh in 1833; T.T. Bouldin, who had succeeded John Randolph of Roanoke, who died from a stroke of paralysis in the House February 11, 1833, as he was about to reply to a censure, were buried here. Bouldin's body was removed. Littleton P. Dennis of Maryland, who died in 1834; James Blair of South Carolina who died by his own hand, March 27, 1834; Nathan Smith, senator from Connecticut, and Representative E.K. Kane of Illinois were buried there, but were afterward removed. Representative W.R. Davis of South Carolina, died in January 1835, and was interred here following funeral services in the House . It was here that the first attempt on the life a President was made. An insane painter fired a shot at Gen. Jackson, Representative Salmon Wildman of Connecticut, who died during his term in December, 1835; Richard L. Manning of South Carolina, who expired while seated with his family in his home in 1836, and Representative Jeremiah McLane of Ohio, who died during his second term, in March 1837, were all buried in Congressional Cemetery.

Up to this time practically every deceased senator or representative who died in office was buried here. This was mainly because of the inconvenience of transportation. But with the relegation of the stage coaches and sailing packets, for the swifter railroad trains and steamboats many were carried to their homes, and gradually the interments in the cemetery of government officials, including senators and representatives, practically ceased, but cenotaphs to the memory of many of them were erected.

There were interred here Representatives T.J. Carter and Nathan Cilley of Maine in 1838, as was also Isaac McKim of Maryland. Mr. Ciley, whose body was afterward removed for interment in his native state, met his death at the hands of William J. Graves, a member from Kentucky, in a duel at Bladensburg, February 24. Representative Joab Lawler was also buried in the cemetery in 1838.

There were many others prominent in official life, some of whom stood high in this country's military and naval annals, who found a final resting place there. Among them prior to 1840 were Commodore John Rodgers, then the senior officer of the navy, who died in 1838; Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, who at one time was in charge of the naval force about New Orleans and who died in 1839; Commodore C.G. Ridgeley and Maj. William Gamble, long a marine officer and resident of this city. There were also here many members of the old Washington families among them the Wattersons, Coltmans, Weightmans, Forces and Guntons.

Although other cemeteries had been established, St. John's Episcopal Foundry Methodist among them, the Congressional Ground was the leading one of Washington. At some funerals the processions were most imposing, but there were many conducted with simplicity.