Old Washington
Congressional Cemetery, 1840 to 1850

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 1, 1912

By this time, 1840, as far as the general government was concerned, the name of the burial ground was Congressional, or Burial ground, and those names were used in the acts referring to the ground, while an act authorizing the improvement of the Avenue and E street was for "the road to the Congressional burial ground." The custom of the burial of senators, representatives and government officials was growing, notwithstanding the means of transportation to the homes of deceased members was greater than before. Congress had assisted in the rebuilding of the wall, the construction of a culvert and the repairing of damaged caused by the heavy rains, particularly that in the early part of 1839, which, it was said was never exceeded by a downpour in the history of the District. As a burial ground for the old families of the District it grew in the popular estimation, and it may be said that this with the Methodist ground opposite was used by nearly every family of the eastern part of the city other than by the majority of the Catholics forming the congregation of St. Peters, who buried in the ground of that parish on H street between 2d and 3d streets northeast.

Nearly all of the lots within the enclosure were taken up, and the question of enlarging the grounds was frequently discussed, but not for nearly twenty years was there any addition made. In this decade there were a number of representatives interred, or were subjects of the cenotaphs. These included Gen. Charles Ogle of Pennsylvania in 1841, E. Bradley of Michigan, R.W. Habersham of Georgia, J.W. Williams of Maryland and Joseph Lawrence in 1842. Barker Burnell of Massachusetts in 1843. John Bossier of Louisiana and Henry Frick of Pennsylvania in 1844, J.B. Dawson of Louisiana and J.H. Peyton of Tennessee in 1845, W. Taylor of Virginia, R.P Herrick of New York, Felix J. McConnell of Alabama in 1846, G.C. Drumgole of Virginia in 1847 and James A. Black of South Carolina and J.W. Hornbeck of Pennsylvania in 1848.

Funeral of Justice Barbour
In February 1841, Associate Justice Phillip P. Barbour of the Supreme Court of the United States was buried here, and his funeral was attended not only by his associates on the bench but by a large number of members of Congress and government officials, members of the bar, including a delegation from Virginia, and the leading citizens of Washington, for he had long resided here on E street between 6th and 7th and later on Capitol Hill, and was regarded as a Washingtonian.

The first funeral of a President took place here in April 1841, when the body of Gen. William Henry Harrison was entombed, but subsequently removed to his home at North Bend, Ohio. The funeral took place after he had served but one month as President, and all possible honor was shown him. The escort was composed of United States regular soldiers and marines, and all the uniformed volunteer companies of the District. The grand marshal was General Alexander McComb, the hero of the battle of Plattsburg, then commander-in-chief of the army. In the following June he died at his residence at the northwest corner of 17th and I streets, and he was buried at the Congressional cemetery with full military honors.

A very imposing funeral was that of some of the victims of the bursting of a gun on February 28, 1844, on the U.S.S. Princeton, Capt. Stockton. The funeral took place a few days after from the White House, and it passed over the same route to the cemetery where the bodies of Secretary of State Upshur and Capt. Beverly Kennon, who had been lifelong friends were buried together, but were subsequently removed. The Princeton was visited by President Tyler and quite a number of people in official life. A gun was fired and burst. The Secretary of State, Mr. Upshur of Virginia, Commodore Beverly Kennon of the Navy, Gov. Thomas W. Gilmer, Secretary of the Navy, who had entered on his duties about ten days before, Virgil Maxey, and Mr. Gardner of New York, and a colored man being instantly killed; and Commodore Stockton, Col. Benton and some others were injured. The President, Secretary of War William Wilkins, Postmaster General Wickliff and others were below at the time. As may be supposed there was a most imposing funeral, and as it proceeded guns were fired from the President's house, near the Capitol, and at the Navy Yard, and north of the burial grounds, the latter as the interment was made.

More Ground Secured
In 1847 the vestry petitioned for the enlargement of the grounds and pending action by Congress adopted a resolution agreeing to give the United States the privilege of bying one-fourth of the ground for the interment of members of Congress, etc. A bill was introduced authorizing the commissioner of public buildings to sell to the vestry a part of reservation 13 over 85,000 feet east of the original square (1115) at the same price per acre paid forty years before and the vestry was authorized to enclose 19th street. At the same time the vestry was given power to purchase land for the extension of the grounds not to exceed in the aggregate thirty acres. June 25th act having been passed, the vestry accepted the terms of the act.

The Secretaries of War and Navy gave an opinion as to the sale that under the terms, the vestry could acquire two and a half acres of the reservation, and the register was directed also to by the adjoining square on the south for not exceeding $500. Under this authority part of reservation 13 was acquired, as also the square on the south, and the corporation of Washington, by act of November, 1848, authorized to occupy the bed of G street between 18th and 19th streets. This additional ground was then laid out and platted.

This square was the site of the residence of Mrs. William young in the early days, a log house with outbuildings, with the family graveyard adjoining, the then southern boundary of the Congressional ground. On the division of the land with the original proprietor the twenty lots were divided between the United States and William Young's heirs, the latter taking those east. Subsequently these passed to Benjamin Stoddard, Ferdinand Fairfax and finally, into the ownership of William Clark, by whom they were sold to the vestry of Christ Church. Mr. Clark at the time resided in the old Greenleaf house on 14th street southeast.

It may be said that every condition of the white population is represented in the interments here-warriors, statesmen, professional men, merchants, mechanics, etc. But here there are also some who occupied the lower positions in life. In one case there is interred the body of a woman whose career was a short one before she was enforced to take up her residence in the workhouse. She was committed there for drunkenness when the Washington Asylum was on the square bounded by M, N, 6th and 7th streets northwest. The inmates were removed therefrom to the Washington Asylum, north of the cemetery, in 1846, and she was included. She was allowed to make her home there, with the privilege of walking out during the day, but she seldom availed herself thereof, and then went but a short distance from her home, which she occupied for nearly fifty years. Early she resolved not to be buried as other inmates in the potter's field, and in a few years she had saved money with which to buy a lot, and when the end came her body was given a Christina burial, but the lot bearing her real name, the place where Becky Smith lies, cannot be identified.

Little Settlement on Ground
There had not been much settlement near the ground other than by the Washington Asylum or poorhouse on reservation 13, north of the cemetery, in 1846, and the travel thereto by officers, with their prisoners somewhat livened up the neighborhood. Along K street were a few gardens. The house of Mr. Clark, above referred to, stood alone on 14th street and in the neighborhood of Georgia avenue, now Potomac avenue, 11th and 12th streets were some little settlements. John Neale, who afterward was the superintendent of the cemetery, lived here in the forties.

Though burials took place here from every portion of the District, the larger number was from Capitol Hill and eastward. At that time the churches in this section were Christ Episcopal, of which Rev. H. Beane was the rector; the Second Baptist, Rev. Mr. Hendrickson; St. Peter's Catholic, Rev. Mr. Van Horseigh; Ebenezer Methodist, Revs. Ege. Hanson, E.P. Phelps and others during this decade; Methodist Protestant, Rev. Mr. Matchett, and others. There were organizations of the Masons, Naval Lodge, Eastern and Union lodges of Odd Fellows, Anacostia Tribe of Red Men and organizations of the Brothers and the Sons of Temperance. And when communicants of the churches or members of the fraternal organizations and scholars of the schools died, the funerals were attend by the organizations.

In many instances, particularly of young persons, the coffin was borne on a bier from the house to the grounds, sometimes a hearse and a carriage or two for the immediate family being provided. In case of a lodge, military or fire company participation, it was accompanied by a band of music. It was customary in case of a fireman that the hose carriage was made to serve as a funeral car, and not infrequently were members of the Anacostia company at the Navy Yard and the Columbia company of Capitol Hill so buried. When the president or other prominent firemen of those days was borne to this ground, other fire companies, than this own, including those of Georgetown and Alexandria, were represented. That of Robert Coltman president of the Franklin Fire Company, a leading Mason and member of the Jackson Democratic Association, on a Sunday in 1878, was a noted one.