Something of a sensation was occasioned last Monday by a report that the workmen engaged in excavating the cellar for W G Doolittle's house on High street had unearthed a human skeleton. The report proved true, and hundreds of people visited the spot during the day to view the remains and conjecture over the mystery surrounding them.
Several of the village doctors made a partial examination of the skeleton, which was in a good state of preservation, but found themselves unable to impart any further information than that the skeleton had been in the ground a good many years, and was that of a man of Anglo-Saxon race about six feet in height and under rather than beyond middle life.
There were two small holes through the skull above the left ear, and a larger one back of the ear; but as none of these holes were round, and all were located upon the line of the sutures, it was impossible to regard them as certain evidences of foul play.
No indications of a coffin or other surroundings were observed by the workmen, and nobody remembered when the spot was used for burial purposes. The most probable theory seemed to be, therefore, that, inasmuch as the premises were occupied some 25 years ago by Dr F J Higginson, the skeleton was that of a "subject" used by him or one of his students and afterward disposed of in the manner indicated.
On Tuesday, however, a second skeleton was unearthed near the same spot, and on the following day a third one. In these latter cases the remains were much more decayed; but in the case of skeleton No. 2 a few old fashioned wrought iron nails and other indications were found. No. 3 was brought to light by the removal of a tree some 18 inches in diameter which grew above it. The skeletons were all within a few feet of each other and were about three feet under the surface.
The finding of the remains of so many different individuals under such circumstances seems to be pretty strong evidence that the spot, which is on the brow of an elevated bluff, was used as a family burial plot by some former owner.
Of our oldest inhabitants, however, none remember the time when it was used for this purpose, but "Uncle John" Putnam, the venerable keeper of the Hinsdale toll bridge, is very sure that he recollects being told by some previous old inhabitant that members of the Willard family were buried upon the spot in question, the Willards being ancestors of Miss Betsey Willard, who died only a few years ago, and of Asa Green, who was postmaster here for many years about the time of Jackson's administration, and who built the house adjacent to Mr. Doolittle's lot, since occupied by Dr. Higginson, Dr O R Post, and Mr. John Retting, the present occupant.
If this explanation of the mystery be the true one, it goes to show one of the disadvantages of interment in a private cemetery with no stone or other memorial to mark the spot. It is not known that this remarkable "find" has materially affected the price of lots on the Retting tract. Some people have an idea that it isn't in good taste to allow the bones of these old residents to lie about exposed to the public view, or to be broken up and lugged off piecemeal as a morbid curiosity may dictate.
Since going to press this afternoon we have learned that Mrs. Lucinda Elliot of Centreville, a bright and well-preserved woman 89 years old, remembers distinctly when there was a burying-ground where these skeletons have been found. Mrs. Elliot was born and raised on the old Sartwell place---now the Goodall place---on the Putney road, her ancestors being among the earliest settlers in that vicinity.
When she was a child the family used to "go up in town to meeting" (at West Brattleboro), and she remembers when the gravestones stood on the brow of the hill as they went past. Soon after the old part of the present cemetery was established, she says, the bodies of three children named Church were taken up from the High street bury-place and buried all in one grave in the new ground. Mrs. Elliot is sure she could go to the spot where the new grave was made if she was carried to the Prospect hill.
Boy At Left, Log Rail Fence On Hill, Pump At Corner
Exhumations of Bodies In the Centre of the Village---
An Early and Abandoned Burying Ground.
Workmen excavating the cellar for W G Doolittle on the Post property Monday, were astonished to come across the leg bone of a skelerton. Further digging and examination desclosed a full skelerton lying in natural position as if carefully buried. The bones were in a remarkably good state of preservation, and the teeth most of them as bright as those of a youth of 20. No signs of a box or coffin or anything of the kind could be found.
And, as this was the last place in the town where such remains would be expected to be found, the occurance excited widespread interest, speculation and even suspicion. The suspicion was heightened when the exhumation of the skull showed two holes through the left temple, perhaps an inch apart and about the size that would be made by a 32 calebre bullet.
The first theory that had been advanced was that the skeleton was the remains of a dissecting subject which some medical students studying with Dr Higginson who used to live there, had used and buried. But this was rendered exceedingly improbable by the regular position of all the bones. Medical students do not bury their subjects in this way, but after they have cut them up to quite an extent. So this theory had to give way to one of some dark crime that had been kept hid for a generation by the burial of the victim in what used to be an oak thicket at that time.
The wise heads therefore set themselves to work to call back some ogre tale or suspicion of Brattleboro's past, nothing nearer could be thought of than some spine-cooling hints of Thunderbolt's deeds. But all this was promptly upset the next day by the exhuming of another skeleton, lying close beside this, of a woman, which though not in so good a state of preservation still had about it some fragments of a coffin or a box, which at one corner showed a dark stain or paint. A few hand-made nails that had been used in the coffin were also picked up.
The first skeleton was evidently that of a stalwart man, fully 6 feet high, and this looked as if it must have been of his wife buried beside him. Wednesday the proof was made conclusive by the appearance of another skeleton. This fact has been disputed, but it rests on the statement of him who took it out from under where a tree had stood, as he told T J B Cudworth, and on the positive statement of both Mr Cudworth and E C Crosby, that they saw it and examined it carefully, that it was the therd skeleton and in a much poorer state of preservation than either of the others.
The only way that the discovery can be accounted for is on the statement of the venerable J L Putnam that this spot was once a burying ground. He says that he lived for seven years in the house with Mrs Eunice Metcalf, who died about 40 years ago at the age of about 70, and from whom, with her clear memory and lively interest in local matters he got a deal of information, and with the rest the fact that this was sometime a burying ground "where the Willards were buried."
He had also heard his mother, who was distantly related to the Willards, say the same thing, and he distinctly remembers hearing them speak of it at the time Wm Willard died at Asa Green's house, because his remains were taken to Putney for burial, he thinks. What generation of Willards this referred to, he cannot say, but it was possibly from the same family as Wm Willard, who came here from Putney, and whose folks, so far back as he knew, had been in Putney and Westminster.
His idea is that these burials must have been in the days of the earliest settlers here, previous to that of his grandfather, south of the present cemetery, in 1795, and that these Willards afterwards left Brattleboro for Putney or Westminster, and in a generation or two the fact was forgotten.
The Dr Post house was built 53 years ago by Asa Green, so long Brattleboro's Democratic postmaster,---who had his office in a small building where the Retting block now stands,---and who was the uncle of Com T P Green, and built the house now occupied by Dr Tucker for his nephew.
Asa Green left here soon after he lost his office and went to Dubuque, Ia, where he died, and the place was sold to Asahel Clapp, father of Geo H and Arthur, then a few years later to Dr F W Higginson, and then to Dr Post. So the history of the property is easily traced from the time a house was first built there, and none of the families occupying it ever knew of any burials there, so far as can be learned certainly from those now living.
G W Estabrook lived with Postmaster Green while going to school one winter, and he is very positive that the Wm Willard who died there was buried at Putney on the village cemetery, and that the Greene family knew nothing about any interment ever having been made on the grounds.
Previous to the building on the spot the hill was a dense thicket of scrubby oak, and in a shape which would not suggest itself for a burying ground. If therefore this ever was a burying ground here it must have been before this thick growth and have gone back well into the last century. Its use must have been confined to one family or nearly that, or otherwise it would not have disappeared so utterly from human knowledge. Mr Putnam is the only man in town, apparently, who ever even heard of the facts.
It is certainly remarkable that the skeletons should have been so well preserved so long---about 100 years, certainly---but such cases are not unprecedented by any means, and the soil in this case, light, dry and sandy, was peculiarly favorable for it. The only fact at all inconsistent with this theory is those holes in the skull, and they must have been caused by a stone or some other substance resting against it and causing it to decay earlier than the other parts.
Mrs Lucinda Elliott, of Western Avenue an old lady aged 89, says that she remembers distinctly that a cemetery occupied the ground now known as the Dr Post place. When the present cemetery was laid out she recollects that three children, buried in one grave, were moved from the High street burying ground and interred on Cemetery hill.
This last evidence which reaches us this afternoon, after the rest of the article had been put in type, leaves it beyond any reasonable doubt that a cemetery on a small scale was once started here. Probably it was in the neighborhood of a century ago, when a small settlement had been made here at the junctions of West river, Whetstone and the Connecticut, and the people wanted to be independent of the 'old town' on the hill.
But why it should have been so entirely forgotten, and the knowledge of it have so nearly disappeared from the last two generations is incomprehensible. Nor does any one seem to be able to give any reason for its abandonment.
Mrs. Lucinda Sartwell Elliot, who died Wednesday at the age of 96 years and six months, was probably the oldest resident of Brattleboro. She was the last of the seven children of Sylvanus and Lucy Sartwell, and was born on what is now the farm of E. K. Goodall, where she lived until her marriage to James Elliot in 1827.
Her married life was spent in Brattleboro with the exception of a short time when Mr. Elliot was at work in Barre, Mass., and Winchester, N. H. Mr. Elliot's death took place in 1848, and since then Mrs. Elliot has lived with her children, three of whom survive her---Mrs. Lucy French, C. S. Elliot and Miss Frances Elliot, all of this town. Mrs. Elliot had been a member of the Baptist church about 40 years. The funeral will be held Saturday afternoon at 2 at the house in Centreville.
Lucinda Sartwell grew up in a house along the Putney road, near the present Black Mountain Road. The land was later owned by Ezra K. Goodall, who placed a large granite watering trough for wayfaring horses at the intersection, which is now in Locust Ridge Cemetery.
Originally located in a burying ground that lay along the "Road to the Meeting House", the three stones of the Church children now stand side by side in the Prospect Hill Cemetery. Their inscriptions read---
Jonathan Son of
Lieut Jonathan Church
And Mrs Perone
His wife Died Sept
12th 1788 aged 2
years 1 M & 16 D
Horace son of Mr.
Jonathan & Mrs.
Died July 2d 1792
aged 3 years 9 M
& 1 D
of Mr. Jonathan &
Mrs. Perone Church
Died novr 12th 1792
aged 8 Months &
25 D ---
Urania Church was named for Urania, the Greek muse of astronomy. William Herschel had discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. It seems likely that Jonathan and Perone knew the physician and astronomer Dr. Samuel Stearns of Brattleboro.
Daniel Whipple Church was twenty years old in 1792 and recalled the "canker rash", later called scarlet fever, which carried off his sister Urania---
Soon after his return our family were taken down with scarlet fever---or as it was then called "canker rash". My mother was much the worst attacked. Her throat was so much swollen with the inflammation that she could not swallow medicine or anything and was bolstered up in a chair. She lingered some time but was never well after it. This led us by death's door to that of poverty which we entered. Every one of the family except myself, was dangerously sick with the disease.
Perone Whipple was born April 5, 1752 in Groton, New London County, Connecticut to Samuel Whipple and Eunice Mitchell. Perone married Jonathan Church in Brattleboro about 1770.
Their ten children were---
Daniel Whipple, born May 10, 1772; Eunice, August 14, 1774; Lucy, June 19, 1776; Ezra, May 7, 1778; Elinor, January 10, 1780; Cyrus, February 19, 1782; Clarice, March 7, 1784; Jonathan, July 27, 1786; Horace, October 1, 1788; Urania, February 18, 1792.
In consideration for one hundred Pounds on December 5, 1786, Jonathan Church purchased "a Certain Saw-mill standing on Whetstone Brook and on the west side of the Highway that is near Connecticut River", the deed stating also "that he shall have the Priviledge of Raising the aforesaid Mill-dam Eighteen inches higher than it now is".
Perone Whipple Church died September 10, 1818 at Rossie, St. Lawrence County, New York, after living in fairly good health in her old age. Remember her weeping for her children on this abandoned hill.