In 1739 the Town of Bristol appropriated the house of William Gladding, Sexton of the First Congregational Church. Gladding had been allowed to build his house on the Town Common. He was recompensed for the house, which was used as a smallpox hospital, since a ship hailing from the port of Baltimore brought the smallpox with it, to Bristol. The land surrounding the Gladding house, the South-east quadrant of the Town Common, amounting to two acres was immediately put into use for burial of the smallpox victims. After a second epidemic of the smallpox, the Gladding house was then used as the Town pest house.
In 1811 the Town decided the cemetery on the Town Common was to be extended to the east across Wood Street. The burial ground on the Common became the West Burial Ground, the newly extended section between Wood and First School Street, originally set-off as commonage for the grazing of livestock, became known as the East Burial Ground. During construction of the Court House on the Common in 1817, the headstones of the original settlers who had been buried behind the original Meeting House as long ago as 1682, were ordered removed into the East Burial Ground.
In 1848 an Ordinance was passed banning further burials on the Town Common and in June 1853 the Town decided that all the stones in the West Burial Ground be removed. Notice appeared in the Bristol Phoenix asking descendants to remove their ancestors’ stones. Some were removed to family lots in the New North Cemetery which was organized in 1822, from part of the Russell Family Farm, which the Town purchased for use as a Town Asylum, or Poor Farm as it was also called. Those headstones that remained after August 1, 1853 were ordered removed from off the Town Common, to be placed in the East Burial Ground, at the expense of the Town. The stone wall that surrounded the West Burial Ground on the Common was removed. Some headstones were placed in the privately-owned Juniper Hill Cemetery after it was established in 1856.
In the days before lawn mowers, the Town placed the Cemeteries out to bid for the pasturing and grazing of livestock, so the East Burial Ground once again served its original intent. From 1811 until about 1930 a stone wall with an animal pen for stray livestock caught roaming the streets, along the sweeping curve at the North-east corner of Wood Street and Mount Hope Avenue, enclosed the East Burial Ground. Then in 1930, for the Town’s 250th Anniversary, the Bristol County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution led a campaign to have a wrought-iron fence placed around the Wood and Mount Hope Avenue perimeters of the cemetery. The cost of the ornamental fence and gate was $7,000.00 and was constructed by the E.C. Church Company of Providence.
In the 1890s, William J. Miller, catalogued the headstones in the East Burial Ground. Today less than 644 of the 952 stones he recorded survive. It is known that the stones of eighteen Revolutionary War Patriots were in the cemetery when Mr. Miller catalogued it. The cemetery contains examples of many stone cutters from all over New England, including the works of Stephen Hartshorn, William Coye, the Stevens Shop in Newport, RI and many others.
by R. Battcher, III
Vice-Chairman, North & East Burial Grounds Commission
Please note that visitors may obtain access to the East Burial Ground at the Town Clerk’s Office, 10 Court Street, Bristol, Rhode Island 02809 Monday through Fridaybetween hours of 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM. Call 401-253-7000.