Chesterfield NH Historical Society
Chesterfield NH Historical Society

Messages from the Grave

New England is well known for its colorful graveyard epitaphs. Some were requested prior to death. Others were written after passing. They generally reflected a person’s religious beliefs, family ties, fate, or were testimonials to a life cut short or well lived. However, others are scripted by the stone cutter, a 18th Century version of "cut and paste". Below are some sentiments inscribed on monuments in a few of Chesterfield's 24 cemeteries.

 

 

West Burying Ground

 

Mortals attend, your sudden summons read.

One day in health, next amongst the dead.

In a clear glass .. may your frailty seal,

As I am now, tomorrow you may be.

 

Center Cemetery

Meanwhile...

Epitaph from Acworth Cemetery, NH

 

The Stone tells the death of

Bezaleel Beckwith

not where his body lies.

He Oct. 31, 1824, age 43

The thirteenth day after, his body

was stolen from the grave.

 

Now twice bereaved the mourner cries

My friend is dead, his body gone;

God's act is just, my heart replies

forgive, oh God, what man has done

Just because one was interred, it didn’t always mean that it was a “final resting place”. Unfortunately, things sometimes happened. Upon discovery of Bezaleel Beckwith's open and empty grave, the Town of Acworth offered a $50 reward for the apprehension of the robber(s). Immediately, suspicion fell on Dartmouth's medical students, who had gained a reputation as body snatchers.

 

Eventually, James Wilson Jr. of Acworth was arrested in Castleton, Vt. He was charged with stealing a body for the purpose of dissection. Wilson was returned to Acworth and posted $700 bail. However, he skipped out, forfeiting his bail. The focus turned to Castleton VT Medical School. However, Beckwith's corpse was never found...nor was Wilson!

 

Thanks to the Chesterfield Cemeteries Committee for compiling these epitaphs in their book "From Journey's End to Hardscrabble" and to "Epitaphs to Remember" by Janet Greene for the Acworth addition. If you would like to explore some of the 24 cemeteries in town, here is a list of Chesterfield Cemeteries, their location, and some quick facts about some of their residents.

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