Located in North Carolina’s third oldest town, the Old Burying Ground of Beaufort evolved around the building used for sessions of the Court and for reading the service of the Anglican Church in St. John’s Parish. The cemetery was deeded to the town of Beaufort in 1731 by Nathaniel Taylor, following the first survey of the town.
There are over 200 stones dating from pre-Civil War. The earliest legible date on a marker is 1765 although it is estimated there are more as old that are not legible. Some markers simply have no dates. It is known there are 45 from the Civil War period, 150 from the 1865-1890 years and a few from early 1900’s.
The northwest corner is the oldest part of the cemetery. The corner looks empty, however a 1992 archeological survey confirmed that there are many graves in this area. It is probable that some of the unmarked graves contain victims of the Indian wars whose skulls were cleft with tomahawks of hostile Coree and Neusiok Indians. It is recorded that in
September, 1711 the area had “been depopulated by the late Indian War and Massacre.”
The earliest graves were marked with shell, brick, or wooden slabs, because stone markers had to be brought from afar by wooden sailing vessels. Characteristic of this period are vaulted graves bricked over in an attempt to protect them from high water and wild animals.
Most of the graves are facing east. The reason is simple. Those buried had wanted to be facing the sun when they arose on “Judgement Morn”.
There are many stories that go along with the Old Burying Ground, but one of the most famous stories and gravesites located in the burying ground is of the “Girl in Barrel of Rum”. In the 1700s and English family, including their infant daughter, came to Beaufort, North Carolina.The little girl grew up dreaming of visiting her homeland of London. When she was old enough, her mother agreed to allow her to make the voyage. Her father made a promise to his wife that he would return the girl safely home. The young girl got to visit her homeland, but passed away on the voyage back home to Beaufort. In keeping his promise, the girl’s father bought a barrel of rum, placed the girl’s body in it, and irl in Barrel of Rum Gravesite returned her to Beaufort for burial. Her gravesite is covered with toys and money from the daily visitors to her resting place. Her tombstone simply reads, “Girl in Barrel of Rum”.
Other notable burials include Revolutionary War veteran Col. William Thomson, Mayflower descendent Nathan Fouller, the great North Carolina privateer and War of 1812 hero, Captain Otway Burns and the crew of the Crissie Wright, all of whom died when their great schooner went aground at Shackleford Banks during a storm in January, 1886.
The Old Burying Ground is owned by the Town of Beaufort, and is maintained and managed by the Beaufort Historical Association. This partnership has many devoted volunteers from the Old Burying Ground Committee that have been looking after the cemetery’s upkeep and well-being. Guided tours are available through the BHA for a small fee and led by volunteers highlighting some of the many notable gravesites. The grounds may also be enjoyed with a self-guided tour brochure or simply as a quiet refuge from the heat of the day and the hustle of the season. The gates are open from early morning until dusk.
Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground is listed in the National Register of Historic Places