Ye Antientest Burial Ground between Hempstead and Huntington Streets just outside of downtown New London was set aside for burial in 1652 and many of the early settlers, several of whom played important roles in this country’s history, are interred there.
Also in the cemetery are some of the oldest-known graves of early Black colonists. It was maintained by the town until 1793 and families owning plots continued to use it until 1845.
As were many old graveyards, this one was situated on a hill providing a scenic view for the resting souls. Benedict Arnold is said to have stood at this high elevation during the Revolution in 1781 to watch his British troops conquer Fort Griswold in Groton across the river and then burn New London.
Many of the gravestones were made of Connecticut sandstone and have deteriorated. The renowned diarist Joshua Hempsted carved some of the stones. Hempsted, along with his family, were originally buried here, but his ancestors moved the bodies to another New London cemetery in the 19th century.
Despite some distracting modern constructions, the site offers sweeping views of the Thames River, Fort Griswold, and the arcing Gold Start Bridge carrying the vigorous traffic of Interstate 95. The best spot from which to view the surrounding area is a knoll at the middle northern edge near the tomb of Mrs. Elsie Winthrop, wife of Francis Bayard Winthrop and daughter of Thomas and Cornelia Marston of New York, who the fading inscription says:
died the 27th day April 1789 in
the 29th yr of her age
Inscriptions on older tombstones have often by eroded by three centuries of seasonal changes, but a few can still be made out:
Here Lyeth The Body of
Mr Peter Bradly Who Died
Aged 28 years
Here lyes y body of
Mrs Mary Christophers y wife
of Mr Christopher Christophers
who died Jly … Anno 1676 … in y
59 years of her age
Looking up from near the bottom of the cemetery, you see irregular rows of black, grey, lichen-covered, decaying tombstones shilhouetted at varying degrees of attention against the sky. Observing that scene, you may fancy yourself back in early Puritan New England and feel close to those hardy souls who forged a nation.
Here is a brief tour of Ye Antientest Burial Ground led by Yale Professors John Demos and Allegra di Bonaventura: