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National Intelligencer, November 5, 1841
The Congress Burial Ground
The following account of one of the most interesting to strangers of all objects within the limits of the city of Washington, appeared some time ago in the Baltimore Sun, whence we are sure we shall gratify many of our readers by transferring it to our columns:
About a mile and a quarter eastward from the Capitol, on the northern banks of the "Anacostia," may be seen the "Washington Parish Burial Ground," more generally known, however, in later years, as the "Congress Burial Ground," a title derived, doubtless from the circumstance of a portion of it being reserved especially for the interment of members of Congress and other officers of the Government.
The project for establishing this celebrated repository of the dead, (for it has been an object of universal admiration with the thousands who have visited it since its completion,) was conceived and carried into effect on the 4th of April, 1807, by a few of the respectable inhabitants of the eastern part of the city, of various denominations, who, in a most commendable spirit, determined that the price of lots should be fixed so low, that individuals in humble circumstances could avail themselves of equal advantages with their more prosperous neighbors, in the purchase of the ground. It was further agreed that, as soon as the little association who procured the "site," should be reimbursed, for moneys expended in the purchase and improvements, the entire property should then be placed under the direction and control of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Vestry of which was an incorporated body.
Among the original signers to the subscription paper, I perceive the names of Messrs. Henry Ingle, George Blagden, Griffith Coombe, Samuel N. Smallwood, Dr. Frederick May, Peter Miller, John T. Frost, and Commodore Thomas Tingey, who, together with many others, distinguished at that period for their enterprising spirits, made liberal investments with a view to promote the philanthropic object. Perhaps the first interment made was the body of the Hon. Uriah Tracy, a distinguished member of the United States Senate, from Connecticut.
The site is located due north and south; it is 478 feet in length and 413 in breadth, with a gentle slope towards the south. The ranges of lots are designated, north and south by the letters of the alphabet, and east and west by numbers. The grounds are handsomely laid out in grass plats, which intersect, at convenient spaces, with graveled walks and ornamented with shrubbery and trees of various kinds, such as the willow, cedar, American poplar, etc. and the whole is enclosed by a substantial brick wall about seven feet high.
For the accommodation of those who have no vault, and wish to defer the permanent interment of their deceased friends, a public vault has been erected, the use of which can be obtained for a very moderate consideration.
What a train of reflections is started, on casting the eye over the many instances of mortality indicated by the numerous monuments here erected? The bodies of no less than fifty-four members of Congress quietly repose within these walls; and, on a hasty perusal of the inscriptions on the little monuments which cover them, I learn that they are gathered from almost every State and Territory in the Union. My own recollection of some of them reminds me that they were of all political parties -- men of intrinsic, sterling merit, and splendid talents -- some of whom were justly considered as honor and ornament to their profession, and whose eloquence never failed to enchain and transport the listening multitudes in the halls of our National Legislature.
"The applause of list'ning senates to command, The threats of pain and ruin to despise, To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land, And read their history in a nation's eyes, Their lot forbade."
As I stood and contemplated the solemn scene before me, and in view of the fact that several of these tenants of tomb had been summoned away after only a few days' illness, and others scarcely with an hour's notice, how deeply did I sympathize with the bereaved friends at a distance who had been thus deprived of the melancholy pleasure of administering to them in the closing hours of life, or of paying the last tribute of respect to their remains. I aroused myself from my reverie by this involuntary exclamation: Despond not, thou child of genius, thou devoted patriot, nor let the lofty flight of thy buoyant spirit be retarded; thy name has not been swept away into oblivion. When thy friends and countrymen from afar shall make a pious pilgrimage to this hallowed spot, the reminiscences of the past shall flit o'er their minds, and the tear of friendship will be shed to thy memory!
Passing on, I noticed a splendid monument erected to the memory of Elbridge Gerry, Vice President of the United States, who died suddenly on his way to the Capitol, as President of the Senate, on the 23d November, 1814, aged seventy-six years; another to the memory of George Clinton, Vice President, formerly of New York, in the seventy-third year of his age," a soldier and statesman of the Revolution." This announcement, though brief speaks volumes. A third to the memory of Major General Jacob Brown, aged sixty-five years. The services of this gallant officer are too fresh in the recollections of those at all conversant with the history of the late war to render it necessary for me to recount them here. This monument is surmounted by a broken shaft, strikingly emblematic of the summary manner in which he was stricken down in the midst of his honor and usefulness.
A monument, a plain shaft, of novel taste, but very neatly executed, to the memory of Capt. John W. McCrabb, of the U.S. Army, who died in St. Augustine, Florida, November 6, 1839, aged 29 years; erected by his devoted wife.
Pursing my ramble, my eye suddenly rested on the word Baltimore; I hastened to the spot, and learned that the remains of Mrs. Pechin, the amiable and accomplished consort of Col. Wm. Pechin, of your city, were resting there.
A plain tombstone indicates where the body of the late gallant Commodore Daniel Patterson lies. He died in the 54th year of his age.
A neat and beautiful monument, in memory of Frederick Rodgers, son of the gallant Commodore, "who was drowned near Norfolk on the 5th of April, 1828, making noble efforts to save Midshipmen Slidell and Harrison, his friends and companions in life and in death." His age was 17 years and 1 month. Possessed of feelings of the purest philanthropy and softest benevolence, this young officer, with a magnanimity which knew no danger, lost his own life in an unavailing attempt to save the lives of his comrades. Congress should have erected over this grave one of the noblest monuments, and the inscription should have been in letters of gold.
These are but few of the many evidences of esteem and affection recorded in this burial place. The tombstones, generally, are very handsomely executed, and display beautiful inscriptions. In one corner of the ground, however, I discovered a grave, without a stone to indicate the name of the person whose remains were reposing there. Perhaps some poor individual was buried there, whose best friend was ashamed to acknowledge him, and who, instead of making even a decent display over the neglected grave, preferred to steal there at midnight, and shed a clandestine tear to his memory; even if such is the case, the reflection is consoling that, in the court of Heaven, the poor, neglected individual may be more highly estimated than some who have possessed immense wealth, and who have glittered, like the gaudy butterfly, in the sunshine of an hour.
William Quereau Force, Picture of Washington and Vicinity.
Washington, DC: W.G. Force, 1848.
• Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. Oblivion is not to be hired. The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been; to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man. Twenty-seven names make up the first story before the flood, and the recorded names ever since contain not one living century.
• Sir Thomas Browne.
In the vicinity of the city are several neat and convenient cemeteries. Holmead's Burial Ground, situated at the northern extremity of twentieth street, a little east of Rock Creek, is a quiet attractive spot, where grief may wander unmolested, and sad affection gather solace from the kindly aspect and gentle ministeries of nature.
The National or Congressional Burial Ground is more imposing. This spot was selected in the year 1807 by a few of the citizens of Washington, and subsequently was placed under the direction of the vestry of Christ Church, an incorporated body. This cemetery is situated more than a mile east of the capitol, embraces about ten acres, commands an extensive view of the country, is well enclosed with a brick wall, laid out with taste, and adorned with many shrubs and tress and impressive and beautiful monuments. In addition to several private vaults, is one spacious and well constructed, enclosed by a neat iron railing, built at the expense and by order of Congress, as a place of deposit for the dead whose remains it may be the purpose of friends subsequently to remove. Measures have been adopted to enlarge the cemetery, and some twenty acres additional will soon be brought within its limits. It is hoped that the entire enclosure may contain not less than fifty acres, and that the whole area may be planted and adorned with the good taste and judgment which render the cemeteries of Mount Auburn and Greenwood so inviting to pensive minds.
"Tis too late" says a venerable old author "to be ambitious. The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs. To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury to our expectations in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our belief. We whose generations are ordained in the setting part of time are providentially broken off from such imaginations, and, being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration which maketh pyramids pillars of snow and all that is past a monument." But human affections are stronger than argument, and will be found rearing monuments until old Time himself is entombed among the ruins of the universe.
Two of the most imposing and expensive monuments in this cemetery are those erected to the memories of George Clinton, by his children, and to Elbridge Gerry, by order of Congress. These are in the northeast corner. In the southwest corner are several handsome, and some of them recently erected, monuments. Among them is a fine marble shaft standing upon a square pedestal reared by Congress to the memory of Major General Jacob Brown, born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, May 5th, 1775, died 24th February 1828. "By birth, by education, by principle, devoted to peace. In defense of his country and in vindication of her rights, a warrior. To her he dedicated his life; wounds received in her cause abridge his days." Here also stands an imposing marble monument, erected by the officers of the medical staff to the memory of Joseph Lovell, M.D., for many years Surgeon General in the army of the United States, born in 1788, died in 1836. A pyramidal monument erected by his father, Commodore Rogers, is inscribed to midshipman Rogers, who was drowned at the early age of seventeen, while engaged in noble efforts to save the lives of two of his companions, midshipman Slidell and Harrison, who perished with him in 1828. A single marble monument is dedicated to the memories of Abel Parker Upshur and Commodore Beverly Kennon, bearing the following inscription: "The lamented men who lie together beneath this stone were united by the ties of friendship, which commenced in youth and experienced no interruption till the awful moment when the lives of both were terminated by the explosion of the great gun of the Princeton frigate: "United in life, in death they were not divided." A very fine white marble monument, made to represent exactly the mast of a ship violently broken off, is reared to the memory of the late George Mifflin Bache, of the brig Washington, and his associates who perished with him in the hurricane of September 3, 1846. "The gulf stream which they were engaged in exploring has received their bodies; this monument has been erected to their memory by their shipmates who shared their perils but escaped their fate." One the most beautiful and touching memorials of affection is a marble monument reared to commemorate the virtues of Captain Burdell Ashton Terrett, United States dragoons, who died at Fort Scott, Missouri, March 17, 1845. It bears on one side, "my husband," and a brief tribute concluding "and thy memory to me what the dew is to the rose;" on the other, "Our boy: Died at Fort Scott, Missouri, March 15, 1845, James Bludworth Terrett, aged one month: Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven." Among the other monuments of striking interest and chaste and beautiful design, may be mentioned one erected by Peter Von Schmidt to "Mariana," his wife, a native of Courland, in Russia; one of marble and granite, inscribed to "Mary Ann," and several children of Charles Coltman; one of very fine proportions sacred to "Eliza, wife of G.C. Grammer;" a granite one to the late Judge Thurston; one to Judge Pendleton Barbour, adorned by many shrubs and flowers; and one of peculiar simplicity and elegance dedicated to "our father," by the children of Peter Lenox.
Here in this secluded spot, this abode of silence, rest the remains of many members of Congress, and over the grave of each is erected a plain sandstone monument, painted white, and marked with the name of the deceased, also specifying the State from which he came, and the time of his death. We paused a moment as we read the names of Pinckney and of Lowndes, whose eloquent voices had so often enchained their audiences with delight and admiration. The Roman poet would have inscribed over these great men, "Palma nobilis terrarum Dominos evehit ad Deos; but perhaps the reflection of Job is more becoming this house appointed for all the living: "He leadeth princes away spoiled and overthroweth the might." Let our statesmen, amid the excitements of public life seek occasional retirement from the capitol, to mediate among the shaded walks of this cemetery, and these thickening emblems of mortality, that, in the deep silence and amid the graves of the dead, they may learn wisdom. Within view of the dome of the capitol, they will call to mind the lines of nature's great poet-
"Like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind."
The National Intelligencer, April 25, 1849
The Congressional Burial Ground
Messrs. Editors: I have lately visited this spot, so interesting to many of us, and am glad to find that the Vestry of Washington Parish (which body has charge of this "city of the dead") have purchased the square of ground south of the old grave yard, extending to the top of the hill which over looks the river, from an elevation of sixty feet above its waters, and that this square, together with the intervening street and the old burial ground, are all now embraced within one enclosure, making nearly double the area of the old ground. The new ground is being graded and planted, and will, as I am informed, be laid off into burial sites, and ready for sale in the course of a week.
This addition, opening as it does to a full view of the river and its opposite shore, will make this one of the most beautiful burial places in the country.
In passing among the graves I was pleased to see that tokens of affection were in many instances exhibited by planting on the sod the flowers of early spring. My attention was particularly arrested by a most beautiful collection of rich hyacinths and other flowers which surrounded that superb monument erected by filial affection in memory of our late respected fellow-citizen, Peter Lenox. It stands upon the eastern avenue, and will repay the fatigue of a walk to seek it.
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