Friday, October 3, 2008
Remembering Lucy and Elizabeth Andrews: Carlisle’s smallpox victims
What is thought to be the oldest known grave in Carlisle is not in Green Cemetery nor even in the older Central Burying Ground. It is, in fact, unmarked and its location, on private property, is known only to a few residents.
One of those residents, Tom Rourk of Craigie Circle, shared his knowledge of the grave with a few members of the Carlisle Historical Society who strolled down Peter Hans Road with him on a sunny July day. “When I was small,” said Rourk, “we in the neighborhood sort of adopted that grave. It seemed to us that Lucy and her daughter were neighbors in a real sense.”
Lucy was Lucy Rust Andrews, wife of Jeremiah Andrews, who died on February 6, 1761 at the age of 34. Their two-year-old daughter Elizabeth also died that day (some records list February 18 as the date of Lucy’s death). Both died of smallpox, the only two recorded deaths in Carlisle from the dreaded disease.
The Andrews family lived at 318 Maple Street, a house known as the Blood-Porter House. It is one of several farmhouses built by the Blood brothers in the 1700s in the eastern part of Carlisle. Jeremiah Andrews had bought the Blood farm with its 112 acres and 101 rods in 1758. In a history of the Blood-Porter house published in the March 28, 1986, Mosquito and written by Natalie Rifkin (then of Craigie Circle), it is reported that, “In the dead of the night Jeremiah carried his beloved wife and child across the Town way, through a frozen field, over a brook gurgling noisily under broken sheets of ice, into a clearing in the wood. Here he laid to rest two whom no one else dared tend, his wife still wearing the gold chain that was to have warded off the evil of winter sickness.”
Burial legends of Colonial Carlisle
As we walked down Peter Hans Road toward the grave, Rourk recalled that Lucy Andrews was buried with “all her jewelry. The gold chain may have been the only chain – no one
wanted to remove it for fear of catching the disease.” In Carlisle: Its History and Heritage, Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins writes: “The story is told that Mrs. Andrews had on her gold beads when she was taken ill, for it was thought in those days that the warmth of the metal prevented sore throat and was instrumental in warding off colds and pneumonia. No one dared to remove the beads because of the high risk of contagion, so that they were buried with her.”
Rourk explained why Andrews buried his wife and daughter across water: “When someone died an unusual or unnatural death, they were buried across water. It was felt that the soul and spirit could not come back across water, so they had no choice but to go to their eternal reward.”
Jeremiah Andrews remarried later in 1761 and in 1772 he and his new family moved to Temple, New Hampshire. He sold his Carlisle home and land except for “the one square rod whare [sic] my wife Lucy was buried.” (One square rod is equivalent to 30.25 square yards.) For many years the burial plot was enclosed with a paling, and as the land was divided and redivided, the gravesite was separated from the original farm.
In her Notebooks on old Carlisle homes and families, Martha Fifield Wilkins observed that over time the woods grew up around the gravesite and the fence decayed. But the Andrews family had placed a gray slate slab and a small footstone at the site of the grave with the names and dates of the smallpox victims. “Sometime after 1916,” wrote Mrs. Wilkins, “these grave markers mysteriously disappeared.”
The case of the disappearing gravestones
The gravestones have a long and intriguing history of disappearing and reappearing. Rourk filled us in: “The stones had been removed around the 1940s for a short period, as both John Davis [who farmed at the corner of Brook Street and Bedford Road] and Mr. Foss were grazing beef cattle there, and there was some concern that they might trample the stones.” The stones were removed to Peter Christiansen’s barn for safekeeping, and he replaced them in 1952. According to Rourk, they were removed again in the early 1960s when plans were made to develop the land and were placed in the care of the Carlisle Historical Society for about 20 years. “When they were reset,” Rourk continues, “they were reset in the wrong position and facing the wrong direction.” (In early New England burial grounds, the graves are positioned east/west. The earliest settlers had their feet pointing toward the east and the head of the coffin toward the west, ready to rise up and face the “new day” (the sun) when “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised” or when Christ would appear and they would be reborn.) “The stones were erroneously placed in the middle of what had been an old farmers’ road,” Rourk said. “I remember this road from when I was small.”
Sometime in the past decade, the peripatetic stones disappeared once again. About five years ago, the new owners of the property on which the grave is located found a broken chunk of headstone in back of their garage. It reads “Lucy.” This is all that is left of Lucy’s marker; no other pieces have been found.
We reached our destination – over Page’s Brook and into a very small clearing in the woods. Rourk pointed to a place on the ground, utterly undistinguishable from any other small clearing. Here, presumably, is the resting place of Lucy Andrews and her daughter. It was peaceful and beautiful here, some mosquitoes buzzed about, and for a moment each of us contemplated the short life of Lucy Andrews and her baby daughter that ended so tragically long ago. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito