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Search for slave graves in Lyme cemetery identifies multiple sites

  • As Lyme cemetery trustee Jay Cary follows, Bob Perry of TopoGraphix LLC uses ground-penetrating radar to double-check three unmarked burial sites he found next to the Beale family plot at the Beale Cemetery in Lyme, N.H., on Aug. 31, 2020. Perry was hired by the trustees to locate the unmarked graves of two enslaved African Americans who were buried there about 1800. Perry detected about 30 unmarked sites in the cemetery. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A flag marks an unmarked burial site near the stone wall border of Beale Cemetery in Lyme, N.H., on Aug. 31, 2020. Bob Perry of TopoGraphix LLC uses ground-penetrating radar to detect the sites. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bob Perry of TopoGraphix LLC explains to James Graham, of Lyme, N.H., center, and Jay Cary, also of Lyme, what he's found with his ground-penetrating radar at the Beale Cemetery on Dorchester Road in Lyme on Aug. 31, 2020. Perry's radar detects changes in soil density, locating unmarked burial sites. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer.
Published: 8/31/2020 9:29:19 PM
Modified: 8/31/2020 9:29:16 PM

LYME — Just off a quiet dirt road in Lyme, Bob Perry wheeled a ground-penetrating radar machine behind the worn headstones of the Beale Cemetery Monday morning, coming to a sudden stop on moss-covered patch of land in the back.

“You’ve got one here,” he said, sticking a small red flag into the ground. Perry, who is from Hudson, N.H., pushed the machine again until it emitted a small beep, and stuck another flag in the ground. “You’ve got two side-by-side here.”

The patch of land he marked was tucked in the far back corner of the cemetery, adjacent to a rock wall and the edge of a steep hill that led down to Dorchester Road. It was not adorned with the grave markers or headstones that sat prominently throughout the rest of the cemetery.

However, several feet below the surface, were — most likely — the burial plots of Cate and Prince, two enslaved people who died about 220 years ago.

Their headstones, last seen in the 1930s, have long since disappeared, and for nearly 100 years, their graves have been lost somewhere in the small Lyme cemetery, according to Lyme Cemetery Trustee Jay Cary.

Cary was one of the people who organized the search for Cate and Prince’s graves Monday morning. He said historians in the area have long been interested in finding the graves, but it wasn’t until trustees learned about Perry’s company, which offers cemetery mapping and sub-surface imaging services, that they realized they had a chance at finding the lost burial sites, he said.

For over an hour Monday, Perry wheeled his radar machine throughout the cemetery, detecting disturbances in the earth more than three feet under the surface, which could indicate a burial. In total, Perry found around 30 potential unmarked graves throughout the cemetery, including those Cary suspected to be for Cate and Prince.

The next step, Cary said, will be meeting with cemetery trustees to discuss the possibility of erecting new headstones for the two people, and potentially holding a small ceremony in their honor.

It’s a big find for local historians who have researched Cate and Prince, two African Americans who were enslaved by the Lyon family in Woodstock, Conn., in the 1700s. The Lyons’ grandchildren, the Beale family, later took Cate and Prince to Lyme in 1795, where they died a few years later, Cary said. They were the first two people to be buried in the cemetery, later followed by the Beales, who were buried just to their left.

The Beale Cemetery was a small cemetery with several family plots. It was primarily used before the Civil War, at first by the Beales and several other families who lived in homesteads nearby, Cary said. The Beales — James Beale and his wife Urania — are buried there, as well as their children. Their homesteads were abandoned after the war and no longer exist, Cary said.

But, unlike the histories of white residents in Lyme in the 18th and 19th centuries, there is very little information regarding Prince and Cate apart from mention of them in property records, Cary said. He added historians don’t know their ages, if they were married, when they died, or if they had children.

“There’s all this information we don’t have,” Cary said.

That’s part of the reason local history lovers, like Lyme resident James Graham, have been interested in finding the site. Graham, who joined Cary and Perry at the cemetery Monday, said he has researched the history of the two enslaved people and slavery throughout New England on his own.

“For me, my intention is about giving personhood to them,” Graham said.

He added that there’s a long history of slavery in New England, including in the Upper Valley and at Dartmouth College. The college itself was founded by the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut who owned 19 enslaved people and used slave labor to maintain upkeep of the college’s buildings, according to the Dartmouth College website.

Graham said it’s important for New Englanders to acknowledge the history of slavery in the north, as well as southern states.

“We need to know the truest history we can discover,” He said. “It’s important for people to understand the role that slavery and African Americans played in our country.”

It’s not the first time in recent years that historians in the Upper Valley have tried to reckon with — and draw attention to — slavery’s existence in New England. In 2018, descendants of Derrick Oxford, an enslaved African American man, and the descendants of the man who owned him, gathered in Plainfield to commemorate Oxford, a Revolutionary War veteran. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned a new headstone for Oxford after research showed he was likely buried in an unmarked grave in the Ladieu Road Cemetery.

Then, in July, the Windsor Selectboard discussed renaming Jacob Street, which was originally named after a prominent judge from Windsor who bought an African American woman, Dinah Mason, in the late 1700s. Some researchers believe she may be buried in the paupers’ section of the Old South Church Cemetery in Windsor.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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