This morning while the great group from Grade 4 at the Port Maitland School was at the Free Will Baptist Cemetery one of the students, I think it may have been Ashton Potter, asked me, “What was the first burial in the cemetery? What was the oldest grave marker?” I said it was a great question but I didn’t know the answer, so we looked it up on our web site www.oldstones.ca. We found a short history of the cemetery that said the first burial was for a baby who died at the age of 8 months in 1840. Ashton and some friends then went looking for a grave marker that fit that description. They didn’t find it but found the grave of Edward C Nickerson who died at the age of 8 months, not in 1840 but in 1890. The students asked me if that was the marker, I said “No.”
It turns out they were right and I was wrong—very wrong. My mistake is even stated on the descriptive panel at the entrance to the cemetery. It says “The earliest known burial in the Free Will Baptist Cemetery is that of Edward Nickerson (#28) who died 19 May 1840; however, it is probable his remains were moved to this Cemetery after the Church was built about 1852. Well, as the students discovered, Edward died in 1890 and he definitely was not the first burial in the cemetery.
So who was the first person buried in the Free Will Baptist Cemetery? The truth is, “we don’t know.” Thanks to people like the students who were with us this morning we are learning new things every day.
Here’s what we know today, but we may learn something new tomorrow.
Possibly the first burial in the cemetery was that of Charles Edward Perry, who died 29 February 1852 at the age of about 4 months. He was born 23 October 1851. You won’t find a grave marker for him because on 5 Nov 1900 his remains and maybe his grave marker were taken from the Free Will Baptist Cemetery and placed in the Port Maitland-Beaver River Cemetery which at that time was known to many people as Island Cemetery. The same thing happened to a 6 month old child, Anna Maria Perry, who died 16 June 1853.
So whose was the first burial that still may be seen in the cemetery today? We believe there are two possibilities. The first is Isaac K Cann who died 29 August 1855 at the age of 24. He wasn’t married. The second is Jacob Perry who died 3 days later on 1 September 1855 at the age of 28. He was married and his wife Caroline died 35 years later. She is buried next to him.
Thank you students of Port Maitland school for helping us correct our information. Please come back again because there are probably more mistakes to be discovered. Perhaps you’ll help us find an even earlier burial.
22 May 2013