297-year-old NH cemetery named to National Register of Historic Places
The New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources has announced that the Plains Cemetery in Kingston, which is also known as the Village Cemetery, has been honored by the United States Secretary of the Interior with placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Established circa 1725, Plains Cemetery was the only public cemetery in Kingston until 1857 and served as the primary town burying ground into the first quarter of the twentieth century.
A characteristic early eighteenth-century town burying ground, it is the final resting place of many descendants of Kingston’s earliest families, successful local religious, military and medical leaders, lawyers, farmers, shoemakers, carpenters, mill workers and elected officials.
Plains Cemetery is the final resting place of Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795), the first constitutional governor of New Hampshire and second signer of the Declaration of Independence after John Hancock. Bartlett also helped establish the Continental Congress, voted for and signed the Articles of Confederation, and served as Colonel of the Seventh Militia Regiment of New Hampshire, which mustered Kingston residents.
The original section of the cemetery is at its center, where nearly all markers are individual stones. Later sections have family plots or multiple family members located close to each other, sometimes with the names on an obelisk, pedestal or block monument, along with smaller markers to denote individual burials within the plot.
Plains cemetery added sections for burials in 1859, 1869, 1890 and 1957. Its setting and placement of the markers in each section illustrate not only the chronological expansion of the burying ground but also evolving burial memorialization and views of death.
As was common from the 17th century into the late 18th century, the cemetery’s earliest markers include some rough field stones, some with chiseled lettering but many unlettered. Markers of the 18th and early 19th century are mostly slate, red or gray sandstone, or fieldstone, while those of the last three-quarters of the 19th century are typically marble. By the early 20th century, granite became the most common material and remains so.
The gravestone art reflects the evolving forms and symbolism of grave markers popular in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, including winged soul effigies – represented as winged faces – urns and willows, and Victorian-era sentimental images such as wilted roses, a sheaf of wheat, or a hand with an index finger pointing to Heaven. A few have the ominous winged skull motif, a design more common to the 17th and early 18th century.
Over time, changes in imagery were accompanied by a change in transcriptions and epitaphs, with an increased use of vital details, sometimes accompanied by verses of consolation and hope instead of the earlier use of grim resignation and loss.
Several headstones dating from the 18th century appear to be the work of Jonathan Hartshorne, grandson of the originator of the Merrimac Valley style of gravestone carving. Others, from the 18th and early 19th century, have been attributed to the Lamson family of Charlestown, Mass., - who are strongly associated with the Boston School of carving – and the Noyes family.
Other monuments include marble obelisks and marble or granite pedestal monuments, some topped by urns ranging in date from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. There is also one box tomb and one earthen tomb, as well as a wood-framed, end-gabled and clapboard-sided building, originally for storing a horse-drawn hearse, that is now used to store lawn equipment.
Plains Cemetery’s most elaborate pedestal monument is to Major Edward S. Sanborn, a Kingston native who in the 1880s funded the Sanborn Seminary to provide education beyond grade eight, donated to several local churches and public improvements – and whose fortune in Boston came from illegal means as the proprietor of multiple houses of prostitution.
Administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historic resources worthy of preservation and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect our historic and archaeological resources.
Listing to the National Register does not impose any new or additional restrictions or limitations on the use of private or non-federal properties. Listings identify historically significant properties and can serve as educational tools and increase heritage tourism opportunities. The rehabilitation of National Register-listed commercial or industrial buildings may qualify for certain federal tax provisions.
In New Hampshire, listing to the National Register makes applicable property owners eligible for grants such as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program or LCHIP (lchip.org) and the Conservation License Plate Program (nh.gov/nhdhr/grants/moose).
For more information on the National Register program in New Hampshire, please visit nh.gov/nhdhr or contact the Division of Historical Resources at 603-271-3583.
New Hampshire's Division of Historical Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, was established in 1974 and is part of the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. NHDHR’s mission is to preserve and celebrate New Hampshire’s irreplaceable historic resources through programs and services that provide education, stewardship, and protection. For more information, visit us online at nh.gov/nhdhr or by calling 603-271-3483.