Revolutionary War Burial Site Near Arboretum

Tucked away on the Walter Street side of the Arboretum just above Weld Street is an almost invisible cemetery, consisting of only eight slate tombstones with burial dates between 1712 and 1812. Two have been inlaid and reset and proclaim boldly the names of early members of the Weld family, ancestors of our late Brookline neighbor, Mrs. Larz Anderson.

The first thing that marks the Walter Street Cemetery is that on the left of the stone steps leading to the cemetery, one immediately sees a puddingstone boulder with a metal plaque erected by the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the Revolution in 1906. The plaque proclaims, “In Memory of the Soldiers of the Revolution Who Died in Hospitals at Jamaica Plain and Were Buried in this Lot”.

Photograph by Charlie Rosenberg from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. January 2003.

Photograph by Charlie Rosenberg from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives. January 2003.

The word ‘finally’ should be inserted before ‘buried,’ for the soldiers were reburied there. When the British were besieged in Boston from April 1775 to March 1778, smallpox broke out in the American camp at Roxbury. The Loring House (by the Monument) had been abandoned by its Tory owner since the first Patriots’ Day, and after brief general headquarters use, it was made into a military hospital; one of the first in America, along with the Governor Bernard mansion on Pond Street.

The Loring hospital dead were buried on a gravelly knoll on the house’s extensive acreage. From the number of small mounds with markings, it was discovered that 40 were buried there. When Everett Street was put through in the 1850s, bones were disinterred, and people felt that there should be hallowed ground reserved for them, lest the relics of these men’s souls be lost forever.

A suggestion for a single mound on the site was not taken, so the Town of West Roxbury transferred all the remains to the abandoned Second Parish Burying Ground - now public property. The plaque’s text implies that those (number unknown) who died at the Bernard mansion were buried on the small hill behind the house; this is as also true for those who died at the Hallowell House, and all were eventually laid to rest at the Walter Street Cemetery. Yet again in 1903, when this street was widened, the cemetery lost 300 square feet and 28 human remains were found. These are presumably in the brick crypt, easily seen in the cemetery. Thus, Jamaica Plain’s Revolutionary soldiers finally came to rest in a site used as a rallying point for their army, and the informative boulder marks their memory and place forever.

The Welds were among the first settlers in this area. For his efforts in making a treaty with the Pequod Indians, in 1643 Joseph Weld was granted a vast tract in the westerly part of Roxbury, of which Mrs. Anderson’s estate (named Weld) was the last held by the family. Her diplomat ancestor kept the tract to himself but encouraged settlement, and in the 18th century the family lived on Weld (now Peter’s) Hill, which became the Arboretum in 1872.

By 1712, enough people lived on the Weld tract to support a petition that would establish a second parish closer to the tract than the meetinghouse in Eliot Square. Permission granted, a later Joseph Weld offered a location at South and Walter Streets, and so the modest first building of the Second Parish of Roxbury stood on the corner with its church plot up the hill. With more people living by Centre Street, in what is now the center of West Roxbury, a bigger church in colonial style was built in 1773 (where the Holy Name Church stands today). After destruction by fire in 1890, the congregation’s present home was constructed at the corner of Centre and Corey Streets.

Article by Walter H. Marx

This article originally appeared in the Jamaica Plain Citizen on May 26, 1988