Honoring My Ancestors in Stone

Replacing the marker for the Edwards family tomb at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground with the aid of the John Stevens Shop of Newport, Rhode Island

by Ben Edwards  | 02.13.20

Established in 1659, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston’s North End is the city’s second-oldest burying ground. Originally called North Burying Ground, it is named after 17th-century shoemaker William Copp, the property’s original owner. It is estimated that over 10,000 people are buried here, including thousands of artisans and tradesmen as well as more than 1,000 free blacks and slaves. In colonial Boston, Copp’s Hill was much taller, reaching a height of about 50 feet. Standing atop this hill, which was quite bare, one could view several of the town’s shipyards and wharves, and see Charlestown just across the Charles River. From this location, in June 1775, British troops bombarded Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1807, the upper section of Copp’s Hill was removed and used as landfill for Mill Pond.

According to The Graveyards of Boston, First Volume, Copp’s Hill Epitaphs prepared for publication by William H. Whitmore in 1878, on June 27, 1717, liberty was granted to Benjamin Edwards to erect a tomb “in the line or range of tombs now begun at the southerly side of North Burying Place, provided that he carry up the brick wall thereof next the H. way so as to be a sufficient fence.” Later in that same volume it notes, “The lists now preserved in the office of the Board of Health are as follows: The words and figures in brackets have been added on the authority of the stones themselves, or on information presumed to be of equal value.” The names listed next to the numeral 5 are B. Edwards, Alexr Edwards, and Jedediah Lincoln. This would be Captain Benjamin Edwards, his son Alexander Edwards, and one of Alexander’s close friends.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that the marker of Captain Benjamin Edwards at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground was discovered by my father’s aunt Mary Elizabeth Edwards. She located it around 1925. This photograph, taken about 1919, shows the view from the burying ground looking down Hull Street toward the Old North Church. The Edwards marker is located to the right of the Hull Street entrance, a short distance along the fence line. If you read my earlier post, the photo below on the left will look familiar. It shows my father and me next to the Edwards marker at Copp’s Hill in 1964. You can see the marker had begun to crack. The photo on the right, taken by a family member in the late 1970s, shows that only three pieces of the original marker were left at that time.

By the spring of 1998, just two pieces of the nearly 250-year-old Edwards marker remained, as seen in the photo below on the left. The family decided to look into the possibility of having the marker replaced. In March I reached out to Kathryn Coggeshall, Project Manager of the Historic Burying Grounds Initiative, Parks and Recreation Department, City of Boston. I supplied her with all the documentation the family had about the tomb as well as photographs taken over the years. We received permission to have the marker replaced with the stipulation that it had to be done using materials and methods available at the time it was first produced.

From the very short list of vendors provided, we elected to work with Nick Benson of The John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. The company has been hand-carving markers since 1705. Nick selected a piece of dark grey slate from a quarry in Buckingham County, Virginia, for the job. He supplied a proof of the hand-lettering and, once it was approved, did the brushwork for a full-scale layout on brown paper. He then transferred that preliminary brush layout onto the stone, painting the letters yet again onto the stone with a broad-edged brush. The marker contains 52 characters and Nick carved about 2 characters per hour, so it took 26 hours to hand-carve the marker. Nick also delivered the marker to Boston and installed it at Copp’s Hill under the watchful eye of Kathryn Coggeshall and staff. The photo below on the right shows the marker shortly after it was installed in the fall of 1998.

Years after carving the Edwards marker, Nick Benson designed the lettering and carved the inscriptions for two high-profile projects on the National Mall in Washington, DC: the WWII Memorial that opened in 2004, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that opened in 2011. Decades earlier, his father John had done the lettering and carving for JFK’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. You can learn more about The John Stevens Shop by watching “Carved in Stone”the excellent CBS Sunday Morning segment on the company that appears at the end of this post. For information on The John Stevens Shop and their services, Nick Benson can be reached by email at info@johnstevensshop.com.

The photo below shows the Edwards marker today22 years after it was carved by The John Stevens Shop.

Who is buried in the Edwards tomb? It turns out members of the Edwards, Revere, and Lincoln families

In One April in Boston, family members visit the Edwards marker at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in 1775 and 1909. On August 21, 1909, Philip Edwards and his grandfather Ben take the train to Boston. During their trip, Grandpa Ben points out the family tomb and says, “The sea captain is here, and so is Uncle Alex, Ben the cooper, his sister Sally, and his cousin Betsey. Members of the Revere and Lincoln families who are related to the Edwards family through marriage also rest here. They include Paul Revere Jr. and Jedediah Lincoln.” But how do we know this is true?

The 1708 Edwards family Bible mentions family members being buried in a “tumbe in ye North End of Boston” or “at ye North Burying Place” including Captain Benjamin Edwards’ mother Sarah (no date given), his first wife Hannah Harrod in 1728, their three infant children, his second wife Bathsheba Evans in 1738, and their seventh child Hannah who died in infancy the following year. I recently contacted Kelly Thomas, Director of the Historic Burying Grounds Initiative, Parks and Recreation Department, City of Boston, to ask her a question about the Part 2 section of their map of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground that identifies tomb locations along the Hull Street side. I was confused by the two reference numbers “[7] 5” that appeared next to the Edwards tomb. Could tombs 5 and 7 be in the same spot? I learned the answer was “yes.” Kelly informed me that, “In 1987, when they made the most recent version of this map, they changed the numbering system, creating sections in the site designated by letters, and numbered graves within those sections. There have been several numbering schemes over the centuries. So, the two tombs you are referring to are the same tomb. Currently that tomb is officially tomb CH-W-5, but at some point, it was tomb #7. For all tombs that have two numbers, the old tomb number is in brackets.” This would mean that the old tomb number would be 7 and more recent number would be 5.

A search of Massachusetts Town and Vital Records via Ancestry shows that Paul Revere Jr. (1760-1813), firstborn son of the patriot Paul Revere and husband of Sally Edwards (1761-1808), is buried at 7 Copp’s Hill; Jedediah Lincoln (1760-1820), who married first to Betsey Edwards (1765-1796) and second to Mary Revere (1770-1853), daughter of Paul Revere, is buried at 7 Copp’s Hill; and Amos Lincoln (1753-1829), a participant in the Boston Tea Party, who married first to Deborah Revere (1758-1797), daughter of Paul Revere, and second to her sister Elizabeth Revere (1770-1805), is buried at 7 Copp’s Hill. Sally and Betsey Edwards are certainly buried here, and Deborah and Elizabeth Revere are likely here. Mary Revere is buried in Hingham Cemetery in Hingham, Massachusetts. Ancestry tells us that Joseph Bragdon Edwards (1799-1852), my great-great-great-grandfather, is buried at 5 Copp’s Hill. This would be the same location but with the new tomb number.

Besides Captain Benjamin Edwards (1685-1751), other family members surely buried in the tomb that bears the sea captain’s name include three of his sons: Robert Edwards (1732-1770), a tailor; Dolling Edwards (1733-1773), a mastmaker; and Alexander Edwards (1733-1798), a cabinetmaker and member of the Sons of Liberty; as well as his grandson Benjamin Edwards (1765-1808), a cooper, the younger brother of Sally Edwards, and the main character in my children’s book One April in Boston.

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The Spyglass Blog was created to mark the 20th anniversary of the children’s book One April in Boston. Here the author and illustrator share the stories behind the illustrations, give insight into the artistic process, and introduce related artwork Ben Edwards shares on his Walking Boston private tour. SpyglassBlog.com

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