351-year-old cemetery identified
“Finding this cemetery was just wonderful. We can start to complete a picture of our history and color in all the holes,” Pegee Malcolm, the chair of the Warwick historical Cemetery Commission, said Monday.
Three hundred and fifty-one years after it was established, a Warwick cemetery has been dedicated thanks to an inquiry by descendants of Stukely Westcott, followed by the research of members of the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission.
Stukely Westcott emigrated from England to America on June 24, 1635. He lived in Salem, Mass., later moving to Providence with Roger Williams. In June of 1648, Westcott moved his family to the new settlement of Shawomet, now known as Old Warwick.
He was one of six early settlers to organize the first church in Warwick. He was chosen as a member of the Colonial Assembly eight times, and twice selected as one of the General Assistants to the Governor.
In 1663, at a Town meeting, Stukely Westcott was designated a member of a group of citizens to survey and lay out the property for a local blacksmith, a Town House, and the first public burial ground in Warwick. Westcott died on Jan. 12, 1677 in Portsmouth, R.I., where he went to escape the King Phillip’s War. Family oral history has always maintained that Stukely was buried with his wife Juliana Marchant in the “Westcott Cemetery,” also known as the first public burial ground of Warwick, adjoining his home lot and former residence.
In the fall of 2013 the Warwick Historical Society was contacted by the Westcott Family Association historian Betty Acker. Acker had Westcott memorabilia in her possession and wanted to find a home for it in Warwick. The president of the Warwick Historical Society, Felicia Gardella, began her research to find any other Westcott material that had been collected in previous years. She discovered that Oliver Payson Fuller’s “History of Warwick,” first published in 1875, identified the location of the Westcott Cemetery on Feb 20, 1663 with a lot for a town house adjoining “ye buryings place layd out for ye towne is eight poles square, joining to ye western end of Peter Burzecott’s aker of land.”
This lot was early appropriated for school purposes and located next to the schoolhouse. John Sterling, in his book “Warwick, Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries,” published in 1997, lists lost cemetery A18 as the School Master Lot with the grave of Mr. Emmett who was a school teacher at the time of his death in 1727.
Gardella then approached Pegee Malcolm, chair of the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission, and the chair of the RI State Cemetery Commission, to help find the actual location of the first Warwick Public Burial Ground.
Mark Brown, a member of the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission, after comparing old maps to one another, discerned the general location in “Old Warwick” off of what is today West Shore Road. With the help from Colin Parkhurst, also a member of the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission, and his GPS, Jim Ostiguy and Bob Chorney, members of the Warwick Historical Society, were able to get close enough before counting poles. Poles are a unit of measurement equivalent to 16.5 feet. The team believes they are within 25 feet of the original burial ground.
And thus, Warwick lost cemetery A18 was found.
Warwick Historical Cemetery #165 has officially been dedicated 351 years after being laid out.
On June 28, more than 100 relatives of Stukely Westcott from as far away as Hawaii, and England, joined Gardella, Malcolm, Acker and Mayor Scott Avedisian to dedicate this cemetery. The mayor read a proclamation making June 28, 2014 Westcott Family Day. This cemetery has a new sign that reads “Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Warwick 165” and is located behind the Fire Station on Sandy Lane. Now that it is documented, it is hoped to be easily identified for at least another 351 years.
The burial ground does not showcase any headstones because over time vandals have destroyed them.
Malcolm said, “It is amazing that something we thought was lost can be found again. History can be shown again.”
Written and reported by Sue Cabeceiras, Warwick Planning Department liaison to the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission and Beacon reporter Kelcy Dolan.