The Old Burying Ground

Before we get into this next post, allow me to add a sorely needed postscript to “Rhett’s Buoyfriend” (our previous post). While this note is for all, it’s especially targeted to my Chautauqua Lake friends, as Chautauqua has many small and “friendly” buoys.

In the Rhett’s Buoyfriend post, when I said that Rhett “almost hit a buoy,” some of you might have been thinking that it was one of those little lake buoys—made of styrofoam or inflated rubber and, at most, a couple feet in diameter.

No, no, no—it’s not Rhett’s way to do anything small. Hitting something like a lake buoy (due to the captain’s error in communication) would have been a minor inconvenience—as we might say, “a thing that went ‘bump’ in the night.” However, Rhett likes to go big. As she exclaimed when we passed close by the buoy in near darkness, “That’s not a buoy, that’s a freaking lighthouse!”

The other funny thing is that it was a “bell buoy,” meaning that—in addition to its light—it also has a bell with clappers that are activated by the waves. These buoys are common in the northeast as the sound from the bell helps a mariner locate the buoy when visibility is limited by fog. Not only did the captain neglect to tell his first mate that a sizable buoy lay at the ending waypoint, he also did not tell his first mate (a died-in-the-wool girl from the south) that bell buoys in New England were even a “thing.”

So in the middle of the night Rhett starts hearing the “soothing” sound of a bronze bell ringing out over the water. How nice, she thinks, somebody is softly ringing a beautiful bell in the middle of the night in the middle of Vineyard Sound—there’s nothing odd about that…then the hulking buoy emerges out of the inky darkness and she has no choice but to take immediate evasive action.

Here’s a picture of a similar bell buoy, note the bell near the base of the buoy with four external clappers. Also note that a mariner close to sea level (as we are in Hazel) has to look up at the buoy.

A bell buoy

Back to the topic of the day: the Old Burying Ground. While there’s so much to share about our recent adventures—from the 4th of July fireworks and harbor seals in Hyannis, to a challenging “day” sail around the ocean-side of Cape Cod to Provincetown (filled with other buoyfriends), to tropical storm Elsa, to the people watching in “P-Town”—I’d like to rewind to Beaufort NC and the Old Burying Ground. Rhett and I visited it on a whim and were so taken by it and by the stories of those interred within. I’ve paraphrased the paragraphs below from a pamphlet provided by the Beaufort Historical Association. Please visit the historical association if you ever get to Beaufort.

The Old Burying Ground

The Old Burying Ground was deeded to the town of Beaufort in 1731. Most of the graves are facing east as those buried wanted to be facing the sun when they arose on “Judgment Morn.”

The grave of Otway Burns

Captain Otway Burns (1775-1850) was one of North Carolina’s greatest naval heroes in the War of 1812. At the time, the US had a small navy and he received letters of Marque and Reprisal from the US, making him a “privateer” (basically a state-sponsored pirate). Burns sailed from Nova Scotia to South America plundering British ships. It is said that he captured cargo worth more than $2 million on one voyage alone. The cannon on his tomb was taken from his privateer Snapdragon.

The graves of Sarah Gibbs and Jacob Shepard

Sarah Gibbs (d. 1792) was married to Jacob Shepard (d. 1773), a seaman. Jacob’s ship went to sea but never returned and he was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathaniel Gibbs and they had a child. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.

The Crissie Wright common grave

The refrain, “Cold as the night the Crissie Wright went ashore” is still heard around Beaufort. The sailors who froze to death after the wreck of that ship in January 1886 are buried together in this grave. It is said that this tragedy led to the establishment of the Cape Lookout Lifesaving Station in 1887.

The girl in the rum cask

In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, emigrated to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make voyage. Her father accompanied her and promised his wife he would return their daughter safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London but died on the return voyage. She would have been buried at sea—the custom at the time—but her father could not bear to break his promise. On the ship he purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, place his daughter’s body in it and brought her to Beaufort for burial.

And two more for which I didn’t get pictures…

Sergeant George Johnson (1800s) was a member of the 35th United States Colored Infantry (USCI). Johnson was one of almost 200,000 black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. By the end of the war, black soldiers comprised almost a quarter of the Union Army.

Nancy Manney French (1821-1886) loved Charles French, her tutor. However, her father opposed the romance. Charles went away to seek his fortune and vowed to return for Nancy. He went to the Arizona Territory and became a chief justice. Nancy and Charles attempted surreptitious correspondence but the postmaster in Beaufort, a friend of Nancy’s father, intercepted their letters. Before the postmaster’s death, his conscience drove him to confess his malfeasance to Nancy. As an old man Charles returned to Beaufort and found Nancy, whose love for him had never faltered, dying of “consumption” (tuberculosis). The couple married and Nancy died weeks later.

While sharing stories from a graveyard might be a bit dark, I find that ruminating on them helps me remember my fragility and mortality and short time I have been gifted on this earth—I hope you find the same.

More stories of our adventure to follow. Yesterday afternoon tropical storm Elsa passed between Boston and Provincetown and we are unscathed after enduring several hours of 30+ knot winds on a mooring ball and a close encounter with another boat that had broken loose in the blow. Elsa has sucked all the wind out of the area so we will likely stay in Provincetown until favorable sailing wind returns on Tuesday, July 13 and then sail 100 nm or so to Portland ME.

Fair winds and following seas!

3 thoughts on “The Old Burying Ground

  1. Fun update, thanks.

    I held off commenting on your post prior to this one until you made it safely to your most recent destination. For the love of Poseidon and Amphitrite, please get those bananas off HJ. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, chocolate chips, anything else on those pancakes….

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