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Sunday Pastries With the Dead 27
A circa-1750 church and graveyard in a tiny New Jersey town.
Today’s graveyard is situated in a small historical New Jersey town nestled among gorgeous rolling hills of farmland—the drive to and from the plot was windows-down, music-up bliss.
The Lutheran chapel on the far side of the cemetery is one of the oldest churches in continuous use in the country—the congregation was founded in 1714 and the structure was built in 1750, with several substantial alterations made throughout the 1800s.
The first church service in 1714 was held nearby at the home of a free black man named Aree van Guinee, who was considered the most prominent man of color in New Jersey at the time. He left Manhattan for the frontier of rural New Jersey shortly after being granted freedom in 1705, purchased 130 acres of land, and later donated 52 acres to the congregation; he was instrumental in its establishment.
There are 225 burials in the churchyard, the oldest of which dates back to 1740—a few markers have fallen into disrepair, but I find the crumbling patinas particularly poetic.
Still, many of the early headstones remain in excellent condition, with the signature simple, lovely fonts of the time period. Some of the oldest I stumbled upon are John Traphagen (died 1777), B.R. (died 1786), and Jacob Kline (died 1789).
The trend in the early 1800s appeared to be only placing initials with a death date on headstones (this could also speak to the income level of those within the congregation at the time—these were much less expensive to commission). Among the oldest of that century are since-weathered-away initials from 1801, E.M. (died 1804), and J.M. (died 1811).
Symbols are few and far between among the stones, though there are several beautiful examples of the weeping willow (standing for grief and mourning) and two excellent early urn carvings (to represent the earthly body being shed as the soul ascends).
In closing, we have an exemplary selection of candidates for the Unique Historical Name Game, including Harmon Rulofson, Experience Harris, Moses Felmly, Baltes Pickel…
…Valentine Reinhart, Charity Pickel, and Ellon Reger.
Until next Sunday, fellow taphophiles!
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