Sinclairville Burying Ground

The, Sinclairville Burying Ground was the second place of interment set apart in the town of Charlotte.

On the 20th of June, 1809, John Pickett, of the Pickett Settlement, piloted a party of pioneers down Mill Creek, and along the grounds afterwards selected for burial purposes at Sinclairville, to Cassadaga Creek. Here he felled a tree to enable the party to cross. After pointing out the way that led through the woods to the Smiley Settlement in Ellery, he returned to his home. No white man that we have any account of had visited the place now occupied by Sinclairville prior to Mr. Pickett, except the surveyors of the Holland Land Company. They, in 1808, ran the northern line of Lot 41, which passed very near to the northern limits of the village burying ground and cemetery.

In March, 1810, Major Sinclair, William Berry and his family, and some others arrived at Sinclairville, completed and occupied the first building erected in the village - a log house that had been commenced the fall before. The first clearing made here in this wilderness, was a tract of two or three acres that lay east and adjacent to the burying ground, which in June following was planted to corn. In the summer of 1810, a dam was thrown across Mill Creek, and a saw-mill built northwest of the cemetery, not a stone's throw from its western limits. It thus happens that the first openings in the forest at Sinclairville, and the first settlement of the village, were made close around this burial place.

A little later, and improvements were commenced further away. Clearings began to be made, and buildings to be erected, on and near Main street, and along what is now Railroad avenue. The barren character of the soil where the burying ground and cemetery are located was undoubtedly the cause of its not having been selected for improvement, so that the thick forest and undergrowth of hemlocks, for several years after the settlement of the village, remained undisturbed, the natural habitation of rabbits and conies, which even to this day haunt the locality.

No spot for burial purposes was allotted to the public for some time after the settlement of the village. The first settlers were hardy and vigorous people. But few died during the early years. The first death that occurred within the corporate limits of the village was that of Elisha Winsor, an infant son of Abraham Winsor, who then lived on Railroad avenue, just north of the town line. He died in 1814, four or five years after the settlement of the village. He was buried on the bank or hill, that rises a little west of the iron bridge over Mill creek, on Railroad avenue. Hiram Sinclair, an infant son of Major Sinclair, died in March, 1818. He was buried in a little grove of plum trees which then grew a few feet northwest of the hotel, near the east line of the village lot now owned by James A. Clark. One or two other young children may have died in the village, and been buried without the limits of what afterwards became the burial ground.

About the year 1818, Mr. Sinclair set apart for the use of the public for burial purposes, two acres of land, substantially what is known as the Old Burying Ground. It occupies the southeasterly portion of the lands enclosed and improved as Evergreen Cemetery. It is not certainly known who was the first interred here. Many years ago, a young traveler on his arrival at Sinclairville, was prostrated by sickness. He was well cared for by Mrs. Sinclair at the tavern, and at the house of Dr. Sargent, but died after a lingering illness, and was buried in the Old Burying Ground. His grave was long known as the "Stranger's Grave." Upon a rude, unfinished head-stone, near the central and western part of the Old Burying Ground, is carved in distinct and well-formed letters, the following words, "Febr'y 28 1818." This is the oldest inscription in the grave-yard, and may mark the stranger's grave, and perhaps the place of the first burial. A few feet from it, is an old, uncut headstone without inscription, while a little way in another direction is a rude headstone, on which are cut the letters, "S. W." In the vicinity of these old stones are a number of unmarked graves, while others near them have at the head undressed stones, evidently gathered from the creeks and fields around, upon which usually there is no inscription. These undoubtedly are the oldest graves in the burial place, made before grave-stones, finished by workmen skilled in the business could be readily procured. The first well authenticated burial made in this ground was that of two infant children of Sylvanus L. and Hannah Henderson. They died January 26, 1820, and were buried in the Old Burying Ground when it was nearly covered with forest trees. The remains of these children were afterwards removed to the lot of W. W. Henderson in the new cemetery. Among the oldest graves is that of the infant son of Samuel Brunson, who died November 21, 1821. In a conspicuous place, not far from the center of this old burial ground, is the grave of Major Samuel Sinclear, the founder of the village, and the person from whom it derives its name. He belonged to a distinguished family of New Hampshire. He was a near kinsman of Joseph. Cilly, formerly United States Senator from New Hampshire, and of Jonathan Cilly, who while a member of Congress from Maine, was killed in the celebrated duel with Graves of Kentucky. He was a kinsman of Gov. Benjamin. F. Butler of Massachusetts. In his youth Major Sinclear was a soldier of the Revolution, in the regiment of his uncle, Col. Joseph Cilly, a distinguished officer of that war. Mr. Sinclear was in the battles at Saratoga that immediately preceded the surrender of Burgoyne. He was in the battle of Monmouth, and at Valley Forge. He served in the campaign against the Indians under Sullivan. At his grave is an ancient, but fine headstone; carved from the quarry stones of .the county, and finished with skill and taste, scarcely equaled by any other in the burial ground.(2)

On the same lot is buried his wife, Fanny Sinclear, and her mother, .Thankful Bigalow, who died in the year 1839, at the age of 96 years, 11 months, and 8 days. Pioneers of the county lie buried here, in graves without head-stones, who have many descendants living in the locality of the burying ground. Among the earliest residents buried here, whose graves are marked, , are Nathaniel Johnson, and Sylvanus L. Henderson his son-in-law, Abraham Reynolds, Samuel Hurley, Warren Dingley, John M. Brunson, Justus Torrey, John Sinclair, David Cobb, Melzer Sylvester, Lemira Camp, William M. Wagoner, Hannah Wagoner, and John McAlister, who died at the age of 88. He was the founder of the Baptist church in Sinclairville, and grand-father of Gen. John McAlister Schofield, the general highest in rank in the armies of the United States. Here are buried the Rev. Chester W. Carpenter, Rev. N. H. Barnes, and Rev. J. B. Gale, esteemed pastors of the Congregational Church in Sinclairville; Dr. Gilbert Richmond, and also Henry B. Hedges, young and skillful physicians - over the remains of the latter stands the first monument erected in the town; Albert Richmond and Elezer M. Peck, well known lawyers of Sinclairville; Jarvis B. Rice, once Sheriff of Chautauqua, and John M. Edson, a well known citizen, formerly a Judge. He came to Sinclairville in 1810, with the family of Major Sinclear, his step-father. He was prominent among the pioneers of the county. Among other well known persons buried here are James Williams, John Reed, Ulysses Tracy, David Sinclear, Henry Kirk, Elizabeth Hedges, Jonathan Hedges, Asa Dunbar, William Strong, Ebenezer Skinner, Caleb J. Allen, David Sackett, John Thorn, Ebenezer and Erasmus Brown, Anna Brunson, Nelson Mitchell, John Arnold, Isaac Newton, Susan Marsden, Henry Smale, a citizen of Cuba, West Indies, Dr. Samuel Parker, and Robert LeGrys.

Although the land constituting the Old Burying Ground was fully dedicated to the public, and for many years actually used as a burial place, yet no written conveyance was made of it by Major Sinclear in his life-time. Upon a carefully prepared map of the village of Sinclairville, made by Simeon Clinton, May 10, 1836, is accurately delineated all of the village lots, including that of the Old Burying Ground, giving the length and bearing of its boundary lines. Upon a still older map, the burying ground appears, carefully plotted with respect to its dimensions and boundary lines, while upon the earliest plot of the village that has been preserved it is not delineated. The first conveyance of these grounds made to the public was by deed bearing date March 3d, 1849, executed by Elias S. and Jonathan Hedges, and Lucy his wife, to "John Reed, John M. Brunson, and Nelson Mitchell, trustees, duly appointed by the town of Charlotte, to superintend the burying ground situate near the village of Sinclairville." Subsequently the boundary line of the old burying place was slightly changed by the conveyance of a small portion of its grounds to Richard D. Sherman, in exchange for a strip of land nearly twenty feet in width, extending along its western limits. The ground was regularly surveyed, and divided into lots, probably not long after it was dedicated to the public, but during many years afterwards, no one exercised any special authority over it. Nothing was charged for lots. People buried their dead where they chose, and no inconvenience or misunderstanding resulted. Such money and labor as was expended to keep the grounds in order, was raised by subscription. A sufficient amount was raised in this manner, at one time, to build a good and substantial board fence around it. No one regularly served as sexton. The graves were dug by such persons as happened to be at hand. At a town meeting held March 7, 1848, John Reed, John M. Brunson, and Nelson Mitchell were chosen trustees. These were the first persons who had lawful authority to exercise control over it. At a town meeting held March 6, 1849, Isaac Newton was also chosen trustee. For many years, Harrison Nichols was usually employed to dig the graves, and perform some of the duties of sexton. At a town meeting held February 21, 1865, the Board of Trustees of Evergreen Cemetery were duly elected trustees of the burial ground, and at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of Evergreen Cemetery, held April F, 1865, B. W. Field was elected Superintendent of the burial ground, and John Dewey its Secretary and Treasurer.

 

(2) This and several other fine grave-stones, in the Old Burying Ground, were made by the Damon brothers. The parents of the Damons came to the town of Pomfret in Chautauqua County, in the year 1816, with their four sons, Stephen, Martin, Joseph, and North. The sons were rough, intemperate men. They lived upon a farm in the south part of Pomfret, near the residence of the late Elisha Norton, on the Old Chautauqua Road. Little is known about Stephen. He was a half-brother of the others. . Martin was a stone-cutter, and fashioned many of the grave-stones that are so numerously seen in the early burial places of the county, particularly the old cemetery at Fredonia. These grave-stones are readily recognized by the style of the work, as well as the material out of which they are made. They are usually in a good state of preservation, and are valuable as fine specimens of early skill. Martin carried on his business for a short time in a shop at, or near, the village of Fredonia. He was the most respectable of the family, and his work proves him to have been a man of ability in his business, possessing skill and taste. There is an unique and almost grotesque specimen of, his work in the old cemetery at Fredonia. Upon an ancient stone, set at the grave of Capt. Thomas Abell, who died in 1814, he has represented the Day of Judgment. The angel Gabriel is seated on a great cloud, with a trumpet nearly as long as his body, out of which issues the words, "Ye dead arise," "Come to judgment." Other angels are seated on the cloud, hiding their faces in their hands, as if weeping. Beneath them, tombstones are represented as falling into confusion, and the dead, with bald beads, and curious, chubby faces, appear to be ascending out of opening graves. The execution of this rather remarkable design is fine, much of the work being in high relief. The stone is fast going to decay. It would be well worth the trouble for those having the cemetery in charge to preserve a fac simile of this curious piece of workmanship as a relic of the past.

It told of Martin, who had a ready and sarcastic wit, that a leading Fredonia physician who saw him at work, jocosely asked him if it was his custom to letter the grave-stones before the person for whom they were intended had died. Martin grimly replied, "Not unless I hear he is your patient."

Joseph quarried the stone on the farm, from the quarry still known as the Danion quarry. On the 24th of April, 1834, he committed murder upon the person of his wife. He was tried at Mayville in September of the same year. He was ably defended by James Mullet of Fredonia, one of the most talented and eloquent lawyers in Western New York. He was convicted, and hung at Mayville, May 15, 1835. This was the first execution for a capital offense in the county. It occurred in the open field, in the presence of a large concourse of spectators. It was regarded as a prominent event in the early history of the county, and a deep impression was made upon the many people who witnessed the melancholy scene. The skull of Mrs. Damon, and the iron bar with which the murder was committed, are now in the possession of Elias Forbes of Fredonia. Joseph left two children.

Soon after his brother's execution, North Damon went to Canada. Subsequently dark rumors came back, that he too had been executed for murder. Martin died soon after the death of Joseph.

I am indebted for many of these facts respecting the Damons, to Hon. F. F. Warren. 
O. E.

Source: Page(s) 9-15, History of Evergreen Cemetery.  by Obed Edson. Sinclairville, New York, Press of the Commercial, 1890.

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