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Keene residents reconsecrate 256-year-old grave

Union Leader Correspondent

November 14. 2017 7:40PM
A gravestone for West Keene resident Betty Clark, who died at the age of 9 in 1761, was rededicated on Tuesday. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE — West Keene resident Betty Clark died at the age of 9, most likely of smallpox since the disease was running rampant in her neighborhood at the time of her death on March 9, 1761.

On Tuesday, 256 years after her death, about 50 people gathered around her gravestone in the Ash Swamp Burying Ground, tucked into the golf course of the Keene Country Club on West Street for a dedication of her gravestone and a reconsecration of her grave.

Betty’s gravestone was recently found in the old Michael Metcalf House on nearby Bradford Road by Bill Fenton, who found it while repairing some exterior stone steps on the old house that was built in 1820.

“It was in the base holding up the front steps,” said Alan Rumrill, executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

Betty Clark had lived about 100 yards away from the Ash Swamp Burying Ground in a house at the corner of West Street and Base Hill Road. The Ash Swamp Burying Ground had about 100 recorded graves, Rumrill said. Yet only 11 gravestones remain in the small cemetery that is surrounded by the Keene County Club golf course. Rumrill said he doesn’t know what happened to the approximately 90 or so other graves.

Rumrill said Tuesday it’s not unusual that the gravestone was found in the steps, since gravestones were often used in such projects. But it is odd that no replacement gravestone for Betty was put in place. Rumrill did some research, he said, but couldn’t find a later stone for Betty anywhere in Keene.

Additionally, Betty’s name didn’t show up in a list of burials recorded in the city in the 1880s.

“We don’t know a lot about her life because she was only 9-years-old when she passed away and we’re not even positive it was smallpox. But this cemetery was started that year for victims of the smallpox epidemic that hit, especially West Keene hard that year, and she died at the same time, same month, as the other victims did,” Rumrill said.

Betty’s stone was recently placed in a gap between her father’s gravestone and her sister’s gravestone in the old burying ground. Based on its good condition it appears to have been removed early on and kept away from the weather and other elements, Rumrill said.

“We’re pretty sure that’s the original, and that’s where it belongs,” he said. “We’re pretty sure she was buried here. … Once the gravestone was discovered in the steps of Mr. Fenton’s house over there we determined, along with the city, it would be nice to bring her back here and put her back with her family,” adding “not her but her gravestone.”

During the ceremony, the Rev. Elsa Worth of St. James Episcopal Church in Keene offered traditional prayers for the burial of the dead, reconsecrating the grave and said prayers for Betty.

Among those in attendance was Keene City Councilor Terry M. Clark, who said as a history buff and a possible relative of Betty’s he felt it was right for him to be there at the rededication.

“The way it looks, her 9th grandfather from England was a cousin of my 9th grandfather from England,” Clark said. “ points that way.”

The information he found online may or may not be accurate, he said, but he still wanted to be there.

“That’s part of our heritage. I’m a big history buff,” Clark said. “I thought it would be just the right thing to do — to go there and put her back there with her family.”

NH People History General News Keene


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