William Bradford Monument, Plymouth, Massachusetts

The William Bradford monument at Burial Hill in Plymouth, around the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos show a scene on Burial Hill, not too far from the site of the photos in the previous post. In the foreground of the photos is a memorial obelisk for William Bradford, one of the leaders of the Mayflower Pilgrims who served as governor of the colony for many years. In the foreground are the gravesites for other members of the Bradford family, and further in the distance is a mix of different gravestones from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

William Bradford was born in England in 1590. As a young man he joined the Separatist group that left England for the Dutch Republic, where they sought greater religious freedom. Then, in 1620 he traveled with the Separatists to the New World, landing first at Cape Cod—where his first wife Dorothy died after falling overboard from the Mayflower—and then to Plymouth, where the settlers experienced a harsh first winter in New England. The colony’s first governor, John Carver, died in April 1621, and Bradford was subsequently elected to succeed him. Bradford would continue to serve in that capacity for many years. With the exception of several short intervals, he remained as governor until his death in 1657 at the age of 67.

The exact location of William Bradford’s gravesite is uncertain. During the early years of the Plymouth Colony, Cole’s Hill was the main burial site for the settlers. By contrast, Burial Hill was not definitely in use as a graveyard until much later in the 1600s. Combined with the fact that gravestones were generally not used until the late 1600s, it makes it difficult to determine where many of the Mayflower passengers, including Bradford, were actually buried.

By the early 19th century, it was widely believed that Bradford had been buried here in this plot on Burial Hill. Several of his family members are buried here, including his son William Bradford Jr., whose gravestone is in the foreground on the right side of these photos. However, the belief that Governor Bradford was buried here was based on tradition, rather than historical documentation.

Regardless of the actual site of his final resting place, this site is now marked by the memorial obelisk that stands in the center of these two photos. It was dedicated in 1835, and it is made of marble with a granite base. The main inscription reads:

Under this stone
rest the ashes of
Willm Bradford
a zealous puritan &
sincere christian
Gov. of Ply. Col. from
April 1621 to 1657
(the year he died
aged 69)
except 5 yrs
which he declined.
Qua patres difficillime
adeptisunt nolite
turpiter relinquere

The final three lines are a Latin phrase that translates to “What our forefathers with so much difficulty secured, do not basely relinquish.” Aside from this, the stone also features a line of Hebrew, which can be seen directly above the inscription. According to an 1835 newspaper article reporting on the dedication of the monument, this Hebrew inscription is taken from Psalm 16:5 and reads “Jehovah is the portion of my inheritance.”

By the time the first photo was taken, the monument had been here for nearly a century. This was no longer an active graveyard by then, but it was a popular tourist attraction, likely aided in part by the well-publicized 300 anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in 1920. In the background of the scene are two 19th century churches: the 1840 Church of the Pilgrimage on the left, and the 1899 First Parish Church on the right.

Today, hardly anything has changed since the first photo was taken. The monument is still standing here, as are most of the other nearby gravestones. Some have been encased in granite in an effort to protect them, although this likely occurred sometime in the mid-20th century, because this conservation technique is generally not practiced anymore. The churches in the background are also still standing, although they are mostly hidden from view by the trees in the second photo.

Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts

The view looking southeast from near the top of Burial Hill in Plymouth, on October 22, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library; photographed by Leon Abdalian.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos show the view looking toward the center of Plymouth from Burial Hill, the main colonial-era graveyard in the town. This site offers expansive views of Plymouth and the harbor further in the distance, and it was here on this hill that the Pilgrims constructed a fort in 1622. This fort also served as the town’s meeting house, and it was protected by a palisade. The fort was enlarged several times over the years, and it was also joined by a brick watchtower here on the hill in 1643.

After the conclusion of King Philip’s War in 1676, this site was no longer needed for defensive fortifications. The structures here were dismantled, and by 1679 the hill was in use as a graveyard. This was not the first burial ground that was used by European settlers in Plymouth. During the first winter of 1620-1621, the dead were evidently buried closer to the harbor on Cole’s Hill, and that site remained in use until at least the 1640s. As  result, most of the Mayflower passengers were likely buried there in unmarked graves, rather than here on Burial Hill. The oldest surviving gravestone on Burial Hill is dated 1681, which is long after most of the Mayflower passengers had died.

Burial Hill continued to be used for new interments until around the mid-19th century. By that point, trends had shifted in favor of newer, park-like cemeteries, rather than the old colonial-era graveyards such as this one. Instead, Burial Hill came to be recognized for its historical significance, both in terms of its use as a fort in the 17th century and also for its variety of intricately-carved headstones, which often feature skulls and other grim reminders of death.

In the meantime, downtown Plymouth continued to grow and develop over the years. The first photo, taken in 1929, shows two churches in the background at the foot of Burial Hill. On the left is the Third Congregational Church, also known as the Church of the Pilgrimage. This building was constructed in 1840, but it was subsequently remodeled in 1898 to give it more of a Colonial Revival appearance. The church to the right is the First Parish Church in Plymouth. It was built in 1899 on the site of an earlier church building, and it has a Romanesque-style design that resembles the style of church buildings that existed in England prior to the Pilgrims’ departure.

The trees in the present-day scene make it difficult to see the churches and other buildings at the base of the hill, but not much has changed in nearly a century since the first photo was taken, and both church buildings are still standing. Here on Burial Hill, the scene has likewise remained essentially the same. Most of the gravestones from the first photo are still here, although some have since been encased in granite in an effort to better protect them. Because of its significance to the early history of Plymouth, Burial Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

Ichabod Tucker House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 28 Chestnut Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

This house was built in 1800 as the home of Ichabod Tucker, a lawyer who served as clerk of courts for Essex County. Its design was typical for houses of this period, featuring three stories that were topped by a hip roof. The front façade was subsequently reconstructed in 1846 with Greek Revival features, which often happened as owners tried to keep up with changing styles and tastes.

Tucker lived here until his death in 1846, and his adopted daughter Nancy inherited the house. She lived here with her husband Thomas Cole, a teacher and microscopist who is not to be confused with the prominent 19th century artist of the same name. Nancy died in 1890 at the age of 95, and the house was later owned by the Willson family before becoming the parsonage for the First Church in Salem.

The first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and very little has changed in this scene since then, aside from paving the street and adding a driveway on the right side. As with the other homes on Chestnut Street, it has remained well-preserved in its 19th century appearance. It is a contributing property in the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Nathaniel West & James W. Thompson House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 38-40 Chestnut Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

This double house was built in 1845, and it stands on the north side of Chestnut Street. It consists of two separate homes standing side by side, with 38 Chestnut on the right and 40 Chestnut on the left. It is somewhat newer than most of the other houses on the street, which generally date to the first two decades of the 19th century. As a result, while the house has many of the same Federal-style features of the earlier homes on the street, it also includes a mix of Greek Revival elements.

The original owner of 38 Chestnut was merchant Nathaniel West, although he does not appear to have actually lived here. By the early 1850s, the house was owned by another merchant, Joseph S. Andrews, who also served as mayor of Salem from 1854 to 1856. In the meantime, the house on the left side at 40 Chestnut was originally owned by the Rev. James W. Thompson, who lived here until 1859. It was subsequently the home of merchant John B. Silsbee and his wife Martha.

Both houses would have a number of other owners throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries. The first photo was taken sometime around the turn of the century by Frank Cousins, who used photography to document many historic properties throughout the city. Very little has changed with the appearance of the house in more than a century since the first photo was taken, and it is one of the many historic homes that still line Chestnut Street today.

Francis A. Seamans House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 48 Chestnut Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

The early 20th century was they heyday of the Colonial Revival architectural movement, although in many cases these buildings bore little resemblance to actual colonial-era buildings. However, this house in Salem is an exception, and it stands out as an excellent 20th century imitation of 18th century architecture. It was built in 1910, and its architect, William G. Rantoul, drew heavily from the design of Salem’s famous Derby House when designing it. The result is a convincing replica that fits in well with the historic 18th and early 19th century homes in this neighborhood.

The original residents of this house were Francis and Caroline Seamans. They were both about 50 at the time, and Francis was a business owner who sold contractor supplies. He died in 1930, and Caroline subsequently sold the house. By the 1940 census she was listed as a boarder in a house around the corner from here, at 384 Essex Street.

The first photo was probably taken soon after the house was completed, and not much has changed since then. Although much newer than its neighbors, it is nonetheless a historic property in its own right, and it stands as a good example of early 20th century Colonial Revival architecture. it is a contributing property in  the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Joseph Dean House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at the northeast corner of Essex and Flint Streets in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

This house has been expanded and altered many times over the years, but it is said to have been built around 1706 as the home of Captain Joseph Dean and his wife Elizabeth Flint. He did not get to enjoy the house for very long, because he died in 1709, but the house would remain in his family for many years, until it was sold around 1775.

The next owner of the house was Colonel Joseph Sprague, who served in the American Revolution. He also played a role in Leslie’s Retreat, a confrontation in Salem between British redcoats and colonial militiamen that occurred a little less than two months before the battles of Lexington and Concord. He lived here until his death in 1808, and the house was subsequently inherited by his daughter Sarah.

Sarah Sprague had married Dr. William Stearns in 1781, and by the time she inherited this house they had ten children. The third floor of the house appears to have been added at some point around this time, as was the portico above the front door, which is believed to have been made by Samuel McIntire, the famous architect and builder.

The Stearns family owned the house throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The 1880 census, for example, shows William and Sarah’s daughter Harriet—who by this point was 79 years old—living here with her nephew William and his family. This younger William Stearns was a lawyer, and he was the son of William and Sarah’s youngest child Richard Stearns. By 1880 he was 57 years old, and his family here included his wife Hannah and  their sons William and Richard, both of whom were also lawyers. The family also employed three live-in servants here.

The first photo was taken at some point around the turn of the 20th century. By then, the house had undergone further changes, including additions to the back and right side. It also had a porch on the right side, which is partially visible in the photo. William Stearns died in 1905, but his son Richard subsequently inherited the house. He was the great-great grandson of Joseph Sprague, making him the fifth consecutive generation to own the property. During the 1910 census he was living here with his wife Carrie, their five children, and two servants.

The house ultimately remained in the family until 1930, and it was subsequently converted into an inn and tea house known as the East India House. It has since been converted into apartments, with a total of eight units in the building. On the exterior, though, not much has changed in its appearance. The shutters—which would not have been original to the house—have been removed, but overall it still looks essentially the same as it did at the turn of the century. Along with the other nearby homes, it is now part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.