Judges Cave, New Haven, Connecticut

The Judges Cave on West Rock in New Haven, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

 

The immediate origins of the American Revolution can be traced back to the 1760s, when colonists began protesting taxes that were being levied on the colonies in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. However, this was hardly the first time that the colonies had defied the British crown. A century earlier, following the English Civil War and the eventual restoration of the monarchy, the colony of New Haven protected several regicides who had signed the death warrant of Charles I in 1649. This ultimately helped lead to the downfall of the colony and its merger with Connecticut in 1664, but none of the regicides were ever captured, and the incident has lived on in New England lore.

John Dixwell, William Goffe, and Edward Whalley were three military officers who had fought on the side of Parliament during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Following the defeat of the Royalists, King Charles I was captured put on trial for treason, and was found guilty of being a “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy.” These three men were among the 59 commissioners who signed his death warrant, and he was subsequently beheaded on January 30, 1649.

This led to a decade-long interregnum, during which time Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell took on the title of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. However, this government collapsed soon after Cromwell’s death in 1558, and in 1660 Charles II, the son of Charles I, returned from exile became king. That same year, Parliament passed the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, which pardoned most of the people who took part in the war but specifically excluded the 59 regicides and other high-ranking leaders who were connected to the trial and execution of Charles I. Over the next few years, royal officials tracked down many of these people, who were then imprisoned or executed. Even those who were already dead could not escape punishment; the bodies of Cromwell and several other dead regicides were exhumed from their graves, publicly executed, and then beheaded.

In the meantime, Dixwell, Goffe, and Whalley fled to the New World, to seek shelter among the Puritans. The exact date and location of Dixwell’s arrival is unknown, but he was presumed dead by the British and was not actively pursued by royal authorities. As for Goffe and Whalley, they arrived in Boston in July 1660, and they lived openly in Cambridge, before news of the Indemnity and Oblivion Act reached the colony in the fall. Over the next few months, the colonial leaders debated what to do about the two men. Although many were sympathetic to them and their cause, they feared the consequences to the colony if they continued to shelter them. So, on February 26, 1661 Goffe and Whalley left Cambridge for New Haven, where they arrived on March 7.

Here in New Haven, the men initially lived with the Reverend John Davenport. However, within a few months they were again in danger. News of their formal arrest warrant, dated March 5, reached New Haven around the end of April. This was soon followed by the arrival of royal officials in nearby Guilford, where they met with Governor William Leete. He managed to delay them in Guilford for several days, allowing Goffe and Whalley to quite literally take to the hills in order to escape arrest.

Goffe and Whalley spent several nights in temporary lodgings, aided by local farmers, before they were brought here to this rock formation on May 15. Although commonly referred to as Judges Cave, it is a cave in only the most generous sense of the word. In reality, it is a pile of boulders that, in a few areas, overhang enough to provide minimal shelter from the elements.  It is located high atop West Rock, a traprock ridge located about three miles northwest of the center of New Haven. At the time, this was a remote, sparsely-settled area, and they were able to live here for nearly a month without being detected.

Throughout this month, Goffe and Whalley received food every day from Richard Sperry, a local farmer who lived about a mile from here. They spent several nights at a nearby house during periods of inclement weather, but otherwise they lived here on the hill, which they named Providence Hill. In the meantime, royal officials were diligently searching for them in New Haven, offering generous rewards for their capture while also threatening Reverend Davenport for having aided them. The two regicides considered turning themselves in, in order to spare the colony any further trouble, but Governor Leete convinced them to remain in hiding. Within a few years, though, New Haven’s aid to the regicides would be a contributing factor in the demise of the colony, which was absorbed by the neighboring Connecticut colony in 1664.

According to legend, it was ultimately not royal officials who drove Goffe and Whalley from this cave, but rather a mountain lion that made an appearance at the entrance to the cave and frightened the two men. They left here on June 11, and lived at two other locations in the vicinity of West Rock for the next few months before finding more permanent lodgings at a house in Milford. They remained at this house for the next two or three years, before eventually moving to Hadley, Massachusetts, where they spent the rest of their lives in safety.

Because of the obvious need for secrecy in the movements of the regicides, there are few contemporary sources to corroborate these events. Perhaps the only primary source document was a diary that Goffe kept from 1660 to 1667, which he wrote in an easily-decipherable shorthand. This diary is now lost to history, but in the mid-1700s it was owned by Thomas Hutchinson, the royal lieutenant governor and later governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Aside from his role in colonial government, Hutchinson was also a historian, and in 1764 he published The History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. This book included an account of the regicides, which was based largely on Goffe’s journal. However, as a loyalist in the years leading up to the American Revolution, Hutchinson took a dim view of the regicides, and this bias is evident in much of his narrative. For example, he emphasizes the role that colonial officials had in trying to apprehend them, in an effort to portray the majority of 17th century New Englanders as having been loyal to the crown

Regardless of the biases, and the fact that it was written a century after the events happened, Hutchinson’s book provides the earliest significant account of the regicides and their flight through New England. The section relevant to their time here at Judges Cave, which is part of a lengthy footnote, reads as follows:

About that time, news came to Boston that ten of the judges were executed, and the governor received a royal mandate, dated March 5, 1660, to cause Whaley and Goffe to be secured. This greatly alarmed the country, and there is no doubt that the court were now in earnest in their endeavours to apprehend them; and to avoid all suspicion, they gave commission and instruction to two young merchants from England, Thomas Kellond and Thomas Kirk, zealous royalists, to go through the colonies, as far as Manhados, in search of them. They had friends who informed them what was doing, and they removed from Mr. Davenport’s to the house of one Jones, where they lay hid until the 11th of May, and then removed to a mill, and from thence, on the 13th, into the woods, where they met Jones and two of his companions, Sperry and Burril, who first conducted them to a place called hatchet-harbor, where they lay two nights, until a cave or hole in the side of a hill was prepared to conceal them. This hill they called Providence hill; and there they continued, from the 15th of May to the 11th of June, sometimes in the cave, and, in very tempestuous weather, in a house near to it. During this time, the messengers went through New-Haven to the Dutch settlement, from whence they returned to Boston by water. They made diligent search, and had full proof that the regicides had been seen at Mr. Davenport’s, and offered great rewards to English and Indians who should give information that they might be taken, but, by the fidelity of these three friends, they remained undiscovered.

Goffe’s journal remained in Hutchinson’s possession until 1765, when his house was ransacked by a Patriot mob in protest of the Stamp Act. The journal was either lost or destroyed in the process, making Hutchinson’s book the only surviving description of its contents. However, at least one other prominent historian, future Yale president Ezra Stiles, had the opportunity to examine the journal before its disappearance. He saw it during a 1763 visit to Hutchinson’s house, and he subsequently wrote his own history of the regicides.

Unlike Hutchinson’s description of the regicides, which fills just seven pages in his massive multi-volume history of the colony, Ezra Stiles published an entire book about their exploits in 1794. Titled A History of Three of the Judges of King Charles I, the book is over 350 pages long, and it relies heavily on oral traditions that were passed down to the descendants of the men involved in helping the regicides. Like Hutchinson’s account, Stiles’s book also has a political slant, although in the opposite direction. Writing just a decade after the American Revolution, in the midst of republican, anti-monarchical sentiment, Stiles viewed the regicides in a positive light, and he even included a chapter in which he justified their actions.

Stiles’s seemingly uncritical use of oral tradition in his book would come under criticism from later scholars, including biographer Edmund S. Morgan. Writing in his 1962 book The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795, Morgan asserted that it “represents Stiles at his worst. It is a tedious hodgepodge of fact and fancy, compounded mainly out of dim recollections by old men and women of things their grandfathers had told them fifty years before.” One such recollection, which relates to the Judges Cave, came from an interview with Joseph Sperry, whose grandfather Richard Sperry had aided the regicides in 1661. Stiles provided the following account in his book, including a description of this cave:

In 1785 I visited aged Mr. Joseph Sperry, then living, aged 76, a grandson of the first Richard, a son of Daniel Sperry, who died in 1751, aged 86, from whom Joseph received the whole family tradition. Daniel was the sixth son of Richard, and built a house at the south end of Sperry’s farm, in which Joseph now lives, not a half a mile west from the Cave, which Joseph shewed me. There is a notch in the mountain against Joseph’s house, through which I ascended along a very steep acclivity up to the Cave. From the south end of the mountain for three or four miles northward, there is no possible ascent or descent on the west side, but at this notch, so steep is the precipice of the rock. I found the Cave to be formed, on a base of perhaps forty feet square, by an irregular clump or pile of rocks, or huge broad pillars of stone, fifteen and twenty feet high, standing erect and elevated above the surrounding superficies of the mountain, and enveloped with trees and forest. These rocks coalescing or contiguous at top, furnished hollows or vacuities below, big enough to contain bedding and two or three persons. The apertures being closed with boughs of trees or otherwise, there might be found a well covered and convenient lodgement.

After this description of the cave and its surroundings, he wrote of what he learned from Joseph Sperry:

Here, Mr. Sperry told me, was the first lodgment of the Judges, and it has ever since gone and been known by the name of the Judges’ Cave to this day. Goffe’s Journal says, they entered this Cave the 15th of May, and continued in it till the 11th of June following—Richard Sperry daily supplied them with victuals from his house, about a mile off; sometimes carrying it himself, at other times sending it by one of his boys, tied up in cloth, ordering him to lay it on a certain stump and leave it: and when the boy went for it at night he always found the basons emptied of the provisions, and brought them home. The boy wondered at it, and used to ask his father the design of it, and he saw no body. His father only told him there was some body at work in the woods that wanted it. The sons always remembered it, and often told it to persons now living, and to Mr. Joseph Sperry particularply [sic].

They continued here till 11th of June. Mr. Joseph Sperry told me that the incident which broke them up from this Cave was this, that this mountain being a haunt for wild animals, one night as the Judges lay in bed, a panther, or catamount, putting his head into the door or aperture of the Cave, blazed his eye-balls in such a hideous manner upon them, as greatly affrighted them. One of them was so terrified by this grim and ferocious monster, her eyes and her squawling, that he took to his heels, and fled down the mountain to the Sperry’s house for safety. They thereupon considered this situation too dangerous, and quitted it. All the Sperry families have this tradition.

Aside from the events here in New Haven, the subsequent lives of Goffe and Whalley in Hadley are shrouded in mystery and legend. They lived at the home of the Reverend John Russell, but it appears that most townspeople were unaware of their identities. At some point around 1664, they were reunited with John Dixwell, the third regicide who had fled to New England. He eventually moved to New Haven, where he lived under the name John Davids until his death in 1689. Because the authorities believed that he was dead, he was able to live in relative security, and does not appear to have required the use of this cave or any other improvised shelters.

In the meantime, Edward Whalley died in Hadley around 1675 of natural causes, but Goffe lived long enough to become the subject of perhaps the most memorable regicide legend. According to tradition, at some point in either 1675 or 1676 the town of Hadley was facing an attack by Native Americans during King Philip’s War. The townspeople started panicking, but then an elderly man, identified in the legend as William Goffe, emerged and began to take charge. Some 30 years after he fought the Cavaliers on the battlefields of the English Civil War, he rallied the people and led their defense, and succeeded in saving the town. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the “Angel of Hadley” was gone.

As is the case for nearly all of the regicide-related stories, the first published account of the Angel of Hadley did not appear for nearly a century, until Thomas Hutchinson included it in his book in 1764. He included it at the end of his lengthy footnote on the movements of the regicides, writing:

The town of Hadley was alarmed by the Indians in 1675, in the time of publick worship, and the people were in the utmost confusion. Suddenly, a grave elderly person appeared in the midst of them. In his mien and dress he differed from the rest of the people. He not only encouraged them to defend themselves; but put himself at their head, rallied, instructed and led them on to encounter the enemy, who by this means were repulsed. As suddenly, the deliverer of Hadley disappeared. The people were left in consternation, utterly unable to account for this strange phœnomenon. It is not probable, that they were ever able to explain it. If Goffe had been then discovered, it must have come to the knowledge of those persons, who declare by their letters that they never knew what became of him.

Writing in his book 30 years after Hutchinson, Stiles repeats essentially the same account of the incident, although his wording tends to be more explicitly favorable to Goffe. Rather than describing him as “a grave elderly person,” Stiles writes of “a man of a very venerable aspect.” He copies Hutchinson’s wording by saying “the inhabitants could not account for the phœnomenon,” but then added “but considering that person as an Angel sent of God upon that special occasion for their deliverance; and for some time after said and believed that they had been delivered and saved by an Angel.”

Stiles’s romanticized description helped to solidify the idea of the “Angel of Hadley,” and by the early 19th century the story had become a part of early American folklore. In his 1823 novel Peveril of the Peak, Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott alluded to the incident, and in 1829 James Fenimore Cooper included it in his novel The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was never one to pass up a good story about the Puritans, also took inspiration from it. As a young man, he visited Judges Cave here in New Haven, and one of his early short stories, “The Gray Champion,” was loosely based on the Angel of Hadley legend. In the story, the title character is a shadowy, mysterious figure who embodies the Puritan ancestors of New England. Instead of defending a town against Native Americans, Hawthorne’s hero challenges the authoritarian rule of Edmund Andros in the 1680s. The Gray Champion disappears once the threat to the colony is over, but over the years he continues to make appearances whenever American liberty is at stake, including nearly a century later on the battlefields at Lexington and Bunker Hill.

Although Hutchinson’s and Stiles’s accounts provided plenty of material for 19th century authors, many historians began calling into question the accuracy of these tales, especially the ones that were handed down to Stiles through multi-generational hearsay. Legends such as the Angel of Hadley might very well have some basis in reality, but at this point it is difficult to sort out fact from fiction, given the inherent secrecy involved in the regicides and their activities here in New England. As for the tradition that the regicides spent a month hiding here in this rock formation, it is impossible to state with certainty that this is true. However, this belief does not seem to have been seriously questioned, and it seems plausible that this was, in fact, their hiding place during the spring of 1661.

The first photo was taken around 1901, showing the south side of the rock formation. By this point, the surrounding land was owned by the city of New Haven as part of West Rock Park. In the early 1890s a road was opened up here to the Judges Cave, and then in 1896 a plaque was installed here on the rocks. This plaque, which is visible here on the right side of the scene, commemorates the role that this site played in sheltering the regicides, and it was presented to the city by the Society of Colonial Wars. The formal dedication occurred on October 14, 1896, and it was attended by dignitaries such as Mayor Frederick B. Farnsworth, state adjutant general Edward E. Bradley, future governor Simeon E. Baldwin, and writer Charles Dudley Warner. Along with providing a short description of the regicides, the plaque features the phrase “opposition to tyrants is obedience to God,” which had apparently been inscribed on the rocks here as early as 1803.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the Judges Cave still looks essentially the same. It is still preserved as parkland, although it was acquired by the state in 1975, and it is now named West Rock Ridge State Park. The Judges Cave remains an important landmark within the park, and the only real difference between these two photos is the loss of the plaque, which was evidently stolen at some point. Its replacement is a somewhat larger plaque on the left side, although it bears the same inscription as the original one. It includes the same closing line about how “opposition to tyrants is obedience to God,” reflecting the beliefs that had led two Puritans across the Atlantic Ocean and to this secluded cave on the fringes of European settlements in the New World.

 

Meriam’s Corner, Concord, Mass

The view looking northeast at Meriam’s Corner in Concord, with Old Bedford Road to the left and Lexington Road on the right, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 marked the start of the American Revolution, when colonial militiamen resisted British attempts to seize military supplies in Concord. However, the fighting did not consist of a single battle, but rather a series of skirmishes spread out across several towns between Boston and Concord. It began at dawn in Lexington, when about 80 of the town’s militiamen gathered on the town common to confront the advancing British. A tense standoff led to both sides exchanging gunfire, killing eight colonists before the British continued their march to Concord. There, they seized some of the colonial supplies, but their advance was halted at Old North Bridge, where militiamen fired the famous “shot heard ’round the world” and forced three companies of redcoats to retreat.

Up until this point, the day was relatively bloodless for the British, who had one soldier wounded at Lexington, three killed at Old North Bridge, and nine wounded there. They had partially succeeded in their objectives, having destroyed some of the colonial cannons and supplies, but they now found themselves deep in hostile territory, with an ever-increasing number of militiamen streaming in from the surrounding towns. Facing a 17-mile march back to the safety of Boston, the redcoats ate lunch in Concord before leaving the town around noon.

Lt. Colonel Francis Smith, the commander of the British soldiers here, ordered a flank guard to protect the column of redcoats as they marched out of Concord. However, just beyond this intersection the road crosses a small stream, requiring the flank guard to return to the road in order to cross the bridge. At the same time, militiamen from Reading, Chelmsford, and Billerica arrived on scene. Observing that the British were vulnerable to attack without a flank guard, Captain John Brooks of the Reading minutemen ordered his soldiers to open fire, beginning what would soon turn into a long and bloody struggle for the British as they made their way back to Boston.

This intersection is known as Meriam’s Corner because it was the longtime home of the Meriam family, who had lived here since the mid-1600s. By 1775 there were three different houses here that belonged to members of the family, including the one on the left side of these photos. Built around 1705 by Joseph Meriam, it was subsequently owned by his son Nathan, who was living here with his wife Abigail and their children in 1775. Nathan was 54 years old at the time, and he was serving as one of the three town selectmen in Concord. He does not appear to have participated in the fighting here, but accounts of the battle suggest that his house and outbuildings were probably among the structures that the militiamen used for cover when they opened fire on the British column.

Contemporary descriptions of the day’s fighting lack specific details about how the fighting unfolded here at Meriam’s Corner, but several later accounts provide more information. Among these is a letter, written in 1825 by Reverend Edmund Foster, who had been one of the Reading minutemen who fought here a half century earlier. In this letter, he wrote the following, which is quoted from the National Park Service’s Historic Structure Report on the Meriam house:

We rendezvoused near the middle of the town of Bedford; left horses, and marched forward in pursuit of the enemy. A little before we came to Merriam’s hill, we discovered the enemy’s flank guard, of about 80 or 100 men, who, on their retreat from Concord, kept that height of land, the main body [being] in the road. The British troops and the Americans, at that time, were equally distant from Merriam’s corner. About twenty rods short of that place, the Americans made a halt. The British marched down the hill with very slow, but steady step, without music, or a word being spoken that could be heard. Silence reigned on both sides. As soon as the British had gained the main road, and passed a small bridge near that corner, they faced about suddenly, and fired a volley of musketry upon us. They overshot; and no one, to my knowledge, was injured by the fire. The fire was immediately returned by the Americans, and two British soldiers fell dead a little distance from each other, in the road near the brook. The battle now began, and was carried on with little or no military discipline and order, on the part of the Americans, during the remainder of that day. Each one sought his own place and opportunity to attack and annoy the enemy from behind trees, rocks, fences and buildings, as seemed most convenient.

As noted in the letter, the brief exchange of fire here at Meriam’s Corner was only the beginning of what would become an afternoon of guerilla warfare and ambushes on the part of the colonial militiamen. They inflicted particularly heavy casualties less than a mile to the east of here, at a spot now known as the Bloody Angle, where 30 British soldiers were killed or wounded. By the time the column reached Lexington the retreat had turned into a rout, and only the timely arrival of reinforcements from Boston saved the British from total disaster.

The British retreat marked the beginning of the Siege of Boston, which lasted until they evacuated the town 11 months later in March 1776. In the meantime, no further fighting occurred here in Concord for the rest of the war, and life in the town largely returned to normal. Nathan Meriam continued to live here in this house until his death in 1782. His son Ephraim subsequently acquired the property, and it would remain in his family until the death of his son Rufus in 1870. Rufus was a bachelor with no children, and the family sold the house a year later, ending two centuries of Meriam family ownership of this lot.

In 1871, the house was purchased by Thomas and Rose Burke, two Irish immigrants who lived here with their four children. He was a farmer, and he and Rose were still living here when the first photo was taken around 1900. According to that year’s census, all four of their children, who were now adults, were also still here, along with a hired hand who worked on the farm and lived with the family.

The first photo shows the scene looking northeast from the intersection. From here, the road on the left is Old Bedford Road, the route that the Reading minutemen took to get here. Out of view on the right is Lexington Road, which the British took on their way to and from Boston on the day of the battle. In the foreground on the right side of the scene is an inscribed boulder, which was installed in 1885 as part of the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Concord’s founding. It reads: “Meriam’s Corner. The British troops retreating from the Old North Bridge were here attacked in flank by the men of Concord and neighboring towns and driven under a hot fire to Charlestown.”

Today, around 120 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed substantially, except for the paved roads and increase in vegetation. The commemorative boulder is still there, as is the Meriam House in the distance, although it is now mostly hidden by trees from this angle. This site, along with much of the land surrounding the historic Battle Road, is now preserved and administered by the National Park Service as part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.

Melvin Memorial, Concord, Mass

The Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1909-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

This monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was dedicated in 1909 in honor of Asa, John, and Samuel Melvin, three brothers who died during the Civil War. All three were Concord natives, and they served in Company K of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. Their deaths represented three of the leading causes of death in the war: disease, combat, and poor conditions prisoner of war camps. John died of dysentery in 1863, Asa was killed in battle during the siege of Petersburg in 1864, and Samuel died of disease and malnutrition in 1864 at the Andersonville prison in Georgia, following his capture after the Battle of Spotsylvania.

A fourth brother, James C. Melvin, was too young to join older siblings at the start of the war, but he enlisted later in the war once he was old enough. He was the only one to survive the war, and he went on to become a businessman in Boston, where he was involved in a cold storage company. One of his goals was to create a memorial in honor of his three older brothers, so in 1897 he commissioned prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French to design one.

Although a native of New Hampshire, French was no stranger to Concord. One of his first major works was The Minute Man, a bronze statue dedicated in 1875 at Old North Bridge, at the site of the Battle of Concord. That iconic symbol of the American Revolution has remained one of his most famous works, perhaps eclipsed only by one of his last works, the 30-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

For the Melvin Memorial, French drew little inspiration from existing Civil War monuments, which typically featured some variation of a uniformed soldier holding a rifle. Instead, he took inspiration from classical art, creating a relief sculpture that he titled Mourning Victory. The design features a seven-foot-tall figure of Victory emerging from the marble, draped in an American flag and carrying a laurel sprig. These symbols express patriotism and the triumphant victory of the Union during the war, but French also portrayed Victory with downcast eyes, mourning the human cost of that victory. Directly beneath the sculpture are tablets for each of the three brothers, with inscriptions identifying them and the circumstances of their deaths. The other inscription on the memorial, located below Victory, reads:

In memory of three brothers born in Concord who as private soldiers gave their lives in the war to save the country this memorial is placed here by their surviving brother, himself a private soldier in the same war.

“I with uncovered head
Salute the sacred dead
Who went and who return not”

The memorial was dedicated on June 16, 1909, in a ceremony that was well attended by surviving members of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The first photo was taken shortly after the dedication, and it shows the monument in its location in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. However, while it is in a cemetery, none of the brothers are actually buried here beneath the memorial. Only John’s body was returned home during the war, and he is buried elsewhere in the cemetery in the family plot, alongside his brother James, who died in 1915. As for the other two brothers, Samuel is buried in the Andersonville National Cemetery, while Asa lies in a mass grave in Petersburg.

Today, more than a century after the dedication of the Melvin Memorial, it still looks essentially the same as it did in the first photo, thanks to a restoration project that was completed in 2019. It is regarded as one of Daniel Chester French’s finest works, and a replica of it—which was also commissioned by James Melvin—is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Overall, perhaps the only thing that has changed here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery since the first photo was taken is the number of gravestones, which has obviously increased over the years. Appropriately enough, one of these stones is for Daniel Chester French himself, who died in 1931 and is buried up on the ridge behind the memorial.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Gravesite, Concord, Mass

The Emerson family plot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the most important American philosophers of the 19th century. Born in Boston in 1803 to a family of Congregational pastors, he attended Harvard and briefly served as a pastor, but ultimately left the ministry following the death of his first wife Ellen. His beliefs subsequently shifted away from organized religion, and starting in the 1830s he began writing essays and delivering lectures that helped to establish the beliefs of Transcendentalism. Among Emerson’s most famous works were the essays “Nature” (1836) and “Self-Reliance” (1841), in which he outlines core Transcendentalist beliefs such as individualism, nonconformity, and an appreciation of the natural world. Emerson lived in Concord for most of his adult life, and the town became the center of this new philosophy, where he influenced other writers such as Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau.

Transcendentalism coincided with the broader Romantic movement, which placed a greater emphasis on the natural environment than previous Western art movements. Although early 19th century Romanticism is primarily seen in artwork and literature, it also helped to inspire new ways of memorializing the dead here in New England. Prior to this time, most burials occurred in graveyards, which were typically open fields near village centers. In keeping with Puritan beliefs, these graveyards tended to be utilitarian in design, with little thought given to the aesthetics of the landscape. Even headstones were not always used, and the ones that were carved during the 17th and early 18th centuries tended to feature skulls and related imagery, in order to remind visitors of the inevitability of death.

In New England, these trends began to change during the early 19th century, particularly after the establishment of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Watertown in 1831. The cemetery was laid out like a park, with attractive landscaping that featured winding paths, hills, ponds, and ornamental trees. This was the start of the rural cemetery movement, which focused on creating a tranquil, peaceful environment that would serve as both a final resting place for the dead and a pleasant park for the living.

By the second half of the 19th century, most cities—and many small towns—in the northeast had their own rural cemeteries, which were often modeled on Mount Auburn. Here in Concord, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was established in 1855 on Bedford Street, just to the north of the town center. Rather than creating an artificial landscape, the cemetery was designed to incorporate the natural features of the site, including its hilly terrain and native plants and trees.

The design of the cemetery was very much in line with what the Transcendentalists believed about the importance of nature, and Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed this in his dedicatory address for the cemetery on September 29, 1855:

Modern taste has shown that there is no ornament, no architecture alone, so sumptuous as well disposed woods and waters, where art has been employed only to remove superfluities, and bring out the natural advantages. In cultivated grounds one sees the picturesque and opulent effect of the familiar shrubs, barberry, lilac, privet and thorns, when they are disposed in masses, and in large spaces. What work of man will compare with the plantation of a park? It dignifies life. It is a seat for friendship, counsel, taste and religion.

Later in the address, he spoke of nature in relation to the name “Sleepy Hollow,” which predated the cemetery by several decades:

This spot for twenty years has borne the name of Sleepy Hollow. Its seclusion from the village in its immediate neighborhood had made it to all the inhabitants an easy retreat on a Sabbath day, or a summer twilight, and it was inevitably chosen by them when the design of a new cemetery was broached, if it did not suggest the design, as the fit place for their final repose. In all the multitudes of woodlands and hillsides, which within a few years have been laid out with a similar design, I have not known one so fitly named. Sleepy Hollow. In this quiet valley, as in the palm of Nature’s hand, we shall sleep well when we have finished our day.

Finally, near the end of his address he offered a prediction for the future of this cemetery:

But we must look forward also, and make ourselves a thousand years old; and when these acorns, that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise and great will have left their names and virtues on the trees; heroes, poets, beauties, sanctities, benefactors, will have made the air timeable and articulate.

More than 165 years have passed since Emerson presented this speech, and we are certainly in “a remote century” by comparison to his time. In many ways, his predictions have held true, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery certainly has its share of “the good, the wise and great” who are buried here. Appropriately enough, Ralph Waldo Emerson is among them. He died in 1882 at the age of 78, and is buried here on a hill in the back of the cemetery, which is known as Author’s Ridge. This is the final resting place not only for Emerson but also for some of the nation’s greatest writers of the 19th century, including Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

Emerson’s gravestone, shown here in the center of these two photos, is a massive uncarved rose quartz stone. This seems only fitting for Emerson who, as he indicated in his dedicatory address, preferred natural beauty over manmade ornamentation. He is buried here alongside his second wife Lidian, who died in 1892. She is buried just to the left of his gravestone, and on his right is their daughter Ellen. She died in 1909, and her gravestone is not here in the first photo, which suggests that the photo was taken before her death, although it is also possible that the gravestone was placed here several years later.

Today, aside from the addition of Ellen’s gravestone and several others, not much has changed here in this scene. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery remains an active cemetery, with much of the same natural beauty that its 19th century founders had envisioned. It is also a popular destination for visitors to Concord, who come here to pay their respects to Emerson and the “heroes, poets, beauties, sanctities, benefactors” and other prominent individuals who are buried here.

Thoreau’s Cabin Site, Concord, Mass

The site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

As explained in the previous post, Walden Pond was made famous by Transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, who spent two years, two months, and two days living in a cabin here on the northern shore of the pond from 1845 to 1847. At the time, Concord was at the center of the Transcendentalist movement, and it was the home of several of its leaders, including Thoreau and his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. They placed a strong emphasis on values such as being self-reliant, living a simple and nonmaterialistic life, and having an appreciation for the natural world. Because of this, Thoreau decided to embark on an experiment here at Walden Pond, in order to determine whether he could, as he put it, “front only the essential facts of life” by living in a small cabin with only the basic necessities of human life.

Thoreau wrote about his experience in his book Walden, published in 1854. In the first chapter, titled “Economy,” he described how he selected this site and began constructing the cabin in the spring of 1845, writing:

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, nearest to where I intended to build my house, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber. . . . It was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods where pines and hickories were springing up.

He steadily worked on the cabin throughout the spring, and it was finally ready to be occupied by early July. His first night here was on July 4, a coincidence that marked the start of his own personal independence:

When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and window casings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. 

Thoreau ultimately completed the cabin by winter, including shingling the exterior and constructing a chimney and fireplace. The finished structure was, as he described it, “a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end, and a brick fireplace opposite.” In Walden, he itemized his construction costs, which added up to $28.12. The single largest expense was $8.03 for wood, much of which was recycled materials. In April he had purchased the shanty of James Collins, an Irish laborer who worked on the nearby Fitchburg Railroad, and he used this as a source of building materials.

The interior of the cabin was as spartan as its exterior, consisting of only minimal furnishings and personal possessions. Of these, he provided the following description:

My furniture, part of which I made myself, and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered an account, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp.

Throughout the “Economy” chapter, Thoreau meticulously recorded his income and expenses, and concluded that, by simplifying his life, he was able to meet all of his expenses by working just six weeks out of the year. In contrast to his assertion earlier in the chapter that “[t]he mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau argued based on his experiment here at Walden that:

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.

One popular misconception about Thoreau’s time here at Walden Pond is that he lived the life of a hermit in the wilderness. In reality, he was only a mile and a half from the center of Concord, and he often walked into town by way of the railroad, which ran just a quarter mile from here. As suggested by the presence of three chairs in the cabin, he also entertained guests here, although he found that the distance from town discouraged people from visiting for trivial reasons. In his book, he also wrote about interactions with other people who came to the pond for its natural resources, including fishermen and ice harvesters.

Thoreau moved out of the cabin on September 6, 1847, having decided that it was time to move on to the next stage in his life. It took another seven years before he completed his famous memoir about his stay here, and in the meantime his old cabin was put to a new use. Two years after Thoreau left, Ralph Waldo Emerson—who owned this land—sold the cabin to his gardener, who in turn sold it to two farmers. It was moved to a new location elsewhere in Concord, and it was used for grain storage for the next few decades, before ultimately being dismantled in 1868 and used for scrap. Thoreau did not live to see this, as he had died in 1862 at the age of 44, but he likely would have approved, considering he had built it from scrap lumber salvaged from an earlier structure.

In the meantime, the old site of Thoreau’s cabin began to attract attention as early as 1872, when Bronson Alcott—father of Louisa May Alcott—brought a visitor, Mrs. Mary Adams of Dubuque, Iowa, here to Walden Pond. At the time there was no marker here, so Mary suggested that a cairn might be an appropriate memorial. Writing in his journal, Alcott explained:

Mrs. Adams suggests that visitors to Walden shall bring a stone for Thoreau’s monument and begins the pile by laying stones on the site of his hermitage, which I point out to her. The tribute thus rendered to our friend may, as the years pass, become a pile to his memory. The rude stones were a monument more fitting than the costliest caring of the artist. Henry’s fame is sure to brighten with years, and this spot be visited by admiring readers of his works.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the cairn had grown to a considerable size. The view faces essentially due south, with the pond visible beyond the trees in the distance. In the center of the photo is Thoreau’s Cove, the northernmost part of the pond, which comes within about 200 feet of the site of the cabin. The types of trees here are similar to what Thoreau would have seen, with a mix of pine and deciduous trees, but these actual trees were likely not old enough to have been here during Thoreau’s stay in the 1840s.

The cairn does not actually stand on the exact site of the cabin, although it is within a few yards. The actual location of the cabin was discovered in 1945 by archaeologist Roland W. Robbins, who uncovered the foundation of Thoreau’s chimney. These two photos were taken from right about the spot where the house stood, and it is now marked by an inscribed stone above the foundations of the chimney, along with nine cut stones that mark the dimensions of the cabin.

Today, aside from the stones marking the site of the cabin, the cairn is also still here. It is much larger than it was in the early 1900s, but it was briefly removed by state officials in 1975, before being returned here in 1978 after a public outcry over the loss of the “unsightly” memorial. Aside from the enlarged cairn, other changes since the first photo have included the path on the left, along with the sign next to the cairn, which features Thoreau’s famous quote about going into the woods because he “wished to live deliberately.” Overall, though, this scene still looks much the same as it did when the first photo was taken, and it is not all that different from what Thoreau would have seen from his front door some 175 years ago.

The pond and the surrounding land are now part of the Walden Pond State Reservation, which was established in 1922 after the Emerson family and several other landowners donated property around the pond to the state. Since then, the pond has continued to draw visitors for a variety of purposes, including swimming, fishing, walking the perimeter of the pond, or making a pilgrimage here to the site of Thoreau’s cabin. Although it is not located here at the original location, the park does feature a full-size replica of the cabin, which stands next to the parking lot a little less than a half mile from here, on the other side of Route 126. The following photos show the exterior and interior of the cabin, and were taken in 2021:

The exterior of the replica cabin, with the woodshed behind it

 

The interior of the replica cabin from the doorway

Thoreau’s Cove, Walden Pond, Concord, Mass

The view looking south from the northern shore of Walden Pond, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

Walden Pond is one of many glacially-formed kettle ponds scattered throughout the landscape of eastern Massachusetts. Despite its relatively small size, it is notable for being the deepest natural pond or lake in the state, with a maximum depth of 103 feet. However, it is best remembered for having been the subject of Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book Walden. In this book, Thoreau describes the two years, two months, and two days that he spent living in a small cabin near the shore of the pond, from July 1845 to September 1847. His cabin was located about 200 feet behind where this photo was taken, just to the north of this cove, which is now known as Thoreau’s Cove.

Writing in Walden, Thoreau outlined his reasons for living here at Walden Pond, explaining how, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” With this minimalistic approach, he constructed a one-room cabin that measured 10 feet by 15 feet, and had a chimney and fireplace at one end. It cost him a total of $28.12 to construct, mostly using recycled materials, and it was located on land owned by his mentor, fellow Transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. He furnished the cabin with only the basic necessities, such as a bed, a table, a desk, and three chairs.

Although Thoreau’s time here at Walden Pond is often portrayed as him living off the land in solitude, it was hardly a wilderness experience for him. The pond is just a mile and a half south of the center of Concord, and the Fitchburg Railroad ran along the western shore of the pond, a quarter mile from Thoreau’s cabin. Far from living in solitude, he frequently entertained visitors at his cabin, and he remarked in his book that he had more visitors during this period than any other time in his life. And, despite conducting an experiment in self-sufficiency, he was not above traveling into town for a home-cooked meal, or occasionally having his mother clean his dirty laundry.

Throughout the book, Thoreau frequently makes observations about the natural environment around the pond, including occasional laments about the changes that humans have made to the landscape. He contrasts the “thick and lofty pine and oak woods” of his younger years with the subsequent deforestation along the shores of the pond, and he criticizes the arrival of the railroad, describing it as a “devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending neigh is heard throughout the town.” However, despite such intrusions, Thoreau was confident in the unchanging nature of the pond, writing:

Nevertheless, of all the characters I have known, perhaps Walden wears best, and best preserves its purity. Many men have been likened to it, but few deserve that honor. Though the woodchoppers have laid bare first this shore and then that, and the Irish have built their sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on its border, and the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the change is in me. It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples. It is perennially young, and I may stand and see a swallow dip apparently to pick an insect from its surface as of yore.

Although Thoreau was  the only person living along the shores of the pond at the time, he was hardly the only one to understand the value of its natural resources. He often interacted with fishermen on the pond, and in one chapter he also provided a lengthy description of the ice harvesting that occurred here on Walden Pond. At the time, naturally-produced ice was the only way to preserve perishable foods, and Boston merchant Frederic Tudor enjoyed a near monopoly on the trade, sending ships filled with New England ice to destinations as far away as India. Thoreau observed this work, likely from this vantage point here on the shore in front of his cabin, and drew parallels between the methods used for ice harvesting and farming:

In the winter of ’46–7 there came a hundred men of Hyperborean extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many car-loads of ungainly-looking farming tools, sleds, ploughs, drill-barrows, turf-knives, spades, saws, rakes, and each man was armed with a double-pointed pike-staff. . .

To speak literally, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers, came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it into cakes by methods too well known to require description, and these, being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off on to an ice platform, and raised by grappling irons and block and tackle, worked by horses, on to a stack, as surely as so many barrels of flour, and there placed evenly side by side, and row upon row, as if they formed the solid base of an obelisk designed to pierce the clouds. They told me that in a good day they could get out a thousand tons, which was the yield of about one acre. . . .

Thus for sixteen days I saw from my window a hundred men at work like busy husbandmen, with teams and horses and apparently all the implements of farming, such a picture as we see on the first page of the almanac; and as often as I looked out I was reminded of the fable of the lark and the reapers, or the parable of the sower, and the like; and now they are all gone, and in thirty days more, probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green Walden water there, reflecting the clouds and the trees, and sending up its evaporations in solitude, and no traces will appear that a man has ever stood there. Perhaps I shall hear a solitary loon laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher in his boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form reflected in the waves, where lately a hundred men securely labored.

Thoreau then concluded his description of the ice harvest with an observation about how interconnected the world had become, thanks to innovations such as trans-oceanic ice shipments:

Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. . . . The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges. With favoring winds it is wafted past the site of the fabulous islands of Atlantis and the Hesperides, makes the periplus of Hanno, and, floating by Ternate and Tidore and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, melts in the tropic gales of the Indian seas, and is landed in ports of which Alexander only heard the names.

Near the end of the book, Thoreau explained his reasons for leaving Walden Pond in September 1847, citing a need to move on to the next phase of his life. He then described the path that he had followed from his cabin to the shore of the pond, using it as a metaphor for the tendency of humans to fall into conformity and consistency in their behaviors and ways of thinking:

It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!

The exact route of Thoreau’s well-trod footpath is left to some speculation, but it seems unlikely that it would have led to this particular section of shoreline here in these photos. Despite being the closest part of the pond to his cabin, this spot offers only limited views, and the shallow, muddy water here would have made it a poor choice for bathing or collecting drinking water. In his 2018 book The Guide to Walden Pond, author Robert M. Thorson theorizes that Thoreau’s path ran along the western side of the cove, ending at the sandy beach on the far right side of the scene. From there, Thoreau could have observed the entire pond, and he would not have had to wade through the mud and weeds here at the northern end of the cove.

After Thoreau left Walden Pond, Ralph Waldo Emerson sold the cabin to his gardener, who in turn sold it to farmers who moved it to a different location in Concord. It was used for grain storage before being dismantled in 1868. As a result, the $28 cabin ultimately outlived its famous resident, as Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862 at the age of 44.

Over the next few decades, Thoreau’s assertion about Walden Pond preserving its purity would certainly be put to the test. The cool, clear waters of the pond drew visitors here in increasing numbers during the late 19th century, and in 1866the Fitchburg Railroad opened an amusement park and picnic ground on the western shore of the pond. Known as the Walden Lake Grove Excursion Park, it had its own stop on the railroad, and it remained here until 1902, when it burned down.

The first photo was taken several years later, around 1908. By this point, recreation on the pond had shifted to the eastern side, along present-day Route 126. During the early 20th century that section of shoreline was turned into a large, sandy beach, and in 1917 bathhouses were constructed there to accommodate visitors. Five years later, the Emerson family, along with several other landowners around the pond, donated about 80 acres to the state, and the land became the Walden Pond State Reservation.

Over the next few decades, the number of visitors to Walden Pond would continue to increase. Automobiles made it easier than ever to access the pond, and by 1935 it had nearly half a million visitors over the course of the summer, including about 25,000 on busy weekend days. The result was a struggle between conservation and recreation here at the pond, which culminated in a late 1950s proposal to “improve” much of the land around the pond with amenities such as a new parking lot. However, these plans were ultimately halted by a Superior Court judge who ruled that they violated the stipulations of the 1922 donations.

Today, more than 110 years after the first photo was taken and nearly 175 years after Thoreau moved out of his cabin, Walden Pond remains a popular destination. The parking area fills up quickly on hot summer days, and the shores of the pond are often crowded with beachgoers, swimmers, and anglers, along with the occasional literary tourist making a pilgrimage to the site of Thoreau’s cabin. For the most part, a visit to the pond today is far removed from the experience that Thoreau had here in the 1840s, and as one New York Times writer put it, “there are more selfies than there is self-reliance.”

However, the woods along the shoreline do a remarkably good job at hiding the number of visitors. The second photo was taken on a very busy July morning, yet there is surprisingly little evidence of it in the photo, save for a few swimmers far off in the distance. Overall, the landscape from the northern end of Thoreau’s Cove is not dramatically different from what he would have seen here, and if he saw it today he would likely stand by his claim that “it has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples.”