Friday, April 26, 2013

Fort Golgotha at the Old Burial Grounds

Whether you live in Huntington or have just visited here, you more than likely have driven past the Old Burial Grounds on the outskirts of town. It’s located on a high hill behind the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building. Yes, the old building with the cannon outside. 

How many of you know the intriguing and grisly story behind one of Huntington’s oldest cemeteries? The Old Burial Ground has silently bore witness to the scenes of the Revolutionary War that once haunted this most sacred ground.  

The cemetery was probably used for burial before 1700 although the earliest stone dates back to 1712. Unmarked graves were common during the early years, and several markers have also disappeared. The tombstones were made of slate, red sandstone and marble, and many of them are difficult to read, since nature has worn away at them.  

The Old Burial Grounds were turned upside down during the Revolutionary War, when Col. Benjamin Thompson, otherwise known as Count Rumford, used the land as a camp for his troops. Although he was born in Massachusetts, he joined the British after his application to join General George Washington’s army was rejected. In his rage against the Patriots, Col. Thompson tore down the Old First Church and used the wood to build their encampment which they called Fort Golgotha, meaning “a place of skulls.” 

Rumford built his barracks at the highest point of the cemetery in order to see incoming ships across the harbor. The British soldiers stayed in this location for three months. The people of Huntington were horrified. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the beloved and aged pastor of the Old First Church, Reverend Ebenezer Prime, was mistreated by the British. They not only destroyed his church, but they took over his home, and destroyed his furniture and his valuable book collection. When Rev. Prime died, he was buried in the old cemetery. Count Rumford pitched his tent in an area where he could trod over Prime’s grave. Rumford referred to Prime as “that dammed rebel.” 

The most horrific story however, is what the British soldier did with the tombstones. Not only did they make tables with them, but they also used them to build ovens. When the loaves of bread were removed from these makeshift ovens, the reversed inscription of the tombstones were imprinted on the lower portion of the crust.  

There are many other awful stories of desecration and destruction. There is a stone that is said to exist in the cemetery today which dates to 1779 and has two bullet holes shot through it. This is the grave of Silas Sammis, who lived nearby and whose home was taken over by the British.  

After George Washington became President, he visited Huntington in 1790. It is said that after having dinner, he was taken to the old burying grounds and was shown the site of Fort Golgotha.  

Today, the Old Burial Grounds are maintained by the Town of Huntington and contains approximately 800 graves. The last grave to be dug there was in 1948. Silas Wood, the author of the first history of Long Island, is buried there, along with patriots, soldiers and civilians. There is also a memorial to the thirty-nine citizens who gave their lives during World War I, located at the north entrance of the cemetery.

So the next time you’re traveling on Main Street Huntington and passing by the Old Burial Grounds, remember the history that remains there, along with all the lives whose spirits recall the atrocities from long ago.

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