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Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks Paperback – June, 2004
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About the Author
This is the second book on Boston cemeteries by author Charles Chauncey Wells and completes coverage of Boston's historic downtown burying grounds. His first, Boston's Copp's Hill Burying Ground Guide in 1998 told about that North End cemetery. This work finishes the series on Boston's Freedom Trail burying grounds. Wells is descended from Thomas Wells of the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and is related to Charles Wells, Boston's 4th mayor, 1832/3. He is a 1966 graduate of the Michigan State University school of journalism, was an editor with The Chicago Tribune and spent 23 years in mergers and acquisitions of TV, radio and newspaper properties. He lives in Oak Park, IL, near Chicago, and is an active in Freemason. His wife and co-author Suzanne Austin Wells produced all the book's photos. She is a graduate of Dominican University, River Forest, IL, and has been a Chicago Public Schools special education teacher for 33 years. Both are active in the Sons/Daughters of the American Revolution, Society of Mayflower Descendants, and Grace Episcopal Church, Oak Park.
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What will help you with your visit to the three of the old cemeteries of central Boston is this guide, "Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks: Boston's Burying Ground Guide to King's Chapel, Granary and Central Cemeteries" by Charles Chauncey Wells and Suzanne Austin Wells. The former wrote "Boston's Copp's Hill Burying Ground Guide" in 1998, which performs the same function for that North End Cemetery, while the later provides the black & white photographs taken for this volume (I was wondering why Wells picked that particular cemetery for his first volume and the reason would be that he is a great nephew of Charles Wells, a North End bricklayer who built 89 of the tombs at Copp's Hill and also served as the fourth Mayor of Boston).
The title of this volume actually reflects the three burying grounds since the preachers and early divines of Boston tended to be buried at King's Chapel, the patriots are found at Granary, while the plain folks ended up at Central. However if there is one thing that you will appreciate after reading this 288-page guide it is that the gravestones of unknown personages with their art and epitaphs can be of more interest than the monuments built to those who are famous.
But Wells and Wells also provide concise biographies of apparently every one they could find out anything about, so that when you see the tomb of Captain Robert Keayne at King's Chapel, to pick an example at random, you will learn the Rev. John Cotton wanted to excommunicate the captain for selling goods at exorbitant prices. You can also go and see the grave of Cotton as well. He was the second minister of the 1st Church of Boston and butted heads with both Anne Hutchinson over the doctrine of God's grace over good works and Roger Williams on the belief that civil governors should have no power over men's souls. That will give you a good example of the sort of rich detail you will find in this book.
The introductory Section A explains how "In Boston, the Stones tell the story," which explains the Puritan themes expressed in gravestones, from Puritan death heads and gourds to angel heads and dragons, and also notes the Yankee sense of thrift which had stone carvers inserting letters or words above lines when they ran out of room. The main part of the guide, Section B, is devoted to the three burying grounds. Wells provides an overview of the history of the site, then looks at the famous personages as well as those who are merely "interesting personages." You will also find lists of war dead in a location along with those who were members of the Boston Tea Party. Throughout the book you will find sections devoted to specific topics, such as "African Americans in Boston Burying Grounds" and "Freemasonry & Boston History."
Section C is the reference section, providing both Tomb Indexes and Gravestone Lists for each of the three Burying Grounds. This means that if you are looking for Governor John Winthrop, Gilbert Stuart, James Otis, or other famous individuals you will have to check the alphabetical listings for each site (but you should be able to make educated guesses given the introduction). Section D, in a packet attached to the inside back cover, with consists of a two-sided map for the three locations, which will be helpful when you visit.
It is a mistake to think that reading this fascinating volume is a substitute for actual going to Boston and visiting these sites, because it is not. For me it is both a remembrance of what I have seen before as well as an amplification providing additional insights, not to mention an indication of what I want to see the next time I visit. I have been to the Granary Burying Ground twice and now, because of "Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks" I am looking forward to going back for a third visit.