Fabulous Freelancer Foray: The Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts

The Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts, is a historic cemetery with more than 300 gravestones. The cemetery’s land is directly tied to the Salem Witch Trials. Giles Corey is known to history as being the 80-year-old prosperous farmer who was accused of witchcraft. Corey knew that his land would become the property of the state, so to prevent that, he refused to stand trial.

Nevertheless, his refusal to stand trial still resulted in punishment on September 19, 1692, in the back part of what is now the Howard Street Cemetery. Heavy stones and rocks were piled on top of a board that was put across the chest of Corey’s body, ultimately killing him.

The land was eventually converted into a cemetery, which opened in 1801. On August 5, 1801, Benjamin Ropes became the first person to be buried there. He had been crushed to death while launching the foretopmast of the ship he was a second mate on, the Belisarius.

Several other seafaring men are buried in the Howard Street Cemetery, including ship captains. Some of the tombstones provide extraordinary details regarding into the demises of these men, such as William Browne, who commanded the ship Brutus. On February 22, 1802, Brutus became shipwrecked on Cape Cod, where Browne and much of his crew died due to extremely cold temperatures.

Revolutionary War soldiers can also be found in this cemetery, including Colonel Samuel Carlton, who, with a company he raised himself, marched to Ticonderoga, New York. Additionally, Colonel Carlton had the distinction of being at Valley Forge with George Washington.

Another notable person buried here is George Ropes. A renowned local artist, Ropes painted views of Salem Harbor – one of the earliest paintings of that subject.

Although most of the tombstones are still in good condition, some are missing, and others have become unreadable with age. In her work, Howard Street Cemetery Inscriptions, 1801-1852, Salem, Massachusetts, local resident, Jeanne Stella, researched and collected more than 300 inscriptions. She then organized them in alphabetical order according to surnames. For more information on where to find this work, please see its NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange) database entry.

The Howard Street Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk each day. Due to its location (Find A Grave’s Howard Street Cemetery Page has some pictures) and the age of the graves, it’s recommended that visitors keep to the paths as much as possible.

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