America’s Oldest Cemetery – Miles Standish Cemetery, Duxbury, MA

Miles Standish Cemetery, Duxbury, MA - America’s Oldest Cemetery

In Duxbury, Massachusetts, there is a humble and unassuming colonial cemetery that can be found tucked away on one of the city’s charming residential streets. This remote location, which holds a rare and important historical value, is easy to miss because it is nearly indistinguishable from the hundreds of other early American burial cemeteries that are scattered across New England. It would be a shame, though, for those people who have a passion for colonial history to miss out on this opportunity.

Myles Standish Burial Ground is considered to be the oldest cemetery in the United States (technically speaking, it is the oldest cemetery that has been “maintained”), and it is here that several people who traveled on the Mayflower are laid to rest. The burial ground was named after the well-known military leader of the Plymouth Colony.

After parking next to the cemetery on a side street of Pilgrim By Way, a name that leaves little doubt about the distinctive history of the town, I cross over a split rail fence and am greeted with the familiar sight of the old, New England slate grave markers, which have become worn and weathered as a result of centuries of exposure to the elements. Carvings of skulls and winged spirit effigies can be found on the old stones that populate the old cemeteries in this region. These carvings are familiar to everyone who visits these cemeteries often.

When I visited Plymouth’s “oldest cemetery” in December, a chilly sea breeze was blowing in off of Plymouth Bay as the day was bright and clear. I would not be deterred from inspecting the stones, even if I had to button my coat all the way up to my neck and put on gloves to do so. From the stones, I might be able to piece together parts of the personal experiences of regular people who lived in our distant past. Even though there are no surviving markers from the earliest years of this cemetery, the history reflected by the stones that are still there is powerful. The first interment in this cemetery took place in 1638, shortly after the erection of Duxbury’s first meeting house.

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