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Copp’s Hill Burying Ground Receives Estate Funds

Cracked Ground - Copp's Hill Burying Ground (Photo by Matt Conti)

In a small windfall, three liquidating estate trusts have directed $21,089 to the City of Boston for the maintenance of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, located in the North End. While details are sketchy, the names of the trusts imply the funds come from descendents of those interred there, including the naming Copp’s Family. The willed amounts were recently ordered by a Connecticut judge, according to Kelly Thomas, director of the City of Boston’s Historic Burying Grounds Initiative.  The original account was a holding fund for three separate cemetery trusts:

  • Daniel N. Copp Cemetery Fund Trust
  • Deborah Avery Bouse Cemetery Lot Fund Trust
  • Ramsdell Avery Cemetery Lot Fund Trust

The trust documents present a genealogical mystery, as small amounts of money were apparently willed decades or even centuries ago. For example, documents indicate the Daniel N. Copp Cemetery Fund Trust started with $300 in 7/21/21. That raises the question of whether the year of origin is 1921 or 1821?

The funds are not enough to do much on their own, according to Thomas. However, if some upcoming grants come through, the HBGI would like to restore the dilapidated fence along Charter Street where the decorative tops have been largely destroyed. “The estate funds might be enough to fund design documents for such a project,” said Thomas.

Limited funding has resulted in a lack of maintenance at Copp’s Hill, as well as the other 16 burying grounds in Boston under the HBGI. Thomas points out that Copp’s Hill has received more than its share, however, with over $500,000 in restorative projects funded over the past ten years. Still, the state of the burying ground comes under frequent criticism by residents and visitors. The last major project at the site was to restore the retaining walls. Also last year, the descendents of the Mather family funded the restoration of their own family’s tomb.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is located along Snow Hill and Hull Streets in the North End (see map) and is the second oldest burial ground in Boston, dating back to 1659. (King’s Chapel on Tremont St. is the oldest, having been created in 1630.) Located at the highest point in the North End where a windmill once stood, it was originally the North Burying Ground, renamed Copp’s Hill after shoemaker William Copp who once owned the land. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British used vantage point of Copp’s Hill to point cannons toward Charlestown.

Over 10,000 bodies are buried at Copp’s Hill, including North End artisans, craftspeople and merchants, along with thousands of unmarked graves of African Americans who lived in “New Guinea” at the base of the hill. Among the most famous buried at Copp’s Hill are:

  • Mather family, including Cotton and father Increase Mather, two Puritan ministers associated with the Salem witch trials
  • Shipyard owner Edmund Hartt, builder of the USS Constitution
  • Robert Newman, sexton at Old North Church known for placing the signal lanterns in the steeple on the night of Paul Revere’s midnight ride
  • Shem Drowne, the weathervane maker who crafted the grasshopper atop Faneuil Hall
  • Prince Hall, anti-slavery activist, Revolutionary War soldier, and founder of the Black Masonic Order


One Reply to “Copp’s Hill Burying Ground Receives Estate Funds

  1. What a fascinating story. It would be interesting to tract the "Avery" trusts and see if they are related to Copp or other families buried at Copp's Hill.

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