Burials are a well-known part of funerals in Chesterfield, but the American history of burials is quite interesting as you review how burials have evolved from the earliest colonists to modern times.
The practice of burying our dead has been around for centuries. When the first colonists arrived in North America, they followed the practice of Native Americans, who set aside portions of land as burial grounds.
Burial grounds were considered to be sacred ground, but graves were usually not marked. The dead were usually just wrapped up in something and laid in a hollowed-out portion of the specially designated land.
When the Puritans buried their dead, a simple ceremony was held. After the body of the deceased was wrapped, a bell was rung to call locals to the burial grounds (which were usually located in the center of towns). The deceased was buried without any grave marker after a prayer was read.
There was a practical reason for all of this. The Puritans were surrounded by Native American tribes. By keeping their burial land in the middle of town and leaving the graves unmarked, it was impossible for their neighbors on every side to know how many of the colonists had died.
Their fear was that their town would be attacked if Native Americans saw the village numbers quickly dwindling because of a high death rate.
Another reason why Puritan burials were done without much fanfare is because, theologically they believed that as soon as someone died, their soul was already in Paradise, so the body was just a empty vessel that no longer served any useful purpose.
However, as more people were born and arrived to the colonies, and as death rates stabilized from earlier days, burial grounds quickly reached capacity. Not only did the decaying dead emit noxious odors, but they also attracted wild animals and humans in search of precious objects they could steal off the remains.
By the end of the 17th century, some of the wealthier American colonists began to establish private burial grounds for their families. They marked the spot of each grave with a marker so that each of their deceased family members could have their own burial place.
Much of colonial America at that point consisted of farmers. Farmers began to bury their dead in designated places on their farms. While most churches in the colonies did not have graveyards, Catholic churches began to build their own so that their parishioners could be buried on church grounds.
The 1700’s saw the beginning of cemeteries and graveyards. Although cemeteries were not actually built – and named – until the late 1800’s, Americans began to organized burial grounds and marked the burial places of their dead with monuments.
Churches also began to designate a portion of their land as graveyards, where their members could be buried after they died. The use of headstones and monuments to mark graves became widespread during this century as well.
In the late 19th century, the modern cemetery was born. These were public burial spaces that were designed to be inviting so that families could – and would want to – come and spend time visiting their loved ones.
So, when you choose a cemetery or graveyard for your loved one’s burial, you have a better understanding of how these came to be and why they serve such a useful purpose for those who remain after a loved one dies.
For more information about burials and funerals in Chesterfield, our caring and knowledgeable staff at Lee-Ellena Funeral is here to assist you.