Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to the Old Burial Grounds Ashby, MA

November 9, 2020

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide is a blog hosted by The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery written and researched by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett. Our intention for this blog is to rediscover the out of the way and obscure graveyards that surround us, as well as to uncover new histories among the more well-trod grounds of prominent burial places. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way. As important landmarks of cultural heritage, our hope is that interest in these quiet places will help to preserve and educate us about our past and, ultimately, everyone’s shared future.


Just west of Townsend is the picturesque town of Ashby, Massachusetts. Tucked behind the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church on the town Common is the Old Burial Grounds Cemetery. Established with the town’s incorporation in 1767, its oldest death date listed is 1773 and the latest 1907. Peppered with grumpy cherubim tympana, the cemetery also boasts many architecturally impressive urn motifs. Among the former is the sad story of Bethnel Jones, whose graphic epitaph describes his death “Crusht under a SawMill wheel” in 1782. Simpler marble stones are prevalent, including that of centurion Lydia Miles (d. 1845), as are the floreate lunette carvings that more often appear on footstones in the area.

Most notable amongst the graves is that of Prince Estabrook (c. 1740 – 1830), a Black veteran who fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, during which he sustained a musket ball injury to his shoulder. Estabrook served many tours during the Revolutionary War with the Lexington militia and the Continental Army. Born a slave, he was granted his freedom yet remained in the paid service of his former slaveholder following the war. In the late eighteenth century the household moved to Ashby, where Estabrook was originally buried outside of the cemetery wall. He was reinterred within the grounds in 1930, an action conflicting with Ashby’s reputation as a “sundown town” up until 1973. With an almost non-existent Black population in 2019, Estabrook’s final resting place in Ashby is all the more significant.


Z.G. Burnett is a writer and editor with a background in early American history and material culture. She has been published by The Attic on Eighth, Ivy-Style, and The Vintage Woman Magazine. Combining her passion for the paranormal and everything pink, Z.G. is currently working on her first personal style guide.

If you are a representative of a cemetery or a cemetery historian and would like to see your cemetery featured in this blog please email Corinne Elicone at

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