One of the most famous and historic cemeteries in the United States, the centuries-old The Burying Point is a must-see for anyone visiting Salem, Massachusetts (Salem, Massachusetts: Welcome to 1692.). Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, it was the first space set aside in 1637 for burying Salem’s dead. It is therefore Salem’s oldest cemetery and one of the first cemeteries within the United States – beaten only by King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, founded seven years earlier, in 1630. The oldest known gravestone in The Burying Point dates to 1673. It’s located at 51 Charter Street, directly next to the Witch Trial Memorial. It’s open daily and the current hours are 12pm to 3:45pm. The hours tend to change, so best to check those out beforehand. It’s free to enter.
Some of the more prominent people buried here are Governor Bradstreet, who was governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1679 to 1686; Mary Corey, the wife of Giles Corey, the only person pressed to death during the Salem Witch Trials; Chief Justice Lynde, a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1745 to 1771, and who served as Chief Justice from 1769 to 1771; Samuel McIntire, an architect of Salem; Captain Richard Moore, a Mayflower pilgrim; Reverend John Higginson, a well-known Salem minister; and the most infamous and evil of them all – John Hathorne, one of the notorious Salem Witch Trial judges. None of the accused “witches” are buried here, as they did not receive proper, “Christian” burials. They were cast into shallow graves elsewhere, discarded and to be forgotten about. However, there are theories that relatives snuck back late at night, dug them up, and reburied them quietly in unmarked graves at their homes.
While none of the 19 accused are buried in The Burying Point, it’s still very much worth a visit. As mentioned, it’s the 2nd oldest cemetery in the U.S., with most graves dating between the 1600s and 1800s. Reportedly, approximately 600 people are buried within the cemetery; however, only 485 grave markers can be found. The reason? First, it was common practice in the 1600’s to 1800’s for entire families to be buried underneath one grave marker, like the Wade family of four, who share one headstone. Second, about 50 slaves are buried here and sadly, it was common practice at the time to bury them in unmarked graves. Third, many Revolutionary War soldiers are buried in unmarked graves due to their identities being unknown. There is a granite marker near the large flagpole that honors these unknown soldiers.
All the walking tours of Salem go to this cemetery, so I strongly suggest getting there as early as possible, before the giant tour groups begin to descend. We arrived around 8am and there was only one other couple walking around; however, when we walked past again around 10am, there were full-on, 25+ people tour groups going through. Lastly, gravestone rubbing is not allowed here – or in any of Salem’s historic cemeteries. 🪦
Overall, no visit to Salem would be complete without visiting The Burying Point. Not only is it the oldest cemetery in the city, it’s the 2nd-oldest cemetery within the United States of America. History nerds will love it, as there are numerous notable Witch Trial-era Salem residents buried within. From Witch Trial judges, to Salem architects, to Mayflower pilgrims, it’s the “forever home” to several high-profile “forever residents”. As mentioned, it’s important to attempt to visit as early as possible within the day to avoid the large tour groups, and please leave the paper and rubbing chalk at home. Truth is, not every cemetery is worth a visit, but The Burying Point certainly is.