Death in the Early Cabot Settlement

According to records, Nathaniel West was the first to die in the early settlement of Cabot.  He was crushed by a birch log while working in the winter of 1786 to clear land owned by Benjamin Webster.  Webster was the first to settle here, making his pitch on the Bayley-Hazen Road in 1782, and moving his family here in March of 1783.

We don't know exactly where Nathaniel West was buried, but because there were no formal cemetery until William Osgood donated one acre of land in 1799 at the Center of Town for a burial ground.  It is likely West was laid to rest somewhere nearby the Webster homestead.

Another early death was young Aura Scott, the son of Dr. Parley Scott, who died at age 19 in 1813.  Dr. Scott and his family had a homestead not far from the Webster's. A stone was erected marking Aura's grave, near an east-west line of bushes in a field later owned by the Greaves family. Sometime after 1970, the marker, having broken off below ground due probably to weather and freezing, was moved by Mr. Greaves and relocated to the edge of the field near the stone wall on the east side of the Bayley-Hazen Road.  Since that time, the stone has disappeared.  Whether stolen or lost among the stones in the roadside wall, we don't know; however, William H. Waite, a visitor from Delaware, in October of 1973, sent us information about the stone, having visited the site several times.  He recorded the inscription as follows: 
                                Aura Scott
                        died Oct. 2, 1813
                                AEt  19
                God my redeemer lives
                And ever from the skies
                Looks down & watches all my dust
                Till he shall bid it rise.

Parley Scott and his wife, Lydia, were both buried in the Village Cemetery.  They had left the Plain to live in the newly forming village.   Dr. Scott died in 1849 at age 85; Lydia died in 1854 at age 85.  They had five sons and one daughter.  Parley Cheeney Scott died in 1803 at age 3; Aura who died in 1813 at age 19; Robert L. died in 1832 at age 16; William P. died in 1834 at age 27; daughter Prudence died in 1848 at age 45; and Benjamin F. who died in 1881 at age 76.  Benjamin's wife was Experience A., and she died in 1866 at age 58. 

Earliest burials found in Vermont have been documented in 1962, and dating back to about 1000 B.C., at an Isle LaMotte site overlooking Lake Champlain.  Indian tribes, hunters and gatherers, buried their dead at their campsites.  If a member of the tribe died during the winter while on a hunting expidition, the body was wrapped and put on a scaffold, away from animals.  The first by in the spring was obliged to bury the body.  Bodies were often cremated and articles such as pottery and weapons placed with the dead for use in their next life.  Indians buried their dead as soon as possible so the spirit would not hang around the living.  The grave might be marked with a tent-like structure of wood or a marker painted with the sign of the deceased.  If a chief died, a ring of seedling trees was planted around the grave.

Early Vermont settlers brought customs from Europe, but because of the harshness of the wilderness, they had to leave many of those rituals behind.  Bodies were prepared for burial by two people of the same sex as the deceased.  Shrouds of muslin with a drawstring top were generally used, and in earliest times there were no caskets.  The cloth might be soaked with pitch or alum, and placed on a board.  If it was winter, the body might be stood up or hung in a shed or barn, covered with hay, or sometimes placed in a snowbank until spring.  Embalming was not practiced much until after the Civil War.

Early caskets were simple boxes, measured by a local carpenter and made with precise length, width and depth to accommodate the body.  Most were of pine or poplar; more expensive ones of cherry or walnut.  The early caskets had no handles so were placed on planks and carried by neighbors.  Later, open wagons were used, with stray to cushion the ride.  Cabot's first hearse was purchased in 1854 for $100.  It had glass in the sides, and the wheels were exchanged for runners in the winter, and bodies were taken to a vault at the Village Cemetery to wait for spring burial.  The hearse was kept in the "hearse house" near the schoolhouse.

Home burials were common in those early years.  Nathan Wheeler, who died in 1820, was buried on the farm now owned by Barbara Carpenter.  Several of the Whittier family, including Lt. John Whittier, were buried in a small family grave yard at their home on Whittier Hill, later owned by William Walker.  The Whittier remains were later removed to Durant Cemetery.   The bodies in a small cemetery near the Kimball farm were also moved, mostly to Durant and West Hill cemeteries.  When these graves were moved, the field stone markers were replaced with more ornate granite markers, so from time to time the old markers are found and occasionally given to the historical society for preservation.

Field stone was generally used in the early years, and lettering would be carved into  it by a local harness maker or carpenter.  Later, when the granite industry began to flourish in Vermont, and when families could afford it, slabs of granite, engraved and sometimes ornately carved, marked grave sites and some of the crumbling field stone markers were replaced.  Field stone markers are still prevalent in the first burying ground at the Center of Town; however, with frost, wind, sun, rain and snow beating upon them, the inscriptions are now almost lost and the crumbling stones become more fragile with every passing year.

We are indebted to May Wheeler and Laura "Peg" Abbott, two Cabot women who spent several summers recording inscriptions and other valuable information about every marker in each of the town's seven cemeteries.  They finished their work in 1984.  Some deaths were never recorded in town records; other burial sites, even some in cemeteries, were not marked with grave stones, so were not included in the record done by Wheeler and Abbott.  With their permission, in 1999 the information they had collected and further information from town records and other sources, was combined and computerized by then sexton, Velma Smith and volunteer, Jane Brown.  That information is available at the town offices in Cabot, Vermont.
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