The Sacred Landscapes and Cemeteries of Hopkinton

By HHA Member Tom Helmer

The History of Hopkinton did not begin in the 1660’s, during the European Colonial expansion. The Indigenous Peoples, predominantly of the Narragansett Tribe, had a long period of time, perhaps many millennia, to build up an extensive Oral History of the Life and Times of their lives, and their deaths, on this same area.

The Narragansett wrote their history in Sacred Landscapes, the remains of some still visible in the forests. Much like the family grave yard I describe in the article “The ‘Drive By’ Cemetery”, they did not write a name on a rock as a memorial to one who’s life had ended. They knew, the family knew, and by extension, the Tribe knew who was buried in the earth of their land held in common, and who was honored by a Memorial stone, although fallen far from home. The forest they walked every day was their History Book. Their burials, as well as their sacred sites and effigies, surrounded them as they lived from birth to death.

The Colonists brought their own burial traditions, customs which were also many millennia old. For the majority, their final resting place was marked with an ordinary rock, or, in the case of “The ‘Drive By’ Cemetery”, a rock made extra-ordinary by it’s use. Both cultures depended on Oral Tradition to recall to mind the individual placed into the earth.

But as wealth accrued to the Europeans over the centuries, it became the practice to have stones engraved with the particulars of a person’s life. The European practice was to record these same particulars in the written paper records of the village or town, regardless of the wealth of the deceased.

For examples of the detail with which the Town was involved in the lives of the individual, pick any of the genealogical records from 1757 – 1850 on this site and read any twenty consecutively. It is astonishing! Today, we would think the Town Council was meddling in our private lives, but back then, they viewed it as the Town Council was keeping order in Hopkinton. And in those annals of the day to day, accumulating year by year, are the particulars of those people’s birth, marriage and death.

By the nature of this tradition of record keeping, there is far more accessible information available to write about these cemeteries and these lives, but HHA is about HISTORY, writ W-I-D-E, not narrow.

HHA is actively involved with making this site available to Narragansett writers, as well as other Indigenous writers, to teach the “Community of Interest” that visits these pages about the oral history of their traditional ways. As I write this, I think of the symbolic and tangible commitment made by HHA to the Indigenous Narragansett, in that the very first Internet link to go up on our site is to the Tomaquag Memorial Indian Museum in Exeter. I hope we will have many articles over time, sharing what they wish to share with our readers.

This is a simple thing, to open a door to a different world view, and ‘Open The Door To Learning’ is at the core of this site’s purpose, but we do not live in a simple world. If you approach this site with cast iron rigidity from any end of the spectrum of race or culture, of course we will be completely wrong, and only publishing garbage.

But this site is for those seeking to know, even if it is only to widen out their own perspective, or to follow their own curiosity. And it may be that the common ground of respect for the dead may serve as the bridge to building respect for the living. And we are living together in Hopkinton, and hopefully sharing in the fullness of it’s history, our history. And we at HHA do not believe that exploring the full spectrum of our common history is in any way a waste of time, rather, it is a rare and valuable treasure.

But enough of the “Big Picture”.

Within the GENEALOGY PORTAL, The Cemeteries Pages work hand in hand with the “Births”, “Deaths” and “Genealogical” wings of this Sub-Section Library, in that all four are sources of “Certain Knowledge”, which is the bedrock for Historical Researchers and Genealogical Researchers. HHA is fortunate to have two members who literally wrote the book on Hopkinton’s Cemeteries, Gayle Waite and Lorraine Tarket-Arruda. In time, we hope they will contribute articles and Photo Tours of some of Hopkinton’s interesting cemeteries, the kind you can drive to, and the kind you need a compass to find.

But you can also contribute to these pages. For some, the thought of willingly visiting a cemetery gives them the creeps, but for others, it is a source of Place, of Tranquility. If that describes you, why not try your hand at writing an essay about how you feel. (Remember, you learn to write by writing!)

The HHA site is all about respectful inclusiveness,
and that certainly does include you and your essay!