Forgotten Waterford Burial Sites: Golden Spur Burial Grounds — Part 2. Riverhead and Taber Family Cemeteries

Head of River Cemetery, September 20, 2020

[This is Part 2 of an article on the Golden Spur Burial Grounds, the latest in my ongoing series on Forgotten Waterford Burial Sites. You can read Part 1 here.]

Riverhead Cemetery

Riverhead also known as “Head of the River” or Center Cemetery is the largest of the four burial grounds in the Golden Spur area with about 120 graves. Driving west (from New London) on the Post Road, Riverhead Cemetery can be found on the north (or right) side. Just before the I-95 intersection there is a long newly paved road leading onto Riverhead’s grounds overlooking the waters at the head of the Niantic River.

The cemetery was active from 1778 through 1919, though there have been some recent burials. The first burial was of eight-year-old Mirus Crocker, daughter of Constant and Mary, who died on February 17, 1778. Both parents were also buried there in 1789 (Mary) and 1822 (Constant.) See separate chapter about the Crockers who lived on Butlertown Road. Many familiar Waterford families are buried here at Riverhead.¹ They include the following families:

Ames (five members),

Beckwith (eleven members),

Beebe (eight members),

Crocker (five members),

Douglas (six members)

Taber, Mrs. Hannah (one member)

Photo of Head of River Cemetery

The Taber Family

The Taber Family cemetery is another of the casualties of the construction of I-95. As recently as in the 1930s the gravestones stood in a large field surrounded by a simple iron fence.² (Margaret Caulkins suggests there may be another grave for Jeremy Comstock nearby outside the enclosure.)

Today it is difficult to view the stones because the field that existed in the 1930s is now criss-crossed with the I-95 roadway and entrance and exit ramps. Somewhere, at exit 75 in the middle of the jumble of roads, on the east side of the roads, still visible is a small graveyard. Unfortunately it is difficult to actually visit the site because the rushing traffic makes parking and crossing roads dangerous.

Those buried at this site include:

  1. Samuel Taber Jr., who died of yellow fever during the epidemic in New London on September 6, 1798 at the age of 48.
  2. Samuel Taber, Sr. who died on January 6, 1813 at the age of 89.
  3. Sarah Taber, wife of Samuel, Jr. on November 13, 1849, at the age of 85.
  4. Said to be buried outside the iron enclosure is Jeremy Comstock.
Taber Cemetery — September 20, 2020

Little information about these particular Taber family members buried in this small cemetery has been found, however there is much evidence of other members of the Philip Taber family who lived in the Great Neck area of Waterford. They were among the first to settle the area, and played a significant role in the development of the Baptist groups in New London.

The first Taber to arrive in New London was probably Philip, son of Joseph, who arrived in March 1651 from Marth’s Vineyard. His family was originally from England and settled mostly in Rhode Island.³ Philip was granted land and began to build a house on Foxon’s Hill⁴ in the northern part of New London; however it was never completed nor occupied, and was sold two years later.

Years later, in 1726, Philip, or probably his son or a Taber cousin, also named Philip, purchased the large farm of Captain James Rogers on Great Neck Road. Today the large house, built in 1740 by Philip, still exists on Great Neck Road in Waterford. It was a very large farm that most likely used slaves to work in the fields.

There is evidence of two slave burial grounds in the Great Neck area. One small burial site with five graves (including the names of the individual slaves) noted on an old schoolboy map of 1778 shows a plot of five slave graves on Great Neck near the Goshen Road area⁵.

According to Robert Bachman, the coffins (circled in red above) “mark a slave graveyard. The Rogers family was the major local owner of slaves”. p.57

The other, next to the Beckwith Family Burial Ground is in the rear of private property on Lamphere Road.⁶ It’s been estimated that about 25 graves can be found there.⁷ Little information about the burials can be found.

An unknown number of slaves from the large Taber Family farm from the Great Neck area from colonial days are said to be buried in the Beckwith Family Cemetery. See article on the Beckwith Family Cemetery here: https://medium.com/@eileen06385/forgotten-waterford-burial-sites-beckwith-family-cemetery-great-neck-699e3d422e60?source=friends_link&sk=48b1f3050619a13e467050358b75896e

Philip Taber was one of the early religious dissenters in eighteenth century New London. He joined with others to form a Baptist congregation in the southern part of New London. He became one of the pillars of the Pepperbox Hill Baptist Congregation, covered in an earlier article.⁸

Unfortunately over the years, the moral character of this minister declined and finally problems within the organization came to a head in 1743 when a group of worshipers, including Philip, bodily threw the pastor out of the church and down a hill.⁹ Philip was one of several who were arrested and charged with breach of peace and profanation of the Sabbath. Philip died Dec 27, 1750.¹⁰

Young Job Taber

The heartbreaking story of young Job Taber marred the early history of commerce in New London. Caulkins’ History tells of a ship carrying Job, a young boy, returning from a normal trading expedition to North Carolina in January 1735.¹¹ The ship with a cargo of pitch and tar encountered a violent storm of wind, snow, and rain and struck a rock near Mason’s Island as it approached New London. The ship sank almost immediately. Three of the five people onboard, including the young Tabor boy, perished. Caulkins recalls that “this sad calamity, so near home, and after a prosperous voyage, filled New London with solemnity and dread.”¹² The young boy’s body was carried to the Baptist Meeting House on Pepperbox Hill where Mr. Adams, the pastor, gave a sermon of admonition, then was “interred with every demonstration of sympathy and respect”.¹³

Loyalists in New London

During the Revolutionary War, loyalists to the crown were a significant portion of Connecticut’s population. Historians estimate that approximately 20 percent of those of European ancestry tried to avoid involvement in the struggle.¹⁴ The southwest portion of the state, particularly Fairfield County, had the strongest presence of loyalists.¹⁵ A number of New London citizens were loyalists. They included a member of the prominent Taber family, Philip’s son, Pardon Tillinghast Taber, of Great Neck, who was jailed after being convicted of “going on board a ship belonging to the enemies of these United States”.¹⁶

The report includes no record of the purpose of his visit on the ship. Eventually the court released Tabor to the supervision of his wife’s brother, Captain Jeremy Harris. The record cites that Taber “is infirmed and in a declining state of health.” It was noted that the Norwich jail was small and full of prisoners and very unwholesome so Taber was allowed to take an oath of fidelity to the State and released.

With the advent of the British-French conflict of 1793,¹⁷ war in the states ended and a short period of prosperity developed in New London. Its merchants began trading in the West Indies. This time of plenty was short lived and it soon became a difficult time again for New London merchants as privateers of many nations seized the cargoes of merchant ships on the high seas. The loss of many fortunes involved many people. For example, the Lovinia, a sloop of New London, was seized in 1798 while on a voyage to the West Indies. Joseph and Samuel Taber, who owned two-thirds of the vessel, were among the twelve men, owners and investors, who divided the loss.¹⁸

Notes

  1. Information about these families can be found across other articles in this series. For example, the Beckwith Family ran a shipyard for many years nearby at the Head of the River. Read about the Beckwith Family in an earlier chapter.
  2. Reported by Margaret Stacy
  3. Caulkins,p. 463.
  4. He is probably related to a young Joseph Taber who was born in Yarmouth in 1645. Caulkins.p. 70.
  5. Foxon HIll is the area in New London now occupied by Connecticut College.
  6. Bachman, p.
  7. See Beckwith article.
  8. Notes about the burial ground can be found in the “Beckwith” article.
  9. More information about these groups can be found in the chapter about Pepperbox Burial Ground.
  10. Ibid, p. 438
  11. Bachman. p 134.
  12. Caulkins, p. 243
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid. p 243.
  15. https://connecticuthistory.org/connecticuts-loyal-subjects-toryism-and-the-american-revolution/
  16. Caulkins. p.243.
  17. Bachman. History of Waterford.Thames Printing Company,Norwich, Connecticut, 2000. p. 31
  18. Robert Ownes Decker, in The Whaling City, p. 69.