Ever wonder about pilgrim burials? Just where were they buried and what funeral rituals were performed?
To begin with, let’s take a look at what happened to those who died in transit. Records note that on the Mayflower, conditions were very poor. Fresh food and the ability to get away from those who were sick were limited at best.
Two passengers did not survive the arduous trip across the Atlantic Ocean. They were buried at sea with only minimal rites performed.
On land, headstones were not placed on gravesites. Perhaps that was because there were not skilled stone carvers among the first group of settlers. There also were no stones to carve. And, more attention was being paid to survival than it was to death.
Burials often took place at a location near the place of death. Shallow graves were dug and where possible large flat stones were placed atop the graves to keep wild animals from digging up the site.
Funerals were relatively simple. Ceremonies were brief and grieving families did not observe the traditional grieving practices (including mourning clothing) of their homeland. Bodies were not embalmed and it was not uncommon for graves to be opened so that the remains of others family members would be placed in the same grave.
Life was harsh and most of the community effort was directed towards providing food and shelter and, where necessary, protection. Once daily survival was no longer critical, pilgrims began to have funerals that included sermons and eulogies. Mourning clothes – including scarves and ribbons – were worn and in some time headstones were erected. At this time grave yards also were more commonplace.
Some of the more noted pilgrim cemeteries include Burial Hill in Massachusetts and the Myles Standish Burial Ground also in Massachusetts.