By Brenda Crowell
A Revolutionary War burial ground in Upton is home to some very interesting, departed souls. And recent renovations have made the burial grounds a little more accessible.
“It’s been all cleaned out. It had been quite overgrown and neglected,” said Upton Historical Commission member Russell Wood. “It’s a constant battle that tends to be forgotten. This is the year we’ve cleaned it up again.”
Wood said that Cemetery Commission Chair Ed Phillips and Historical Commission member Joan Burrell were the driving force behind the cleanup, which cost about $35,000 and was done by Joseph Simonetta and My 3 Son’s Landscaping and Mowing.
“We are constantly cleaning the gravestones,” Wood added. “Ed Phillips took a course in Mendon and learned to clean them. They’re old slate stones. A lot of them are covered with lichen. Some are broken, some are destroyed and can’t be repaired.”
Tom Delfanti of Whitinsville Monumental Works has helped with some of the repair work on the stones, some of which are damaged enough due to age to fall apart if picked up. While granite is generally used for gravestones today, the slate used in Revolutionary War times is much thinner and more fragile.
Wood said that in 1965, a man named Dan Fay made a map of the entire cemetery that includes each grave, who’s buried there, and the text on each gravestone. All that information is at the Upton Historical Society.
Among those interred in the burial grounds is Elisha Fish, who was a minister in Upton in 1773.
“As the militia was going off for training, Mr. Fish wrote a discourse on the act of war and how it is when one nation is attacked by another and you have a right to defend yourself,” Wood said. “Mr. Fish read this to the troops as they were going off to military training.”
A few years later, it was Fish’s turn to serve, in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
“Mr. Fish couldn’t stay in Upton. He had to join the fight,” said Wood. “All the males there participated in the Revolutionary War.”
Other gravestones belong to a sea captain and his family, and to a man named Cyrus Vale.
“Cyrus Vale owned a farm here in Upton. He didn’t pay his taxes – he thought he didn’t have to because his father fought in the Revolutionary War against taxes,” Wood said. “The town was going to foreclose on his land, so he set fire to his farm, jumped in the river, and drowned. That was the Upton Fire Department’s first fire that they fought.”
The burial ground is located off Grove Street, on a little road once called Marlborough Road.
“That was the road the Civil War soldiers took when they went off to serve the Union,” Wood noted. “The first meetinghouse was erected there in 1735, when Upton was incorporated. Because it wasn’t in the center of Upton, people in the northern section of Upton didn’t care to come down to the meetinghouse. They had to come by horse and buggy, and especially in winter, it was very difficult to come down from the north section of Upton.”
A new meetinghouse was built on the town common in 1770, and the site of the original became the burial grounds.
“The first burials were in the 1770s and 1780s,” Wood said.