Core Sound Stop 2: Old Burying Ground
Within easy walking distance of the North Carolina Maritime Museum is Beaufort’s historic cemetery, the Old Burying Ground, at 130 Turner Street. Considered by many to be one of the state’s most beautiful historic sites – especially in the springtime when the azaleas and wisteria bloom, or after a rainstorm, when the resurrection ferns on the ancient tree trunks stretch out their fronds – the Old Burying Ground is a delight for the graveyard fancier, and a vivid if unconventional museum of Carteret County history.
The land for the cemetery was deeded to the city in 1731, and many of the graves are from the mid-18th century. More than 200 graves predate the Civil War. Prominent and colorful figures of Carteret County’s past are buried here, including Captain Otway Burns, a privateer and boatbuilder who rose to national prominence during the War of 1812. His tomb is marked with one of the cannons from his brigantine, the Snapdragon.
Another seafaring man’s grave is inscribed with the verse,
The form that fills this silent grave
Once tossed on ocean's rolling wave
But in a port securely fast
He's dropped his anchor here at last.
There are several legends from the Carolina coast about unfortunate travelers who died at sea and were preserved for transport home in kegs of rum or brandy. The subject of one such tale is buried here, in a grave very close to Captain Otway’s. The low wooden marker reads, “Little Girl Buried in Barrel of Rum.” Visitors to the cemetery bring toys and trinkets to leave on the little girl’s grave, and it is not unusual for a visitor to find her marker festooned with streamers and tinsel and flowers. Decorations such as shells, broken crockery, coins, and toys are a common sight in Southern cemeteries, particularly in early burying grounds and rural African American graveyards. Several of the graves in Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground are marked with conch shells and coins.
The burials mentioned here are among the best-known in the Old Burying Ground. However, this churchyard is filled with interesting graves, many distinguished by expert vernacular stone carving, by weather-worn unmarked wooden planks, by intricate brickwork, and flowery epitaph verses. The Old Burying Ground is generally open to the public during daylight hours. Guided tours can be arranged in-season through the Beaufort Historic Site, 1-800-575-7483.
From Beaufort, you can cross the sound on a ferry to Shackleford Banks, or proceed north and east by car to Harkers Island.
Click here. to proceed.
Photo credits: Old Burying Ground, Beaufort; photo by Sarah Bryan. Harkers Island bridge; photo by Roger Haile.