Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boston Municipal Burials 1704-1774

Between 1704 and 1774, nearly 36,000 people were buried in Boston's three municipal graveyards (Copp's Hill, Granary, and King's Chapel). I started my count in 1704 because that is the first year in which the statistics were separated by race and I end in 1774 because the upheaval of the Siege of Boston in 1775 was a demographic catastrophe.

Of these, nearly 5,300 were black, though the records make no distinction between slave and free. Overall, about 15% of Bostonians buried in the city during that time were black, though the percentage goes as high as 23% in some years. Over the course of the 18th century, the percentage of blacks buried in these three graveyards dropped, though this was mainly due to an increase in white burials — the number of blacks buried stayed fairly constant:

The three high peaks are smallpox epidemic years: 1721, 1730, and 1752.

  • What proportion of the city's dead were buried in these three municipal graveyards?
  • Did that proportion differ for blacks and whites?
  • Does the decrease in the % of black burials indicate a smaller relative population in later decades, or the use of a non-municipal burying ground?
  • Is it safe to estimate the racial makeup of the city's population based on these numbers?
  • How many surviving gravemarkers commemorate black Bostonians from this period? I know of one (Frank, 1771, Granary) are there more @ Copp's Hill?
  • What % of black Bostonians were buried at Copp's Hill vs. Granary vs. King's Chapel?

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