J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

William Dawes, Jr., Found in Jamaica Plain?

Today’s Boston Globe breaks the story that the remains of militia organizer and midnight rider William Dawes, Jr., might be in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain rather than (as modern guidebooks state) the burying-ground next to King’s Chapel in downtown Boston.

Historical tour guide Al Maze recently discovered a document putting Dawes in Forest Hills, the article says. His suggestion has support from local historian Charles Bahne, also quoted in the article, who tipped me off about this possibility a couple of weeks ago.

Maze hasn’t found the record of Dawes’s original burial in 1799. Instead, he found a record from Forest Hills indicating that one body interred in the May family area was “William Dawes Mar. 30, 1882 In Tomb, Died 1799. . . . These remains removed from Boylston Street Burial Grounds.” Why would Dawes be buried with the May family? Because his first wife was Mehitable May.

As for Dawes’s original interment, the “Boylston Street Burial Grounds” is a late-nineteenth-century term for the Central Burying-Ground on the south side of Boston Common, shown above. It expanded in the 1790s as the cemeteries close to the center of Boston filled up, so that would have been a logical place for a man of Dawes’s class to be interred at the time.

According to Bahne, the public identification of the Dawes family tomb in the King’s Chapel burying-ground with the rider dates only from 1899, when the Sons of the American Revolution was eager to identify Patriots’ resting-places. As I noted in my first article about Christopher Seider, the SAR’s monuments, while helping to preserve the memories of many historical figures, don’t always identify them and their whereabouts correctly.

Another factor in the possible confusion was how many generations in a family had the same name. The Revolutionary leader Samuel Adams was the son of a Samuel Adams and the father of another Samuel Adams. The same goes for Paul Revere, John Hancock, and other men of the time. William Dawes’s father was named William, and his first son was named William, so it might have been easy to see that name on a document and assume it referred to the most famous William. But only one died in 1799.


J. L. Bell said...

As a postscript, I see that the 1842 history of the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company says that member William Dawes, Sr., was buried in the King's Chapel Burying-ground. There is no such comment about his son, William Dawes, Jr., the Patriot rider.

One American Lady said...

I wondered if the Dawes name
is D A V V E S...
Davis / Davves / Davies.
Hazel Davis
P.O. Box 37
LeQuire, Oklahoma
Ph. 918-967-8390
Email: bojacks1@yahoo.com

J. L. Bell said...

I don’t know what the oldest derivation of “Dawes” is, but in eighteenth-century Boston it was definitely a separate name from “Davis” or “Davies.”