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Essex, Mass. - Cemetery

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The Old Burying Ground, Essex, Mass.

Sermon about Gave Robbery

The Essex Shipbuilding Museum copy of this phamphlet appears to have been printed about 1818. It is sewn and taped (a recent repair) together, without a cover. The booklet begins at page iii, and ends at page 36. Two pages from each end of the booklet are missing. The first page begins:

[page iii]


The following sermon was necessarily written in great haste to meet the occasion, for which it was designed, and without the most distinct view to its publication. In revising it for the press, therefore, it was found necessary to condense some parts of it, and to enlarge upon others; but, in regard to the sentiments, which pervaded the discourse, as it was delivered, no alterations, it is believed, have been made.

The history of the occasion is briefly this: Some time in the course of the past winter, suspicions were excited, it should seem, by no very definite circumstances, that the body of a young woman had been taken out of her grave, for anatomical purposes. These suspicions made such an impression upon several in the place, and particularly upon her parents and neighbors, that it was determined, in the Spring, to make an examination. An examination was accordingly made, and the painful discovery evinced, that their suspicions were too well founded. Her body was gone! and the melancholy tidings gave such a shock to all in the place, as was never before felt. Further examinations, which were made to ascertain, if practicable, the extent of the evil, but chiefly with a view of quieting the troubled minds of those, who had recently buried friends, if peradventure they might be there, only deepened, and confirmed the distress. Before the examination was closed, it was ascertained that the bodies of not less than eight persons had been sacrilegiously stolen; viz. Mrs. Mary Millet, aged 35; Miss Sally Andrews, 26; Mr. William Burnham, 79; Mr. Elisha Story, 65; Mr. Samuel Burnham, 26; Isaac Allen, 10; Philip Harlow, 10: the eighth was not certainly known, but supposed to be Caesar, a coloured man, buried several years since. Thus, within the short space of five months, was the heavy draught of
[page iv]
seven made upon the burying ground of a county village, containing little more than a thousand inhabitants. This number, including as it did, young and old, male and female, parent and child, brother and sister, spread the unusual distress through a very extensive and respectable circle of relations and friends. Meetings of the inhabitants were held on the occasion, and resolutions passed, expressing their abhorrence of the deed, and adopting measures, to detect, if possible, and to bring to justice, the perpetrators of it; and the sum of five hundred dollars, or more, was subscribed by individuals to carry these measures into effect. A vote was also passed, authorizing the standing Committee of the parish to inter the empty coffins, in a grave to be prepared for the purpose, and to request the minister of the parish to deliver a discourse, suited to the occasion. This request was accordingly made, and the following is the discourse preached on that occasion.

[page 5]


John xx. 13. - They say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

[discussion of entombment and resurrection of Jesus]

From this portion of sacred history, we derive the following sentiment:

To entomb the bodies of our deceased friends, and to desire that they may rest in their graves undisturbed, is a dictate of natural affection, sanctioned by the word of God, and the examples of the good in every age.

[discussion of the truth of the sentiment]

This sentiment is also corroborated, by that repugnance, which all humane persons feel, to any molestation, or disturbance of the dead. ... [footnote, p. 12] We, of course, except, from this general sympathy, those, whose business it is to disturb the dead for filthy lucre's sake, and those who employ them in this unholy traffic. [discussion of why natural affection requires an internment of the dead, and that they should remain in their graves unmolested] [footnote, p. 26] We would by no means insinuate that the simple act of dissecting a human body, necessarily implies any want of Christian tenderness in the dissector. If the body be righteously obtained, and the operator, and others, come to the examination of it with proper views and feelings, there can be no doubt, but that they will go away with more exalted views of the wisdom, power and goodness of their Creator, and with a deeper sense of their entire dependence on Him for their every breath.

[page 26]
departed friend, and much less his body, with the least disrespect, or in a manner that shall imply the least want of tenderness

Inference. 1. We infer, from this subject, the inhumanity and impiety of forcibly taking the dead from their graves.

2. We infer from this subject the reasonableness, and the duty, of sorrowing for the loss of our dead. . . .

Copyright 2006, 2010 by Kurt A. Wilhelm