Boy Scout catalogs and maps old Quaker resting place
New Castle Town Historian Gray Williams, Michael Martinez
March 6, 2009
by Chrisitne Yeres
Two years ago, Boy Scout Michael Martinez, with the help of his younger brother Alex and friend Cameron O’Leary, undertook a systematic cataloging and mapping of the final resting place of 1027 Quakers buried behind and beside the Quaker Meetinghouse on Quaker Road (Route 120).
On Sunday, February 22, after an hour of silent reflection in the Quakers’ light-filled pale-green meeting room during which the ticking of a clock, the soft clanging of the radiators and the muffled rush of Quaker Road traffic were the only sounds heard, the fifteen participants repaired to an adjoining hall for coffee and refreshments, including a brightly frosted sheet cake to celebrate the completion of the project and Martinez’s accomplishment.
Historical Society sought comprehensive listing with map
Town Historian Gray Williams thanked Martinez and his assistants and presented Martinez with a copy of William’s book, Picturing Our Past: National Register Sites in Westchester County, published by the Westchester County Historical Society in 2003. The group then filed back to the pale-green meeting room to listen to a presentation by Martinez explaining what he had done and how he had done it.
In his search for an Eagle Scout project, Martinez, now 15, said he learned through his scout master, Bill Flank, that the historical society was eager to possess a comprehensive record of who was buried where in the Quaker cemetery. Up until that time, genealogists tracking ancestors were left to glean what they could from the cemetery’s old stones and from what records the society possessed.
Since its first use as a burying ground in 1745 to its latest in 2006, the number of graves in the cemetery of the old Quaker meeting house had grown to 1027. About 650 of them had been documented in 1908, making a list that was “far from complete,” said Williams. “Between 50 and 75 had been missed, but the additional drawback to [the 1908 list] was that it was simply an alphabetical list; there was no practical way of finding the graves.” Williams attested to the steady stream of requests for information received by the historical society, the Quaker Meeting, and himself, “from people,” he said, “who are descended from the early Quaker families who come back for a reunion or to visit a family member’s grave and want to find others in the family.”
Scout Master Bill Flank, Michael Martinez, Gray Williams, Cameron O’Leary and Alex Martinez
Project combined field work, computer work and mapping skills
With a final map displayed on a tripod behind him, Martinez described the project’s three phases. First, in May of 2007, with his brother and O’Leary and some other troop members and adult volunteers, Martinez began, section by section, to collect inscriptions from each gravestone and assigned each grave a number. Some were marked by simple field stones, and, of the more worked stones, none were elaborate. “Early monuments are very simple, home made, really,” explained Williams. “Quakers didn’t believe in fancy monuments.” In order to read the more worn inscriptions, the boys used a full-length mirror to catch the sun and beam it across the surface of the stone at an acute angle, to bring the carved words into high relief [see below].
Phase two involved logging the information gathered into a computer data base, which would provide access to the information sorted by name and location. In October of 2007, explained Martinez, “Howard Campbell’s [a local engineering and surveying firm] office did a survey of trees, walls and rocks.”
Supplied with these maps, during phase three the boys returned to the graveyard. They used a carpenter’s compass and plotted the rows of gravestones, mapping the ends of each row on the topographical survey in relation to fixed features such as trees, stone walls and boulders. Flank observed, “Big boulders aren’t so useful; what part of a boulder do you measure from?” This phase of the work was done “only on weekends, and when it was warm enough,” said Martinez, since they had to traipse all over the two-acre graveyard taking measurements. At the same time, they checked each stone against a printout of their data. All in all, Martinez estimated, the project took about 350 hours.
Immeasurable value of this work for historians
Williams spoke of the great significance of the project “to me, as a researcher, to see what happened to people, where they are buried.” Even last summer, he said, “in the midst of this project, two historians from Pace [University] in Pleasantville were doing research on the Underground Railroad as it passed through Westchester. There’s been a pretty strong oral tradition among the Quakers that Moses Pierce’s family, Quaker Meeting members here who lived over the line in Pleasantville, harbored runaway slaves. This old graveyard of full of Pierces, fifteen or so. The researchers asked, ‘did I know where they were?’ Yes, I did, because of Michael’s work. Pierce, his wife and other relatives were all in a row.”
Seeing patterns in the graveyard can lead to historical insights. “For example,” said Williams, “many members of the Kipps family were buried behind the meetinghouse. There were, perhaps, fifty or sixty in one area.” This was confirmation, to Williams, that the Kipps had been a leading clan in the Quaker community.
At the conclusion of Martinez’s presentation, Scout Leader Flank told the congregation, “Michael’s field work, database entry and map drawing could legitimately have been split into more than one project, but Michael started it and he wanted to do the whole thing.” Flank noted afterwards that the experience Martinez had enlisting and directing others is part of the Eagle Project’s leadership training. “You have to plan, organize, lead and manage the steps involved,” he explained. “And you have to make sure that it comes out properly and have a finished product that is acceptable to the people who sponsored you and agreed to let you do this for them, all elements of the real world, which is why it’s such good training for life, and recognized as such.”
Martinez will present his project before a Boy Scouts Board of Review, during which he will respond to questions about it. He hopes to receive his Eagle Scout ranking this June.
Martinez presenting his project at the meetinghouse
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