By James Croggon, The Evening Star, May 11, 1912
The many cities of the dead which were within the old corporation limits in the last century have, with one exception, disappeared, as also the funeral customs of the early days.
Congressional cemetery, at the southeastern extremity of the city east of 17th street, south of Potomac avenue and E street bordering on the circle, and the ground now being reclaimed along the Anacostia, is the only remaining "city of the dead" embraced in the lines of the old city limits. Like the rest of the city, it has grown in the more than a century of its existence, and in its thirty acres the number of silent tombs and graves is rapidly approaching 100,000. Among them ever condition of life is represented-senators, representatives, judicial officers, military and naval heroes, as well as many who stood high among the early families of the District.
Originally the country hereabouts was included in the farm lands of William and Abraham Young, and at the time the city was laid out the mansion house of Mrs. William Young was in the present cemetery, as also was the family graveyard. It is evident from the fact that the city authorities established a wharf at the foot of 14th street, and also that Greenleaf, Ferdinand Fairfax, Benjamin Stoddert, Col. Tobias Lear, Thomas Munroe, John Kilty and others invested there, that rapid improvement was expected, although the initial valuation of the ground was but one-half cent per foot, reduced soon after to one-eighth. There was also what was known as Wheeler's upper ferry at 14th and Water streets, which was subsequently displaced by a bridge.
In early days there was little improvement, until nearly half a century, and then it came slowly. The naval magazine, on the south part of reservation 13, and Mrs. Young's mansion house were the principal objects in the section, until the location of the Washington Asylum (poor and workhouse), in 1846, and the jail in 1870.
Family Graveyards in City
The other public burial ground was square 1026, between 13th and 14th streets, H street and Florida avenue northeast. It was under the direction of the commissioners appointed by the corporation and was a burial place from 1802 until the civil war. It was not, however, a popular place and interments were not numerous. In 1862 the bodies were removed and the title reverted to the United States, the lots being sold. From the first the place was regarded as unsuitable owing to the ground being moist and marshy and being far removed from the more settled portions of the city. It was because of this condition of the ground and location that Congressional cemetery came into existence.
Start Another Cemetery
Until 1812 the affairs were in charge of the original trustees, and March 24 the committee in charge reported that the burial ground was free from debt and a resolution was adopted that Mr. Ingle present to the parish the ground, with the proceedings of the committee. Mr. Ingle did so a few days later, giving the necessary deed. The vestry at that time was composed of Rev. Andrew T. McCormick, rector; Commodore Thomas Tingey, Peter Miller, Griffith Coombe, Samuel N. Smallwood, Joseph Forest, James Young and Henry Ingle. Among those interred there prior to that time were Uriah Tracy, senator from Connecticut, who died in 1807, the first buried here, and Senator Francis Malbone of Rhode Island, who died in 1809; Representatives Ezra Darby of New Jersey, 1808; Gen. Thomas Blount of North Carolina, 1812; Elijah Brigham, Massachusetts, and Richard Stanford of North Carolina, who died in 1816, and Vice President Clinton of New York, who died April 20, 1811, and whose body was removed to New York a year ago. There were also Samuel A. Otis, secretary of the Senate, and Vice President Gerry of Massachusetts, who died in 1814, and Col. Tobias Lear, secretary to President Washington, who died in 1816.
Sites for Members of Congress
Among those buried there up to 1825 were Benjamin Moore, who had established the Washington Gazette prior to 1800, and who died in 1812; Benjamin G. Orr, once mayor of Washington; a daughter of Henry Clay, a child of John C. Calhoun, Benjamin King, master smith of the Navy Yard; ex-Mayor Smallwood, Col. Frank Wharton, commander of the Marine Corps; John Crabb, Thomas Dunn, doorkeeper of the House; Gen. George Beall, Frederick Greuhm, the Prussian minister; Mme. Bresson, wife of the secretary of the French embassy; Push-ma-ta-ha, a Choctaw chief, who died in 1824; Dr. John Harrison, who for twenty years was in the United States Navy; Senators Burrill of Rhode Island 1820, Gen. W.A. Trimble of Ohio and William Pinkney of Maryland, who had a rifle corps at Bladensburg and was minister to Russia, in 1822; George Mumford of North Carolina, David Walker of Kentucky (1820), N. Hazzard of Rhode Island (1820), Jesse Slocum of North Carolina (1820), William L. Ball of Virginia (1824), representatives; Elias B. Caldwell, clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Dr. Cutbush, United States Navy.
As may be supposed, the streets in that section were in a primitive condition, generally on a natural grade. At that time, there being few public conveyances, the funerals were mostly what were called walking funerals. Seldom were there any teams other than the hearse, and not infrequently so little settlement had been made that they came over meandering roads.
The old Young house, on E street between 17th and 18th streets, was then occupied by Richard Spalding, and eastward of this was a small house belonging to Richard Barry. Near the latter was the old naval magazine, near which Edward Barry resided as the keeper. Some idea of the small expenses of funerals and interments in that day may be held from the price of sites, as stated above, and of opening and filling a grave, $3 more. An undertaker's bill on file at the courthouse, reads: "To one coffin, $10; three carriages, $9; total, $19." And this the funeral of a prominent citizen!