51. Smallpox cemetery

opposite 81-107 Old Comers Rd.
Smallpox cemetery

Chatham’s smallpox cemetery is located in the area known as the “Training Field Triangle”, also as the “Golden Triangle”, which is a town conservation area. A conservation trail approximately a mile long makes the full circuit around the Triangle.

The Smallpox Cemetery is located on the north side of the Triangle. From November 1765 to May 1766, Chatham lost 37 of its 678 residents to a smallpox epidemic. This was one of the Cape’s worst outbreaks, believed to have arrived in Chatham in either a shipment of clothing from the West Indies, or a bale of cotton from the South. Typically an outbreak of smallpox could be contained quickly in a community, but somehow in Chatham it spread to epidemic proportions. During one week, there were seventeen deaths. Before it was over, the disease claimed the deacon, the doctor from Harwich, and the local doctor, Dr. Samuel Lord (whose gravestone is site #52 on this eTour).

This smallpox cemetery was established during the epidemic and is separate from the town’s early cemeteries, located about a half-mile to the south, out of fears that using the regular cemeteries would spread the disease. Even so, few of the epidemic’s victims were actually buried here, due to fears of spreading the disease during funerals. Most victims were buried quietly without a funeral service on family farms.

This Triangle area had many uses over the course of Chatham’s history. It was cleared for farming by the early settlers, and was also used for training the Colonia Militia, according to local folklore. As early as 1681, the inhabitants of Monomoit were ordered by Plymouth Colony to choose men to be outfitted with arms and ammunition and to train them as militia. Every year until 1830, there was a general training which took place on, or maybe near, this triangle.

This 38 acre parcel was acquired by the Town of Chatham for conservation and recreational purposes in 1972. It was one of the first parcels purchased by the town for setting aside as conservation land. It contains one of Chatham’s five state-certified vernal pools and a smaller kettle hole wetland. Since its purchase, a trail has been created around the periphery of the property, which has been maintained and improved over the years with the help of the local Boy Scout troop and AmeriCorps volunteers, under the oversight of the Chatham Conservation Commission.

Please follow the rules of Conservation Land use. On any excursion into the woods in Chatham, pay attention to the season and watch out for poison ivy and ticks.