… A spot was selected near, situated on the side of the hill, east of the meeting-house, of about one and a half acres, and walled in for this purpose, which is now known as the Old Cemetery. With our modern views of cemeteries. it had an exceedingly bad location; it was on ground, the most of it, wholly unsuitable for the purposes of burial; there was no order in the arrangement of the graves in the yard, only that the head was laid to the west. It was also too circumscribed, as though in this wide country, and where land was so cheap, a sufficient room could not be afforded for the final resting place of our bodies without impinging on one another. The north side only of this yard was found suitable for graves, embracing but a little more than a half of the yard, while the remainder of it, in consequence of its rocks and ledges, we never occupied. So hardly an acre of ground constituted the burial-place of this town for more than eighty years, or through more than two generations. How such numbers were buried on such a small tract of land, and yet always room for more, is a mystery to us. Gravestones were not very common, in proportion to the number of deaths, and the graves soon became obliterated and gave space for new burials. In these times, very little attention was ever bestowed on cemeteries; they were sadly neglected, allowed to grow up with bushes and briars, to be overrun with cattle, and to become one of the most unsightly places in town. To narrow the precincts of man at death, when he requires so little space at the best, was a petty economy, a thoughtless act that should never have been tolerated.
The first burial in this yard was Samuel, son of Capt. Thomas and Mary Morison, died Dec. 22, 1754, aged one year; and then burials occurred in 1757. '58, '60, '62, '64., and 66, and so on till 1834, when most of the burials ceased, upon the establishment of a new yard These are some of the earliest burials in the Old Cemetery: Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth Robbe, died Nov. 29, 1757, aged ten months; Jenny, daughter of William and Mary Ritchie, died Oct. 1. 1758, aged two years; Mary, wife of Deacon William McNee, died October, 1759, aged forty-eight years; Hannah, wife of Samuel Todd, died November, 1760, aged thirty years; Samuel Todd, died March 30, 1765. aged thirty-nine years; Agnes, wife of James Brownlee, died March 17, 1762,aged seventy-nine years ; Anna, daughter of Samuel Stinson. died Jan. 7, 1764, aged two years; Robert Smith, died Jan. 14. 1766. aged eighty-five years. As for ornamentation of the early cemeteries, it was never dreamed of; all agreed to let the graveyard be the most neglected of all places; but little effusions of fancy and sometimes grim humor would eke out on the gravestones, in the grotesque figures of death and death's head, sometimes an angel with a trumpet, and the memorable inscriptions of "Moriendum est omnibus" and the "Memento mori" so common in these times. Little scraps of indifferent poetry were often applied to individuals, as much out of place as could well be imagined; for instance, a rough. quarrelsome, and perhaps intemperate, person is lauded with all the choicest and mildest of the Christian graces, the quotation being as devoid of taste as of propriety of application.
The early inscription on the stones began with the real matter of fact, “Here lies the body of -"; the next step was, "Sacred to the memory of -"; and later to the plain "Memory of -3"; but subsequently with the plain "Mr. with the date of death and the age, and perhaps with some scrap of poetry or a Scripture quotation on the bottom of the stone. The early gravestones very scrupulously notice all the titles of the individual, and if he had none he was sure to have the plain Mr. applied to his name on his gravestone.
In proportion to the large number of burials, very few gravestones were erected, and all of these were of slate. Many families were very culpable in this respect. No doubt it was attended with a great trouble and expense in these times, and then to be served with an ordinary article at the best. But some of these stones show the durability of slate, even compared with the modern marble. They stand yet -- a good. fair record, -- after more than a hundred years of exposure to the elements.
SOURCE: History of Peterborough, by Albert Smith, M.D., L.L.D., Boston: 1876, pages 220-222.