Old Burying Ground

In June 1724, the trustees of the town of Beaufort deeded to the “wardens of the Parish of St. Johns and the rest of the Vestrymen,” Old Town Lot 91. This acquisition of land is the earliest date indicating the use of the present burying ground. Although the earliest legible date of death is 1756, many of the older markers have no dates or inscriptions are illegible. 

The burying ground was enlarged in 1731, when Nathaniel Taylor gave Old Town Lot 81 to the inhabitants of the town for that purpose. The cemetery was enlarged again when the Baptists acquired part of Lot 72 in 1851, and in 1853 when the Methodists bought part of Lot 71 for a new church. 

Surrounded by a concrete wall, with recessed panels between posts topped by simple spheres, the burying ground is shaded throughout by many gnarled old trees, notably live oaks whose branches are covered by resurrection ferns, which revive after each rain. It is crowded with markers of various designs, including table stones, obelisks and official military markers. The best known is that of Otway Burns, a naval hero in the War of 1812. His grave is marked by a large box-like stone; the top is embedded with a canon from his privateer Snap Dragon.


Many of the older graves have simple vertical cypress slabs—of some 17 designs in all, each with weathered, lichen-spotted texture. Another common grave treatment is the construction, in front of a stone marker, of a grave cover of brick, usually about two feet in height, which protects the grave from being washed out in the sandy soil. Some are rounded and some are of a gabled configuration, but all run the length of the coffin. These occur singly, but more frequently are lined up in family groups. Many of the family plots are surrounded by handsome wrought and cast-iron fences. Varying from simple stones to elaborate monuments with urns, figures and crosses, many are signed, providing a museum of the stonecutter’s art during the 18th and 19th centuries. Stones come from such places as Boston, Charleston, Brooklyn and Baltimore. From North Carolina only the port city of Wilmington is represented. There are some 200 stones from the pre-Civil War era, approximately 45 from the war period, about 150 from 1865 to 1900, and a few 20th-century markers. (National Register of Historic Places)

The Beaufort Historical Association provides a self-guided brochure, which highlights several of the notable grave sites within the Old Burying Ground.