Seeing the graves of children in an old cemetery like Old Parish Cemetery is a common occurrence. Children too often died young in the 18th and 19th centuries – from failure to thrive, accident, contagious disease, and any number of illnesses for which there was no treatment or cure. Nearly every family plot in Old Parish contains the small stone or inscription of a child, an affecting reminder of life and death in previous centuries. Perhaps the most poignant, however, are the graves of children which stand alone, with no parent or family member nearby.
Here are three examples:
Sarah Ann Johnson (1827-1829) Lot 267
Sarah Ann Johnson was born on May 12, 1827 in Dedham. Her parents, Comfort H. Johnson and Susan Loring Johnson were the parents of eight children including twin sons John Adams Johnson and George Washington Johnson, born on November 1, 1822. It appears that the family moved frequently between South Dedham, Walpole, and Dover.
They were living in South Dedham on October 4, 1829 when their little girl, Sarah Ann Johnson, died at the age of 2. Her grave stands alone about a quarter of the way up the slope of Old Parish Cemetery. It is easy to overlook.
In the spring of 2021, Old Parish volunteers uncovered a footstone that belonged to Sarah Ann’s grave. It was repaired and, along with her gravestone, was reset. The small gravestone reads:
to the memory of
Sarah Ann Johnson,
daughter of Comfort H. & Susan Johnson
Oct. 4, 1829:
Aged 2 years & 6 months
Recently recovered footstone(left)
John Bire (1851-1859) Lot 188
John Bire was born sometime in 1851. His parents, Casper and Mary, were both born in Germany. Casper was a cabinet maker, perhaps working at the Everett Furniture Company in South Dedham. John Bire died on June 7, 1859 at 8 years of age. The cause of his death was recorded as “croup.” The stone, beautifully engraved with a weeping willow and urn motif, reads:
Son of Casper
& Mary Bire
June 7, 1859
aged 8 yrs.
The family likely left South Dedham after the Everett factory was destroyed by fire in 1865, leaving John’s small grave behind. Adding to the poignancy of the story, even the child’s name is uncertain. The record of Deaths in Massachusetts for that date in 1859 note the death of “Casper Byer” whose parents are Casper and Mary Byer, while the Abstract of Records of Deaths in Dedham, compiled and published in 1895, has no entry for Bire, but under entries for “Bayer, Byer, (See also Bier),” the child who died on June 7, 1859, is identified again as “Casper.”
Alfred T. Bock (1861-1863) Lot 237
Thomas E. Bock (1863-1863)
Finally, on the top of the hill at Old Parish Cemetery stands a third small gravestone. This stone, cleaned to a bright white by volunteers, reads:
ALFRED T. BOCK
died July 11, 1863.
aged 1 year 11 mos
THOMAS E. BOCK
June 12, 1863
aged 4 mos.
It was a tragic year for the family. The cause of Allie’s death was listed as cholera infantum; the cause of Thomas’s demise is unknown. Both boys were born to Theodore Bock, a carver, born in Germany, and Miriam Armstrong Bock, who was born in England. That is all we know.