The Oldest Tombstone in Westchester County
The current issue of The Westchester Historian, a quarterly journal published by the Westchester County Historical Society, is particularly informative. The entire issue contains a wonderful article by Norman T. MacDonald entitled "Benjamin Brandreth: The Pill Man of Sing Sing, New York." In addition, the journal contains a series of "Westchester Vignettes" including one devoted to the oldest tombstone in Westchester County. See Kelly, Kate, Oldest Tombstone In Westchester Turns 300, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 81, No. 1, p. 25 (Winter 2005).
A photograph of the tombstone taken by local historian Gray Williams appears on the Web site of St. Paul's Church National Historic Site. It is framed below and will continue to display for as long as it is maintained in its current location on the Web site of St. Paul's Church National Historic Site.
St. Paul's Church
Construction of the walls and steeple of the magnificent structure began in about 1763, almost a century after the church was first founded. In 1942 the structure was restored to its 18th century appearance based on the original pew plan created in 1787. In front of the church is what remains of the famous village green – a strip of land between the churchyard fence and South Columbus Avenue.
The Church stands on land purchased by Thomas Pell from local Native Americans. Early Pelham settlers worshiped in the church and are buried in its cemetery. German troops used the church as a field hospital after the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776. The Reverend Robert Bolton, founder of Christ Church in Pelham, served as Rector of the Church from 1837 to 1843. In short, the history of Saint Paul’s is woven into the rich tapestry of Pelham’s history.
To learn more about St. Paul's Church, see Bell, Blake A., Early History of Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 29, Jul. 23, 2004, p. 8, col. 2.
As the photograph above indicates, the tombstone is inscribed as follows:
The tombstone is the oldest among the many in the cemetery at St. Paul's Church. It is carved from a schist fieldstone and once marked the grave of Richard Shute. According to research prepared by St. Paul's Church National Historic Site, "Shute was one of the founders of Eastchester in 1665. The early town meeting records are in his handwriting because he was town clerk for 38 years. When he died the town was still small enough so that he could be identified with only his initials." See St. Paul's Church National Historic Site, The Historic Cemetery: 18th Century Stone: R S (visited Mar. 15, 2005) <http://www.nps.gov/sapa/cemetery/RS.html>.
The records left by Town Clerk Richard Shute have been transcribed by the Eastchester Historical Society. The records tell us much about the early history of neighboring Pelham.
In the recent "Vignette" devoted to the stone that appeared in The Westchester Historian, Kate Kelly wrote as follows:
"According to Gray Williams, an expert on colonial graveyards and carvers, Shute's death came at the end of an era in which most graves were marked simply by placing field stones at the head and feet of a buried body to prevent new graves from being dug in the same spot. The fact that Richard Shute was given a marked headstone showed his significance to the community." Kelly, Kate, Oldest Tombstone In Westchester Turns 300, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 81, No. 1, p. 25 (Winter 2005).
Last December, a small ceremony was held at St. Paul's to mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Richard Shute and the placement of his headstone. That headstone marked his grave until recently when it fell over. Curators reportedly have removed the stone and placed it inside the church for safekeeping. Id.
Richard Shute's headstone is believed to be the oldest extant tombstone in Westchester County.
Please visit the Historic Pelham Web site
Located at http://www.historicpelham.com/.