History exhumed from Old Yellow Meeting House Cemetery
A few came back to life briefly on Nov. 6 when re-enactors told their stories during the Upper Freehold Baptist Cemetery Association and Friends of the Old Yellow Meeting House Cemetery preservation clinic.
Dating from about 1737, the meeting house is the oldest existing Baptist church building in the state. The oldest marked grave in the cemetery is that of John Salter, dated 1723.
Eugene Hough, a Pennsylvania-based RevolutionaryWar re-enactor and member of the Association for Gravestone Studies, presided over the event. He told the approximately 25 attendees that exposing youths to local history helps them grow into adults who support open space.
Hough spoke about cemetery preservation. He recommended putting up signs to prohibit stone rubbings in the cemetery, since many of the old headstones are unstable and could be further compromised during a rubbing. He also warned against using bleach or other abrasives to clean a headstone’s surface. Instead, he recommended using a mixture of three different types of ammonia and an emulsifier to clean lichens from the stones.
While the Veterans Administration will replace damaged headstones of veterans, proper care can prevent the replacement of any headstone, he said. Most damaged stones can be repaired, with many cemetery organizations sponsoring “adopt-a-stone” programs that allow individuals or corporations to sponsor repairs, he said.
To aid in interpreting worn-away inscriptions, Hough suggested stepping back 20 yards from the stone and using binoculars to read it.
Upper Freehold Township native Brig. Gen. Elisha Lawrence died in 1799 at the age of 53. After his tombstone was cleaned, the information on the 210-year-old marker, which lies horizontally on top of a brick platform, or sarcophagus, could be read more easily.
The tombstone reads, “A stranger to all ambition but that of being useful, he was twice vice president of New Jersey for several years presiding judge of the pleas, and after a series of faithful and gallant services in the Revolutionary War he was appointed by his county brigadier general of the Monmouth militia of the surveyed blazing line when wars loud conflict racked the brain. Now sheltered in the realms divine he treads heavens ever-peaceful plan lead on by softer, mercy’s mildest ray while fellow warriors hail him on his way.” The bottom of the stone reads, “By indulgence of the general’s family, his companions in arms erect this tribute of affection the first day of January 1800.”
Bob Haver, Hamilton, explained that Lawrence was acting governor of New Jersey after the first governor, William Livingston, died in office in 1790. He said Lawrence was a Federalist, who believed in a strong central government for the new nation, similar to John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.
Former Baptist minister Allen Garvie, Hamilton, portrayed the Rev. David Jones, pastor of the Old Yellow Meeting House from 1766 to 1775 and a staunch supporter of the American Revolution. During that period, Jones felt called to preach to the Shawnee and Delaware Indians in Ohio, and traveled with famed explorer George Rogers Clark. His anti-British views put his life in danger while he was living in Upper Freehold, since many residents had Tory sympathies. In 1775 Jones became pastor of a church one mile away from Valley Forge, Pa., where he preached to Col. William Dewees’ regiment. His sermon, “Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless,” was published throughout the colonies. The British Gen. William Howe ordered Jones’ arrest, but a Methodist minister in the area was arrested by mistake. Jones served as chaplain to a brigade under Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1777. Also trained in medicine, Jones performed surgery during the war.
For more information about the cemetery, contact the Friends of the Old Yellow Meeting House, P.O. Box 23, Cream Ridge, NJ 08514. The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours. The annual Thanksgiving Eve candlelight service will be held at the meeting house at 7 p.m. Nov. 24. Those who attend should bring a flashlight.