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Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881
By George Holbert Tucker

Chapter 17

The Borough Churchyard

The tombstones of St. Paul's churchyard constitute an elegantly engraved stone directory of the Norfolk of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.

Although the churchyard was provided for when Norfolk was laid out in 1680-81, there are no original gravestones there remaining from that period, the three Seventeenth Century stones there having been brought from other places in Tidewater.

There are at present twenty-two pre-Revolutionary gravestones in the churchyard, although there no doubt were many more before deterioration destroyed them. The oldest is that of Mary Dyson, the wife of William Dyson, who died at the tender age of eighteen on January 3, 1748. The other pre-Revolutionary stones, many of them of English origin, some of them very beautiful examples of the stonecutter's art, memorialize the Archer, Taylor, Portlock, Hutchings, Rothery, Marsden, Tucker, and Calvert families, all of whom have left descendants or their mark on the topography of present-day Norfolk.

Almost every epitaph in St. Paul's churchyard is a novel in miniature, but on none of them is this more evident than the inscription on the altar tomb of Mrs. David Duncan and her two children who died in 1823. The epitaph concludes with:

"Insatiate archer, could not one suffice?
Thy shaft flew thrice, and thrice my peace was slain."

Pathetic though this is, history records the cynical fact that the husband was not long without consolation, for the records of the Norfolk Corporation Court show that not quite a year after the death of his wife and children, he was again on the way to the altar.

Seven former mayors of Norfolk are buried in St. Paul's churchyard: John Tucker, Dr. John K. Read, Dr. James Taylor, Robert Taylor, John Hutchings, George Abyvon, and John Taylor, the elaborately carved armoral marker of the latter having been moved to its present place many years ago from the Taylor family cemetery in downtown Norfolk.

The churchyard that is a veritable museum of Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century artistry in stone also contains the graves of two famous old Norfolk attorneys: General Thomas Mathews, for whom Mathews County was named, and Colonel John Nivison, who was remembered by Hugh Blair Grigsby, the Norfolk-born historian, this way:

"I can see this old man, too, with the freshness of the passing hour, as he was driving out in his capacious chariot to Lawson's or as he strolled or rather rocked (Col. Nivison weighed nearly 300 pounds) along the sidewalk. Whether he was fond of the classics, I cannot affirm; but he certainly borrowed a trait from Homer, and nodded occasionally, and when a tedious speaker began his harangue, having already taken a full view of the law and the facts in this case, he usually fell asleep, waking up as the counsel finished his harangue, much refreshed at least, if not instructed by it, and proceeded to give judgement in the case."

After having served the borough for about one hundred and forty-seven years, the old cemetery had become so crowded that an ordinance was passed denying burial to anyone whose near relatives had not already been buried there. And after the opening of Cedar Grove Cemetery, the city fathers put a stop to burials of all kinds there in 1835. Since then, internment there has required permission from the church vestry and a city ordinance.

Only seven people have made it so far: Mrs. Elizabeth Bacon in 1840; Mrs. Martha King, wife of former Norfolk Mayor Miles King, in 1849; Mrs. Rebecca Mann in 1851; Mrs. Mary Chandler, "Relict of George Chandler," in 1859; Dr. Nicholas Albertson Okeson, rector of the church for twenty-six years, in 1882; Dr. H.H. Covington, another rector, in 1933; and his wife in 1960.

Chapter 18
The Ball in the Wall

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

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