The Pemberton Family Cemetery

The Pemberton Family Cemetery has been known through the years by a variety of names: Pemberton Family Cemetery, Pemberton-Harrison Family Cemetery, Grove Place Cemetery, and the Pemberton Family Graveyard. The cemetery was properly exhumed and moved 200 feet by its corporate owners in the 1950s. While moving a cemetery is always an undesirable outcome for descendants, in this case, the professionally done excavation resulted in a better understanding of the Native American burial and an entirely new grave of an unidentified man. The source of the excavation information comes from a pamphlet which itself had been reprinted from the Pennsylvania Archaeologist Bulletin, vol xxi, nos. 1-2, January-June, 1951. It was written by John Witthoft.

1950s Archaeological Excavation

During 1950 the United States Steel Corporation purchased a large tract of land in Lower Bucks County for construction of a steel plant, and a large portion of the Penn Manor in Falls Township was included in this tract. As a condition of the land transfer, the steel company agreed to move the Falls Meeting House Cemetery and several farm burial grounds to the Falsington Meeting House Cemetery. One of these small plots was of some interest because it was the Harrison-Pemberton cemetery, closely associated with William Penn and his country home, Pennsbury. James Harrison, Penn’s friend and steward and the man who built Pennsbury, had his final resting place here among the members of his immediate family. It was therefore decided that this cemetery should be moved to an appropriate place on the grounds at Pennsbury, which is a property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The family had come to Pennsylvania in 1682 with William Penn and settled on the Penn Manor, where Harrison and his family managed the Manor and served as an agent for Penn in many local matters. His son-in-law, Phineas Pemberton, was a trusted aid of Penn’s and a major figure in the early provincial government. Their stay on this particular farm in the Manor was brief, for they had settled on a low, poorly-drained flood plain of the Delaware and the family death-toll from ague and other diseases endemic to this environment was high; they moved to another farm on high ground about 1697. The family cemetery was used until 1702. At a later date the cemetery was surrounded by a field-stone wall laid in lime mortar. A map of the cemetery was made by one of the family in 1825. In 1905 the wall was covered and capped with cement, and a large granite family memorial erected.

The moving of cemeteries on the steel company tract was let on bid to an undertaker, Arthur Hough, of Trenton, New Jersey, with a contract with a time clause. Th e Pemberton plot was included in this contract prior to the decision to remove it to Pennsbury. I was present during the exhumation as an agent of the Commission, and Hough and I directed the excavation. Since the problem of identification of individual graves seemed important here, the area was stripped and worked out in much the same fashion as any archaeological site. To an archaeologist accustomed to casual disturbance of graves of all types by industrial and archaeological excavations, the legal complex involved here was amazing. The exhumation was delayed for about six months while lawyers prepared forms, obtained court orders, obtained changes in court orders, checked procedure, and prepared individual exhumation forms and burial forms. I still do not know what legal complications Grave 1, an unidentified Indian, may raise. This is my first experience with the legal finesse involved in disturbing the dead, and it is the first controlled excavation carried on in a colonial White cemetery of the area. The extremely elaborate legal arrangement, the detailed businessman’s conditions of the contract, and the careful planning of the new cemetery by a first-rate period architect contrast strongly with the perfunctory arrangements for the excavation. Actually a site of this type located in these particular local soil series presents one of the most difficult field problems in local archeology. The moving of cemeteries on valuable industrial and urban land is only now becoming a common problem, and it is invariably handled on a bid and contract basis, in which the work is done entirely by morticians. The difference between an ordinary exhumation and the excavation of a site like this is tremendous, and under no circumstances should the latter be handled by such a contract.

The cemetery was on the typical sandy alluvium of the Delaware River floodplain, on a very slight rise of ground. The top eighteen inches of the soil profile is humusladen, disturbed soil, with chunks of lime mortar down to twelve inches from the surface, apparently due to spading after the stone wall (pre-1800?) was built and laid up in lime. This top zone is the result of grave digging and grading by caretakers. One to three feet of sand below this was the leached, “a” zone, loose, easily dug yellow sand. The “b” zone below this was reddish sand, compacted by mineral precipitates but with almost no seepage zones, and was two to three feet thick. Stiffness and reddish color increase from top to bottom, and the base was a rather stiff red clay-loam. The red zone rested directly on a blackish grey, sharp wet sand of very loose texture (“Quicksand” of the local grave diggers), which contained scattered pebbles. This sand zone was two to three feet thick at the cemetery site, and is underlaid by gravels of rounded river pebbles (“Jersey Sand” of local quarrymen.) These soil levels varied considerably in thickness within the small area of the cemetery.

The fill of the graves had little humus and was only slightly darkened as a result of disturbance. It was mottled, however, by the mixing of chunks of reddish stiff sand with looser grey and yellow sand. The grave fill was looser than the reddish “b” zone but more compact than the lower grey soil, and was about as easily dug as the yellow sands of the “a” zone. The grave fill and the grave outlines were very difficult to detect except on large and carefully planed cuts. Occasional bits of charcoal and pebbles were the only objects introduced into the grave fill. Grave outlines were readily seen on properly prepared floors, two feet below the ground surface, and were distinct from there to the bottom of the pit. In the levels of the “b” zone, the fill tended to cleave away from the undisturbed matrix, leaving the original grave wall exposed as it was dug.

Grave one was found, during my absence, in a trench extended beyond the recommended depth by one of the laborers, who destroyed the face and base of the skull with a shovel. Most of these parts were lost in the backdirt. The burial was in an irregular, carelessly dug grave with a maximum depth of three and a half feet. Two dogs were found near this grave, buried at a depth of one and one-half feet, and were probably farm pets buried here by children after the cemetery was no longer used; one was not recent, however, and may possibly have been associated with this burial. Both represented medium sized dogs with no noteworthy peculiarities, and were probably ordinary mixed-breed farm dogs. The pits in which the dogs were buried were distinguishable from the disturbed soil of grave 1.

The corpse had not been interred in a coffin, and no nails or other traces of a container were found alongside the skeleton. The body had been thrown into the pit on its face, before rigor mortis was advanced. The head was turned to the left side, so that the skull rested on the left half of the face. The torso was twisted and bent so that the shoulders were horizontal and the pelvis tilted, on its left side, with the spinal column curved between them. The right arm was extended with the hand at the thighs and the left arm was flexed, with the hand under the chest and the elbow thrust out at the side. The top of the head was almost a foot from the end of the grave. The lower legs did not fit into the grave, however, so the knees were flexed and twisted sideways, and the feet wedged against the edge of the grave six inches higher than the rest of the body. As in other graves in the cemetery, there was no black layer or film of humus around the bones or at the level of the burial. Orientation of the burial was North-South, with the head at the North, and the face turned slightly to the East.

The skeleton was that of a young adult male, about thirty-five years of age, and of small stature, with light bony frame. Skull bones were thin and facial bones especially were gracile. Teeth were fairly sound but badly worn, and the molars were strongly cupped. Judging by the teeth, the light postcranial skeleton (slighter than female Whites in the same cemetery), and remaining bones of the badly damaged skull, this man must have been an Indian. Bone preservation was no better than that of deeper White graves in the same cemetery, and no anomalies were noted in the bones excavated.

A new, unused gunflint of grey British chert was found on the bottom of the grave pit, below the waist of the burial. This had either been in the clothing of the dead man or had been dropped by someone digging the grave. A silver brooch, thicker than any of the brooches I have examined, and representing a single heart bearing a crown, was found under the left shoulder, against the neck of the anterior surface of the scapula. The brass tongue was thrust through a bit of woolen fabric (preserved by the copper salts), indicating that the corpse was buried in his normal clothing. The most surprising artifacts, however, were found inside the body cavity and were apparently the cause of death. A mass of shot was found against the inner faces of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, and included a musket ball, four buckshot, a quantity of small shot, and three small forged nails. Most of these shot were in contact with one another, and mixed with them was a dark brown powder, organic material preserved by lead salts. Other shot had fallen and were found slightly below in the fill but not on the grave bottom. Below the shot was a lens of lime, slightly more than a handful of consolidated limestone slakelime. Higher in the chest cavity were found more shot. A musket ball and a mass of shot lay within the lower chest, in the area of the short ribs. A large spike and a short length of iron rod were found just forward of this, and in the region of the right lung we found two more musket balls and a greater quantity of shot. Most of the shot were found tightly massed in three locations, against the lumbar vertebra, near the floating ribs, and in the upper chest, with fewer shot underneath in the grave fill.

The total quantity of shot removed from this grave is surprisingly large, and must represent mixed charges from at least four guns. At first it seemed that so much shot must come from a pouch buried with the body, but all of the shot were found within the area of the body cavity. The close contact in which the balls lay in each mass and the preserved organic material among them indicated that they must lie in their original positions, and to have been fired from very close range from an unchoked gun. Except at pointblank range and with larger shot, most of the small shot would not have penetrated the body. The small nails from the abdominal mass still have shot fused to them by iron rust. The larger pieces of iron were not accompanied by shot, but were found within the rib cage. The three largest shot are musket balls of about sixty-five caliber. Al l of them have dented surfaces, apparently where smaller shot were jammed against them by the explosion of the powder charge in the gun. Two of these balls have flattened-out shot stuck on their surfaces, where a small shot was mashed between the musket ball and other shot. Three buckshot were also found, and one of these has the same dented surface, while another has a large hollow forced into one face. Five swan shot were found, and these are the only balls which show heavy mold marks. Two of these have battered surfaces and one is rust-stained, as is one of the buckshot. A hundred and twenty of the shot are slightly larger than beebee shot, and were cast shot. Some of these are flattened, a few are strongly faceted where they were jammed in the charge, and some have lime stuck to their surface. A number have iron rust stains, and two of these are fused to nails by iron rust. The smallest and most abundant shot are birdshot slightly larger than a modern No. 5 shot. Three hundred and fifty of these small shot were found, and more were probably overlooked in the dirt. “These are apparently not cast shot and quite a few of them are deformed from use.

The first, second, third and fourth lumbar vertebrae showed battered surfaces from the shot impact on the left and medial surfaces of the body of the vertebra; shot lay against the surfaces and was massed solidly against the crumbled-away, eroded surface of the third and fourth vertebrae, and on all four bones the anterior margin was less damaged than the posterior margin. Lead splinters were found bedded in the fourth vertebra, but no other metal had penetrated the bone; the shot apparently struck as a mass. The shot apparently entered the abdominal cavity from the left and above, and penetrated to the spine as a compact mass. Shot in the chest cavity also entered from the left, judging by the breakage and damage to ribs in the left side, and lodged mainly in the middle and right side of the thorax. The patterns in which the shot lay suggest that this man was shot at point-blank range and with loads treated with molasses or other thick liquid to compact the shot. Mixed loads of this sort were not used for hunting, and therefore this Indian represents a premeditated homicide at the hands of more than one individual.

Precise dating of the Indian burial is impossible. Al l shot except the smallest size were cast, and this would suggest their manufacture in the first half of the eighteenth century. I know of no use of brooches by Indians prior to 1750, but this specific brooch is thicker than usual specimens of the late eighteenth century and represents one of the simplest designs. It may be one of the earliest forms, and its occurrence as a single example in the grave would also suggest it is earlier than the extensive use of brooches by Indians. The little data we have would suggest this burial is slightly earlier than 1750.

One other irregular burial (Grave 3) was found in the area outside the mass of Pemberton graves, and was discovered and removed in my absence. The burial was in a pit slightly over four feet deep, and the grave produced no coffin nails or other artifacts. The bones represented a European male, between twenty and thirty years old, with few well-defined masculine traits. It represents a somewhat different physical type than the Pemberton bones, and is a typical Nordic-Alpine. Molar roots are surprisingly simple, and most teeth have the roots blended into one prong. Tooth wear is moderate, with one canine broken off before death, very large cavities and extremely thick tartar deposits. The bones are in good condition, at a different stage of preservation than the Indian or the Pemberton skeletons. The vertebrae especially retain a fair amount of organic material. A thin film of black decomposed organic material covered all of the bones, and the skeleton retains a distinct decayed odor. A large mat of hair was preserved intact. The hair is four inches long, of fine texture, with a slight wave. This is an undocumented recent burial, probably interred less than a century ago, although the grave is marked on the family map of 1825. It probably represents a pauper burial.

The remainder of the cemetery represented Pemberton family burials of 1683-1702. Identification of the individual graves are based on two documents, both of fairly recent compilation. The first is the list of Pembertons and their friends believed to be in the plot drawn up for the family monument which was erected in 1905. This monument lists thirteen individuals, eleven of whom we found. The second source is a map of the cemetery plot, of 1825, by James Pemberton Parke, supplied by Henry R. Pemberton of Philadelphia. This map shows the locations of eleven Pemberton family graves, and an extra grave marked “unknown.” This odd grave is marked in the location where we found Grave 3, the most recent burial. This map agrees only in part with the arrangement of graves as we found them, and most of the graves found were not in the order indicated on this map. The two individuals named on the monument list but missing in the cemetery are located on this map, and two graves of persons listed on the monument but not on the map were found. M y identifications of persons buried here are derived from age and sex determinations based on the skeleton, correlated with the monument list and the cemetery map. In all but one case (one of two five-year olds, the other of which is missing), these identifications seem entirely certain. No trace of headstones was found, although the monument foundation and nearby flagstone walks were torn up in search for them.

All graves were orientated North-South, although none of them were exactly so, with heads to the north. Depths varied from five to six and a half feet (to grave bottom), but the four-months old child’s grave (Grave 13, Ralph Pemberton) was three and a half feet deep. Pit outlines were discernible at two feet below the present ground surface, but the fill differed only slightly in color from the matrix, and not at all in texture. N o humus was seen in the grave fill. Occasional bits of charcoal in the fill apparently came from embers used to light the grave diggers’ pipes. The pits had smooth perpendicular walls and were no larger than needed to hold the coffin. Most of them were roughly coffin-shaped, and several were almost exact outlines of the coffin.

The only artifacts found in the Pemberton graves were coffin nails, with bits of wood preserved in the rust, and shroud pins. About twenty nails were found in each grave and their position indicated the outline of the coffin. Coffins were made of half-inch walnut boards, and were narrow hexagonal “breakside” boxes, about eight inches wide at the feet, up to two feet wide at the shoulder, only slightly wider than the skull, and a foot to fourteen inches deep. Top and bottom were nailed at one foot intervals, and heavier nails held the corners. The lids were nailed down, except for the four-months old child, where wood screws were used to fasten the lid. Each coffin was slightly longer than the body enclosed, and about a foot shorter than the grave. Most skulls had a brass stain on each temporal area, generally at the intersection of the temporal ridge and the coronal suture. In several burials we found a small mass of hair and a bit of linen at this point, preserved by copper salts from a brass pin. The pins are less than an inch long, brass with a tiny spherical head, formed by wrapping fine wire around the pin, and are tapered from the head to the point. They are the first pins of this form which I have seen, and differ from late eighteenth century pins in taper and in more careful shaping of the head. The grave of the five year old had two such pins at the occiput close together and imbedded in a single mass of hair. Apparently the shroud was drawn tightly around the chin and pinned under the hair above the ears, or, rarely, at the back of the head.

Burials were well-preserved but fragile, with almost no organic material left. No humus zones or black films were found in contact with the bones, which were in perfectly clean, unstained sand. In every case, whether male or female, the hands were laid on the pubes, sometimes side by side, sometimes one on the other. There was no difference in hand placement with males or females, as is often the case in eighteenth century graves. N o rings, coins, buttons, links, or other objects of any imperishable material had been buried with the bodies.

Members of the family buried here represent a long-headed, long-faced, linear breed, of Nordic racial type. Male skeletons had few very pronounced masculine traits, and, although of fairly large stature, were not robust. Even skeletons of late middle age showed little of the ruggedness and detail that goes with well-developed muscularity. The skeleton of Roger Longworth, the friend, contrasted strongly, since he showed the robustness and well developed areas of muscle attachment characteristic of an active man in middle life. His was the only skull with prominent temporal ridges and nuchal tubercles. On the other hand, these people had relatively good teeth. The poorest were those of Phoebe, an eight-year old, who had seven very large cavities; these may be only further evidence of her poor health. The twenty year old male, Joseph Pemberton, had had three six-year molars extracted, and his remaining teeth were almost entirely free of cavities. The five year old boy had good milk teeth, with no apparent cavities, but had had two extractions. The total absence of abscess scars and the lack of badly carious teeth in the whole series indicate that defective teeth were pulled before they became painful and led to further infection. Individuals in middle age had, generally, good incisors and three to eight good molars left; alveolar absorption was often advanced even in the region of remaining molars. These people had better dentition than that of any late prehistoric or historic Indian skull which I have seen from eastern Pennsylvania, and much better than that of Grave 1 (the Indian) or Grave 3 (the later burial). There were no impacted wisdom teeth or crowded teeth in this series, but the Indian had a crowded and incompletely erupted twelveyear molar. Molars of the middle-aged individuals were worn less or as much as an average Indian molar of the twenty to thirty year old. Bite was a snipping scissors-like stroke, and incisors and canines were worn to a sharp, acute edge in the older persons. The front teeth of the Indian (Grave 1) were worn to a plane with the molars, with no evidence of a scissors like bite. Most of his front teeth were ground off almost to the base of the enamel, and his molars were as deeply worn. Some of his molars were represented by the rotted-out roots only, and others were worn almost to the base and carious and broken. His dentition is precisely like that of late prehistoric Indians of his age group, and contrasts with the Pemberton dentition both in type of bite and in health. Al -though of slighter build and smaller stature than any of the adult male Whites buried here, he was, compared to them, exceedingly muscular.

With the exception of the Indian, none of the graves showed any evidence of the cause of death. N o lesions due to disease or accident were noted, and no anomalies were found. Two of the middle-aged skulls showed multiple, small, irregular pitting of the outer surface of the parietals, but this is a defect frequently found in archeological material and is probably due to general health or nutrition rather than any specific ailment. By and large the skeletal material suggests a healthy, prosperous, well nourished community subject to few accidents and a less hazardous life than most colonial groups.

As far as I know, the Pemberton plot is the first colonial cemetery in this region which has been exhumed with some attention to archeological technique, and where unmarked graves have been identified by the application of archeological procedure and interpretation of records. It is of some slight interest as a fragment in the history of White American culture, since it tells us a little about an early Pennsylvania community and since it is an early chapter in the history of our alarmingly elaborated burial cult. Some details of the Pemberton graves are new and differ from local eighteenth century practice. It illustrates another situation, already familiar to local grave-diggers; most older cemeteries contain a number of undocumented burials placed there under irregular circumstances. Our prime example of this, Grave 1, represents a startling and unrecorded incident in the history of the county. A mature male Indian died of gunshot wounds inflicted by several individuals, at a time when border troubles were remote indeed, and was hastily buried on the Penn Manor. He was interred in the Pemberton cemetery at a time when Israel Pemberton and the Quaker faction were most interested in Indian affairs and in the protection of Pennsylvania Indians against provincial and private injustice. W e shall probably never know how this Indian met his death, or why his body had been secreted in a cemetery of these people, whose administration of the Province had shown such true friendship to his folk.

Pemberton Family Cemetery List from 1905 Family Monument

The following list of individuals who are believed to be buried in the Pemberton Family graveyard were inscribed on a monument in their honor in 1905. This inscription has been transcribed as follows.

Agnes, wife of Immanuel Harrison16016 May 1687
Her son, James Harrison16286 Oct 1687
His wife, Anna Heath Harrison18 Feb 1623/45 Mar 1689
Their child, Phoebe, wife of Phineas Pemberton7 Apr 166020 Oct 1696
Ralph Pemberton3 Jan 1610/1117 Jul 1687
His son, Phineas Pemberton30 Jan 1649/501 Mar 1701/2
Five of Phineas Pembertons children:
Joseph Pemberton11 May 1682Nov 1702
Samuel Pemberton3 Feb 1686/723 Jan 1691/2
Phoebe Pemberton26 Feb 1689/9030 May 1698
Ralph Pemberton15 Jul 169418 Nov 1694
Phineas Jennings Pemberton17 Apr 16961701
Their friends:
Roger Longsworth16317 Aug 1687
Lydia Wharmby16403 Sep 1695

Pemberton Family Cemetery Known Burials

On the top of the sheet from which the diagram is copied is this record:

“The following represents the family burying ground at ‘Grove Place’ as copied from the Pemberton Annals.” Five of the graves only are certainly designated by the initials.

J. H
James Harrison
10 mo 16th 1687
Ralph Pemberton, Jr.
11 mo 18th 1694
Roger Longworth
8mo 6th 1687

A. H.
Agnes Harrison
8 mo 6th 1687
Ralph Pemberton 7 mo 17 1687

L. W.
Lydia Wharmby
9mo 3rd 1695
Joseph Pemberton
11 mo 1702

P. P.
Phineas Pemberton
3mo 1st 1702

P. P.
Phebe Pemberton
10mo 30th 1696

Samuel Pemberton Unknown
1 mo 23rd 1692

Ann Harrison
3 mo 5th 1690

Grave Identifications, Pemberton-Harrison Family Cemetery, Falls Twp., Bucks, Pennsylvania

Numbers refer to numbers on map and on roughboxes

1. Unidentified Indian, early 18th Century Male, 35 years old
2. Joseph Pemberton. B. May 11, 1682. D. Nov., 1702 Son of #5 and 6.
3. Unidentified Male White, 20-30 years old, buried less than a century (before 1825).
4. Phoebe Pemberton. B. Feb. 26, 1689-90. D. May 30, 1698. Daughter of #5 and 6.
5. Phineas Pemberton. B. Jan. 30, 1649-50. D. March 1, 1701-2. Son of #7.
6. Phoebe Pemberton. B. April 7, 1660. D. Oct. 20, 1696. Daughter of 11 and 12. Wife of #5.
7. Ralph Pemberton. B. Jan. 3, 1610-11. D. July 17, 1687.
8. Roger Longworth. B. 1631. D. Aug. 7,1687. A friend of the family.
9. Agnes Harrison. B. 1601. D. May 6, 1687. Mother of #12.
10. A five year old child, either Samuel Pemberton, or Phineas Jennings Pemberton Sons of #4 and 5.
11. Agnes Harrison. B. Feb. 18, 1623-4. D. March 5, 1689. Wife of #12.
12. James Harrison. B. 1628. D. Oct. 6, 1687. Son of #9. Father of #6.
13. Ralph Pemberton. B. July 15, 1694. D. Nov. 18, 1694. Son of #5 and 6.

Not found — Lydia Wharmby, a friend, and one of the five year old sons of #5 and 6.

1951 Map of the Pemberton Family Cemetery

Pemberton Family Cemetery Map
Pemberton Family Cemetery Map

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