By Sharon Lakey, Danville Historical Society
Senior Brett Elliott was out of luck when working out his final year’s schedule at Danville High School—no more history courses were offered at his level. So he and history teacher, Jeremy White, worked out an independent study opportunity. Being a hands-on, outside-kind-of-guy, Brett decided to focus on Danville’s town cemeteries. There are 11 of these scattered throughout the town, and are under the jurisdiction of the Select Board. The largest in Danville, Danville Green, has its own governing organization.
Though cemeteries may seem like a strange thing for a young man to study, Brett explained it this way: “These cemeteries are one of the only ways to physically connect with the past; they’re in places that used to be unique settlements in the Town. My favorites are the little, out-of-the-way ones. They are peaceful places, not creepy at all.”
He would go cemetery visiting during the class period to which he was assigned. To find the cemeteries, he used information on the web where he found a listing of and directions to all the cemeteries in Danville. On one such outing, while visiting the Little Drew cemetery in the Tampico area of North Danville, he made an exciting discovery. The website reported that no stones had been inscribed in the cemetery, as it is very rustic. But during his visit, Brett noticed one of the burial stones looked odd; there were indentions on the face of it that looked intentional.
And, sure enough, after he cleaned it off, he could read a hand-carved inscription: “Samuel Stevens was born in 1723 and died in 1795.” Thinking he had found something important, he went to the Town Clerk’s office to look up death records. There were none for a Samuel Stevens, but he did appear on the 1790 census records: a household of four—three males over 16 and 1 female.
“Why wasn’t there any death record?” he asked himself.
According to Phil Somers, an avid local cemetery expert, there is an answer to his question. “To file a death record would cost money. The Stevens’ didn’t need to pay it, because the record was ‘written in stone.’”
On January 9, Brett gave a presentation of his findings to the student body at Danville High School. It was so well received and interesting, we have asked him to be the speaker at our annual meeting on March 30.
Note: Googling “rootsweb Danville VT” will get one to the site that Brett used to locate cemeteries, as well as a wealth of other historical Danville data. Most of this information was gathered and shared by volunteers.