Old cemeteries can provide an intriguing insight into the past. Scattered all over Bucks County their stories in stone often speak more of life than death.
I don’t consider myself a historian. I’m a writer and a history buff, but I think peeking into the past can offer a unique, and useful, perspective on our journey through life.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the preservation of some old tombstones and how Margie Fulp of East Rockhill discovered the identity of a woman buried among her ancestors in the tiny Bryan Cemetery in Upper Bucks.
That woman was Eleanor Morgan, first wife of James Morgan, ironmaster at Durham Furnace, and she died Dec. 12, 1764, in Durham. Born sometime in 1712 in Montgomery County, Mrs. Morgan lived little more than 50 years. Hers was the earliest marked grave in the old cemetery near Applebachsville, although a previous stone, carved in 1747, bears only the date with the name of the deceased erased by time and weather.
But other rescued tombstones of members of the Bryan family showed longer-lived settlers:
William Bryan died in 1784, 76 years, 8 months and 27 days;
Rebekah Bryan died in 1796, at 78 years, 4 months and 8 days.
Their son, a second William Bryan, died Feb. 10, 1817, at 77 years, 9 months and 4 days.
Alvina Bryan died in 1822 at 79 years, 5 months and 6 days.
All of them reached their Biblical “three score and 10” promised in Psalm 90 – and then some.
I love the way the survivors counted every precious day and recorded it in stone. It shows how much they valued their lives. This in a time and place when the average life span was about 40.
So much else was lost to history in those days when most people were illiterate, but they made no bones (forgive the unintended pun, please) about their time on earth. Their staying power meant something special in that frontier culture.
And just compare them with us. We now are mired in a pandemic, fear and sickness stalking us, and we are scared. Our forefathers can’t have been that different from us, and every single day in the wilderness that was Upper Bucks in the 18th century they faced dangers from so many directions.
They had lots of children – one of the Bryans had six sons and a daughter, Margie Fulp said. Many families lost their women in childbirth, and significant numbers of children often did not reach adulthood due to illness and a lack of medical and scientific knowledge. Vicious storms and wild animals took their toll, too, and so, occasionally did hostile natives.
Our Lenni Lenapes were not so much the problem as were the warlike tribes engaged in the French and Indian War. Some of those spread down from the Lehigh Valley where they frequently wreaked havoc among the settlers; the possibility, if not the reality, of raids in Upper Bucks was a constant worry.
So what can the lives of these hardy people teach us?