The Saga of Billy Brown's Grave
In the middle of Portland perched at the edge of downtown sits an old cemetery. It's the oldest historic site in Portland, in fact. Stretched across 5 acres the Eastern Cemetery is laid out in what is now a rough triangle that runs between Congress and Federal Street and alongside Mountfort Street. Its bordered on two sides black elegant, black wrought iron fence and is held up by an imposing concrete retaining wall along Federal Street, which stretches about 15 feet high at its peak. The first recorded burial took place in 1717, and most of Portland's early founders rest here.
Wander through and you'll see names like Preble, and Tyng, and Longfellow. Residents from captains of industries to captains of ships called these hallowed grounds home, but it's not just the elites that lie here. No, many of the hardscrabble men and women who anonymously to worked build our fair city share this space, and at last count they that over 7, 000 bodies are buried in the Eastern Cemetery, with the last public burial taking place around the time of the Civil War.
Things have changed significantly in the almost 300 the cemetery has existed. years None more so than the layout of the land itself. The cemetery was constructed with its grand entrance laid out on Federal Street, and when it was established in the late 17th century its elegant entrance welcomed those who came to pay their respects or mourn the many men and women who are buried here. In fact, so many people were laid to rest here that the cemetery itself had to expand gaining more land in 1795 and growing to its current size. Wander through the cemetery from that original entrance and you'll find yourself looking at a spot that was known as "colored ground" tucked away at the back of the northwest corner of the cemetery.
Walker, Jessica, "The Saga of Billy Brown's Grave" (2019). ENG 445: Slavery and Public History Podcasts. 1.
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