Grave-tober 22 – Chocksett’s Plague Year, 1756

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October 22, 2018 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Chocksett (a shortened form of Woonksechocksett, a Nipmuc name meaning “the fox place”) was the original name for what is now today Sterling, Massachusetts, a small town in Worcester County of about 8000 inhabitants.  The area was first settled by Europeans in 1720, one of the many villages spawned by nearby Lancaster.

While modern Sterling is well-to-do residential community, cozily relaxing in the rolling hills, colonial Chocksett was a place of struggle and hardship.  We need look no further than the Chocksett Burial Ground, just north of the village center…


Ebenezer died  —  Jeremiah died  —  Molly died

Aug 3rd  —  Sept 2nd 1756  —  Sept 6th 1756

1756 in ye 4th  —  in ye 11th month  —  in ye 8th year

year of his  —  of his  —  of her

age  —  age  —  age

In Memory of 3 Children of Mr.

Jeremiah Burpe & Elizabeth his wife

In 1756 Chocksett was overwhelmed with an outbreak of dysentery, which took the lives of as many as 1 in 20 the town’s residents, young and old.  This gravestone, one of many carved in 1756 by John New is a stark reminder, even if its grim message is encased in three hearts.

Chocksett is also holds on of the most heart-breaking inscriptions I’ve come across in all my cemetery wanderings, which, regretfully, I cannot find a good image of.  It is the epitaph of Nathan Burpe (certainly a relative of the 3 deceased children above, even if I am not certain of the exact link), who died shortly after the trio above:

In memory of Mr.
Nathan Burpe
Died Sept. 30th, 1756
in Ye 25th
of his age.
This man, wife and child
in 14 days did die
His house left Difolate
Being ye whole Family.


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