Setting The Record Straight

Originally Published in Your Smithfield Magazine


By Jim Ignasher

An early postcard view of the Harmony Cemetery in Glocester, R. I.

     Oscar A. Tobey was one of Smithfield’s most popular and distinguished residents of the 19th Century. He served on the Town Council from 1868 until 1871, before being elected Town Clerk, a position he held for over 45 years. To this day, he is noted for being the longest serving Town Clerk of any municipality in Rhode Island. When he died in 1917, he was laid to rest in Harmony Cemetery, located on Route 44, a short distance from the Smithfield town line, and that is where this story continues.

     Tobey’s great-granddaughter, Priscilla W. Holt has been a member of the Harmony Cemetery and Chapel Association since 1980, and wants to set the record straight about a few things relating to the cemetery. Although the cemetery lies in Glocester, many former Smithfield residents lie in repose there, but until rather recently, one might have been hard pressed to find a complete list of their names.

     Priscilla herself, grew up in Smithfield, and presently lives on the shore of Waterman’s Lake with her husband, Hubert. During her tenure with the Harmony Cemetery and Chapel Association, certain questions arose to which nobody seemed to have answers. For example, she discovered that no map existed showing the complete cemetery. The burial plots were laid out on three separate maps representing different potions of the cemetery, but there was no master map that put everything in context. Furthermore, much of the information as to who was supposed to be buried, and where, was missing.

     The cemetery dates to the early 1800s, and most of the burials took place during the later half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, so the sloppy record keeping couldn’t be attributed on anyone currently serving with the association, but Priscilla felt this was unacceptable, and set out on her own to find the missing information. What followed were several years of painstaking research.

     Her first stop was the Glocester Town Hall, but she soon found out that the town had no burial records for the Harmony Cemetery. Worse yet, the clerk she said she spoke to seemed totally unaware that there was a Harmony Cemetery! Once Priscilla assured her that such a place did exist, the clerk recalled driving past it from time to time, and stated that she thought only three or four people were buried there. Priscilla informed her that the number was closer to four hundred!

     Reaching out to the Glocester Historical Society also proved fruitless, so Priscilla was forced to spend many hours doing her own research which included: pouring over town records, searching the internet, and digging through old newspaper archives. Over time she pieced the facts together.

     The cemetery itself was established in 1805, when Nehemiah Tinkham purchased two acres of land for ninety dollars. The cemetery was expanded three times after that which accounts for the three different maps. Priscilla has since drawn up a new map (On her own.) which for the first time shows all three parcels of land on one map, complete with the names of who is buried in the plots.

     One of the graves at Harmony Cemetery belongs to Charles Whipple, a Greenville “undertaker” who likely escorted many of those lying near him to their own final resting place.

     Besides the Tobey family, names such as Steere, Smith, and Winsor, are also well represented.

     Other graves include William Tinkham, who was president of the Woonasquatucket Railroad Company that was chartered in 1872, which later changed its name to the Providence and Springfield Railroad. Tinkham and his board of directors were responsible for bringing the railroad to Smithfield in the 1870s. (The tracks were removed in the 1960s.)

     Priscilla’s research has also revealed a few graves that for whatever reason bear no headstone or marker of any kind. In two cases there are small unmarked stones, presumably for babies who died at birth or shortly afterward.

     One grave is believed to contain the remains of a German immigrant who was possibly the hired hand for a prominent Smithfield family. When the man died, it was said that nobody came to claim the body, so he was buried in Harmony at the family’s expense.

     The cemetery also contains a curious small headstone bearing the name, “Colonel Chico”. This grave dates to 1957, making it one of the newer burials, but the corpse resting therein is not that of a human, but of a monkey! “Colonel Chico” was the pet of an association member who Priscilla states buried it without the knowledge of others, which created quite a controversy at the time.

     The cemetery also has a chapel, an unassuming white building just a few feet off Putnam Pike that could easily be mistaken for someone’s house. It is currently occupied and maintained by the historic preservation group, Friends of Harmony Village.

     For years, many had been under the impression that the chapel was originally a school house built in 1828 that was moved to its present location in the later part of the1800s. However, research conducted by members of the Friends of Harmony Village discovered that this was not the case. A search in Glocester deed book Number 18, proved that the chapel had been built on its present site in 1816. An expert who examined the structure during its restoration concurred that the building had never been moved.

     Priscilla discovered further documentation that proved the building was used as a Baptist meeting house in 1820, before the First Freewill Baptist Church in Greenville was built in 1822.

     Over the years, Priscilla has collected a lot of information about the cemetery, including copies of land records, newspaper clippings, and even old photographs. She keeps everything in organized file folders, and for the first time, virtually all of the information about the Harmony Cemetery can be found in one place.

     Her research also led her to write a through and complete history of the cemetery, copies of which she has given to the Glocester Town Hall, and the Harmony Library to set the record straight, and so the information will be available to future genealogists and historians.


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