The Washerwoman’s Genes

April 7, 2006

Buried in Terpenning Ground

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 8:36 am

Are disused cemeteries abandoned, forgotten, absorbed by nature, or plowed under, even paved over? Some are moved, I have read: cemeteries in the way of the Ashokan reservoirs were relocated.

And some have been restored and come under the protection of preservation groups. But are there others that are as forgotten as the souls within them? Are these left to fill with leaves in autumn, with wind-sheared limbs and branches, spring mud, weeds in a tangle, and vines flaming up, where one steps with peril? Or hopes not to go at all?

I’ve known for quite sometime that certain ancestors—many in fact—were buried in Esopus in a place called “Terpenning Family Ground.” It’s not on any map; there is no published address for it, although the inscriptions on its many gravestones had been transcribed by Poucher in the 1930s. We were making our second quick trip to Ulster County, and it felt like time to search out these graves. I dreaded discovering that the burial ground had itself passed on.

With a general description of the cemetery being “east of Mirror Lake,” we drove the vicinity, but the burial ground, if it still existed, lay secreted in the orchards and woods of land paralleling the Hudson. No roads go there.

A few questions in the hamlet of Port Ewen quickly led us to a man named Terpenning. He knew the plot, had visited it himself. He kindly offered to lead us there. Following his blue Jeep, we rode around and about and then into the woods on a two-rutted track and up a hill to a clearing with a shed and an empty house. As we swung open our doors, two massive white-tailed deer bucked up and flew off into the woods, their stiff tails blazing pure white.

The twenty acres are still Terpenning land, we were told, though our guide said he was not in the line of that Terpenning branch. The brick house was sited askew on a high point for a view of the river, a far blue beyond the woods.

We took the rest of the trail on foot, brush shoulder-high beside us. A quarter mile up, we rounded a bend and ahead lay a square of land walled-in and thick with stones: the resting place of twenty Burgers. I had their roster in my head. . . many I knew were related to me, and others were a mystery.

Our guide said the cemetery had been restored in 1908: the rubble stone wall, only a few rocks high, was built at that time, and the rows straightened. Crammed as it was with tombs, I realized it would be an awkward and lengthy process to search out family with our new friend standing by.

One of us glanced down, though, and shouted. There at our feet, were Burgers: in fact, THE Burgers, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Cornelius’ parents and therefore my great-great-great grandparents. Next to them, to the left, was a smaller stone: Edgar, Son of Cornelius and Jenet, Sept. 3, 1852, 0-6-26. This infant of nearly seven months, this boy, was born in February, as was my great-grandmother, Josephine. This was her twin, baby Edgar, a tenth child of Cornelius and Jannette.

These three stones are deeply incised and eminently readable. They stand upright. Our guide noted that slanted stones are the worst weathered. Your ancestors, he added, had front-row seats — indeed, they are sited at the eastern edge of the burial ground, in view of the deep blue presence far through the trees, if stones had eyes. They were not, he felt, such humble folk as I had thought. I wondered aloud: as masons, would Cornelius and the other family men have had special insight for choosing enduring stone? The graves I’ve seen of those in my direct line have all been readable, upright, intact.

Poucher’s transcriptions indicate that Terpenning ground also contains several of Cornelius’s brothers, their wives and some children: Benjamin W., 1800-1863; John W., 1802-1857; William C, 1806-1874. We scanned of the rest of the gravestones, to find most washed out. Sometimes, our guide said, a grave rubbing can pull up the names. I already knew I would be coming back.



  1. Today, 4/26/07 I was trying to find the Terpening Cemetery. It is indicated on a map I have but I but could not find it as you indicated in your story. Could you give me better directions to the plot?

    Comment by Fred — April 26, 2007 @ 10:04 pm |Reply

  2. Fred, there are several Terpening grounds, I believe, scattered throughout this area–I never found a map that had this one on it. I even tried to spot it with with satellite mapping, but the locale is too forested. I had to be led there. I would suggest asking at the Town Hall for directions; I’m not from the area, and I don’t know how to explain how to find the turn-off. Also, you have to cross private land, so it’s probably best if the town knows you’re going. Do you have family buried there?

    Comment by washergenes — May 2, 2007 @ 9:01 am |Reply

  3. Hi, I believe that John W Burger (father of William H Burger father of Charles H Burger father of Grace Burger mother of Frank Post father of Frank Post) is my husbands 3rd great grandfather. Thanks for describing the cemetery. If you have more information about the Burger’s I would love to see it. I believe that John W’s Wife is Hannah Terpenning. and they are as far back as we go on that line. Anything you have to add would be appreciated.
    Tahirih Post

    Comment by Tahirih Post — October 28, 2010 @ 5:24 pm |Reply

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