cemetery photo

CENTURIES OF PARSONS HONORED ON
NORTHAMPTON TOMBSTONE

From the Springfield, MA, Republican, 27 July 1991, by Fred Contrara

PARSONS REMEMBERED
Members of the Parsons Family Association gather at a new tombstone unveiled yesterday at the Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton, MA. The monument, inscribed with the names of relatives, commemorates those buried in the cemetery, of which there are more than 100.

NORTHAMPTON
"Here lyeth the body of Joseph Parsons, Esq. who deceased November A.D. 1729, aged 83 years."

The sandstone slab that marks Joseph Parsons' grave in the Bridge Street Cemetery is blasted by time and weather. One of the first residents of Northampton, Parsons was also one of the first to be interred in this cemetery.

Although the winged death skull that characterized the tombstones of Puritans such as Parsons is still visible above the chiseled letters, year by year the grooves in the stone grow shallower and duller.

All around his resting place, the grave markers of Parsons' relatives are facing a similar fate, their names and memories slowly fading under the assault of time.

Yesterday, a crowd of flesh and blood Parsons made a pilgrimage to the cemetery where more than 100 of their ancestors are buried to make sure their forebears will not be forgotten.

As about 30 family members, including the 18th and youngest generation of Parsons in America, looked on, the Parsons Family Association unveiled a new granite tombstone commemorating Joseph Parsons, his wife, Elizabeth Strong Parsons, and their other brethren at Bridge Street.

Parsons was the indisputable theme of the day as family members from all over New England and New York journeyed to Northampton for the landmark event.

Conceived by Josiah Parsons, a Northampton resident who died in 1988, the $8,000 memorial was a tribute not only to one of the pioneering families of Western Massachusetts but also to family ties across the centuries.

Through the years, the Parsons family has boasted a number of well-known Americans, including Elizabeth Truman, the wife of President Harry S. Truman, Captain William Parsons, who armed the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima while in flight, an actor named Marion Morrison, whose grandmother was Weltha Parsons, better known to most people as John Wayne.

Waiter S. Dayton Jr., a retired builder from Long Island, is known as "Duke" to his relatives. Yesterday, however, Dayton harkened to his great-grandmother, a Parsons, for his identity. "We're all Parsons around here," Dayton said. "If you say 'Mr. Parsons,' you're in trouble. The woods are full of us."

Dayton;. 65, recalled walking through the cemetery with Josiah, who lived across the street, during one of the annual family gatherings a few years ago. Josiah pointed out the deteriorating tombstones and explained his dream of immortalizing their brethren in granite.

Although they are not buried at Bridge Street, family patriarch Cornet Joseph Parsons and his wife, Mary Bliss Parsons, are also remembered on the stone. Born in 1620 in Beaminister, England, a Puritan stronghold. Cornet Joseph arrived in Northampton in 1654 and was one of the town's founders.

According to family Historian Gerald Parsons, a retired librarian from Syracuse, NY., Ebenezer Parsons, son of Cornet Joseph and Mary Bliss, was the first child born in the new settlement.

Some early settlers accused Mary Bliss Parsons of practicing in witchcraft and the family moved to Boston where she was tried and acquitted, Gerald Parsons said.

The first family ended up in Springfield where they were eventually buried in a cemetery on Elm Street. That cemetery was torn up in 1848. However, to make way for the Hartford to Springfield Railroad, all the bodies there were reinterred in a common grave in the Springfield City Cemetery. Hence the decision to include the couple on the Bridge Street Cemetery stone.

"This is the best we can do." Gerald said. "And it's appropriate since Joseph was one of the founders of Northampton."

During the unveiling ceremony, Mayor David B. Musante, Jr., who presented a citation to the Parsons Family Association from the City Council, quipped, "Its really a miracle this city wasn't named Parsonsville after listening to this history."

Local historian James Parsons, amazingly no relation to the other Parsons, read a poem about the family by the late Kitty Parsons Recchia. The gathering then retired to the Whale Inn in Goshen where Springfield Union-News Associate Publisher Richard C. Garvey regaled the Family with tales of some of the non-Parsons buried at Bridge Street, among whom are four pre-Civil War U.S. Senators.


Please send your comments and suggestions concerning the Parsons web page to:
Mr. Gary A. Parsons, Web Page Administrator, at: parsons@pfawr.org