I grew up listening to Grandma Mildred Morse talking about one Barnabas Doty like he was first cousin to Jesus himself. You see, Grandma was a proper lady. I always figured there must be a few “skeletons in her closet,” but if there were, she kept the lid on that in good shape. I guess old Barnabas’ time on earth was far enough back so that the “goods” on him passed muster. He was born in Rochester, Mass., in 1738 and ended up in Montpelier, where he died in 1807. Betsy said I should write about him because, according to Grandma, he was an ancestor of mine and, well, there are a couple other “rock solid” reasons, so to speak.
First of all, there’s a cemetery named after Barnabas just a mile away from our house. When I was a kid, the Doty Cemetery was just a farmer’s hayfield at the corner of two roads in East Montpelier Center. It had once been “populated” by the deceased, including Barnabas, but time and generations had not been kind to the ancient burial ground. Sadly, the dead “lose their vote,” and sometimes whole cemeteries simply disappear over time. In my research on cemeteries of East Montpelier, one account described another of East Montpelier’s “missing” cemeteries this way: “The stones are in a pile, broken and disarranged. Reportedly, they were thrown aside about fifty years ago.”.
It seems the Doty Cemetery didn’t even rate a “broken pile of stones.” They were simply all gone. Grandma Morse, though, would not accept this kind of treatment for her hero. Enter Mildred Morse, detective.
It took her years but she finally found that Barnabas’ stone was in a museum in Hooksett, N.H. One day, she and my father headed down to Hooksett on a singular mission: bring the Barnabas stone back to Doty Cemetery where it belonged. And, sure enough, at the end of the day, my 98-pound grandma returned with the stone.
Once Barnabas’ stone was set in the lower corner of that “hayfield,” burial lots in Doty Cemetery started selling. Today it stands the most beautiful of East Montpelier’s cemeteries surrounded by ornamental black chain links on granite fence posts. There are lots of stones there now including one for my parents, Harry and Dot Morse. My father always said, “I’m goin’ta be buried with Barnabas, by God.” Now he is.
There’s one other “rock solid” reason I write on this subject of Barnabas Doty. Grandma Morse gave Betsy the “lapstone” which belonged to Barnabas’ father, another Barnabas Doty born way back in 1707. Grandma referred to it as a “lapstone,” and she knew because she used one as a kid. You see, back before central heat and horrid things like Gore-Tex and Vaetrex, folks would keep a special fieldstone atop their woodstove at the ready. Placed under a buffalo robe, it would provide the perfect comfort for long sleigh rides in New England winters. Grandma Morse told of another common use: whole families would huddle under the buffalo robe around the lapstone in their Sunday morning pew. It seemed that the “fire and brimstone” of those times might have warmed the soul but fell short for human bodies in an unheated church.
Barnabas’ stone is nothing special, just a rock that someone once picked up from the ground but it’s sure special to us. It’s granite in makeup, round on top and flat on the bottom but most especially, has a history that pre-dates George Washington. We display it proudly in our home.
Someday Betsy and I will join Harry and Dot Morse and Barnabas Doty, by God. That’ll be OK though. It’s only natural, like a rock plucked from the earth. When that time comes, our two boys will get the lapstone and whatever “material goods” remain.
As the saying goes about material goods, “Y’can’t take’m with you.” All you can do is leave stuff behind — memories, honest deeds, and maybe a little warmth.
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier
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