Passed down through the Spencer history from father to son–and now mother to daughter–is a promise not to forget the cemetery where the Spencer couple, who purchased the land in 1750, is buried. This website makes good on the promise for this and future generations. As son had promised to father, and now daughter to mother, this website carries on the Spencer tradition of keeping this cemetery in the awareness of the Spencer descendents who continue to live in the wider East Greenwich area of Rhode Island, as well as Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Northern and Southern California.
The Name Changes
Another purpose of this website is to clear up the confusion over the many names and numbers recorded for this one cemetery over the years. The same cemetery land was labeled differently at several different times in history.
Chronologically recorded in history as The Straight Cemetery, The Over-back Cemetery, the East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 10, the East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 510, the Straight/Spencer Cemetery, and the East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 84, this two family cemetery location is a memorial to two early colonial families, the Straights and the Spencers. Many descendents of William and Mary (née Manchester) Spencer, the original Spencers on this land, still live in Rhode Island today. Many descendents of Henry Straight, the land owner prior to the Spencers , now live in the New Brunswick area of Canada and have lost all contact with any Straights in the United States.
Although this Straight/Spencer Cemetery has been called five other names, the two original names, Straight Cemetery and Over-back Cemetery, will be used on this site.
The Colonial Families
Henry Straight and thirty-two members of his family are buried in the Straight Family Cemetery. This cemetery also includes the four Spencer burials on the west end, next to the wall.
The first family recorded to have owned the land (in the 17th Century) was the Henry and Hannah Straight family; hence the name Straight Cemetery. Henry and Hannah were married Feb. 13, 1676-7. Henry died in 1728 and Hannah died in 1757. As was the custom at this time, both were buried in the Straight family Cemetery. More research is needed as Martha McPartland’s book, The History of East Greenwich, reads:
According to local historian, Violet E. Kettelle, “William Spencer Jr. bought this house and land of Joseph Burlingame in 1750”. Another recording of Violet’s work was “On April 16, 1750, William Spencer bought the farm from Burlingame”. This Spencer who purchased the land and the cemetery was William Spencer, Jr. who married Mary E. Manchester on Aug. 2, 1744. William and Mary (née Manchester) Spencer, their elder son, Richard, and their eldest daughter Elizabeth are buried on the west end of this cemetery. William and Richard died of smallpox in October of 1777 (while the second son was fighting in the American Revolution) and were buried in the existing cemetery on their land purchased in 1750. Seven years later when Mary died, she was buried there next to her husband. Thirty-seven years later when Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, died of scarlet fever, she was buried next to her brother Richard. No other Spencers were buried with the Straight family.
The Straight family cemetery (aka Over-back Cemetery) is located between the residences of 75 and 65 Partridge Run, a subdivision divided in the 1990’s, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
The Straight Cemetery or Over-back Cemetery, as the Spencers referred to this burial place, is entered by an easement off Partridge Run. This 10-foot-wide easement is adjacent to the northern boundary of 75 Partridge Run and is adjacent to and located on the southern boundary of 65 Partridge Run. Following the easement approximately 250 feet from Partridge Run leads to the unmarked fieldstones; there are no gravestones or monuments. The graveyard is not protected by a wall or fence. If you walk to the stone wall, you have gone too far (or, perhaps, you have gone to where the four Spencers are buried on the west end of yard, next to the stone wall).
At that time in history, all burials were placed with the tip of the head in the west direction. There were no monuments or gravestones; instead stones from the fields would be used and called fieldstones.
‘The land in this area of Rhode Island was basically undisturbed until the last decade of the 20th century.” Because the Straight (aka Over-back) Cemetery has been disturbed, the thirty-six fieldstones recorded by James Arnold in May of 1892 are not all visible today. Only twelve of the thirty-six graves could be identified in 2001.
“James Arnold visited this lot in 1 May 1892, On the Dea. Spencer farm in pasture some distance from the house, yard not protected. None of the graves have inscriptions but stand in the following order:
in first line 2 graves
at foot 1 grave
at foot 7 graves
at foot 10 graves all small
at foot 1 small grave, 5 large
at foot 4 large graves
at foot 6 small graves.”
Unfortunately, only 12 graves could be identified in 2001.
Photos of fieldstones taken in 2001, 2003 and 2008:
Although the Straight Family Cemetery (aka Over-back Cemetery) was clearly marked on the builder’s zoning and plot area plans, in the last decade of the 20th century, heavy equipment vehicles drove over the cemetery grounds causing relocation and much damage to placement of the fieldstone grave markers… In the first decade of the 21st century, much of the cemetery and surrounding area was covered with trees and vines.
Courtesy dictates informing residences of 65 or 75 Partridge Run before entering easement and cemetery memorial area for historical research, writing and reflection.
Rhode Island regulations state that no building or digging is allowed within a twenty-five foot (25′) radius around a historical cemetery because often numerous burials were outside the walls, fences or boundaries of the historical graveyards.
The West End
Oral tradition has the four Spencers being buried on the west end of the Straight Cemetery, next to the stonewall that runs in a north-south direction from Middle Road. Because the zoning map of the town of East Greenwich shows the western boundary of the Straight Family Cemetery to be exactly twenty-five feet from the west wall property line, the Spencer descendents are not certain whether the four Spencers are buried on the west end inside the official Straight Cemetery boundary line or buried outside the official cemetery boundary to the west. Multiple descriptions of the location of the four Spencer burials are (1) on the west end of yard, (2) on the west side of cemetery, (3) in the west side next to the wall, (4) at the west end of the Straight cemetery…
The Connection between East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 9 (Spencers) & East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 10 (Straights)
The first generation Spencer parents are buried at the west end of the Straight (aka Over-back, East Greenwich Historical No. 10) Cemetery and the following seven Spencer generations are buried in East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No. 9. The Straight Family Cemetery and the Spencer Family Cemetery are 1,383 feet apart on the same connecting stone-wall.
The Straight cemetery is not walled or fenced. Instead there are granite posts at the four corners and at the easement entrance to the burial plot which is 1,426 feet south of Middle Road. The Spencer cemetery, unlike the Straight cemetery, is walled on all four sides and has the entrance gate on Middle Road.
When Middle Road came through, the Spencer descendents discontinued the use of the Straight Family Cemetery and began a new burial plot called the Spencer Family Cemetery down by the road. This Spencer Family Cemetery next to Middle Road is known as the East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No.9 because it was the 9th cemetery to be recorded in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. At one time in history, the Straight Family (aka Over-back) Cemetery was called East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No.10 and this was very appropriate because of the relationship of the East Greenwich Spencer family in both No.9 and No.10 and also because of the close proximity of the two cemeteries.
The stone wall connecting the above two cemeteries–No. 9 and original No.10–is the western boundary line of the subdivision Pheasant Ridge-Phase II on Partridge Run in East Greenwich. The subdivision was divided in the 1990’s.
The Origin of the name “Over-back Cemetery”
These two cemeteries, the Straight Family Cemetery (aka Over-back Cemetery) and the Spencer Family Cemetery (aka East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No.9), are 1,383 feet apart. The western boundary of the Straight Family Cemetery meets the eastern boundary of the Spencer Family Cemetery on the same longitude, only 1,383 feet apart. The original stonewall, running in the north-south direction from Middle Road, connects the two burial sites and continues to the south of the Straight Cemetery and runs parallel to Partridge Run. The Over-back Cemetery (aka Straight Cemetery) is over the stone wall (to the east) and back (to the south) of the Spencer Family Cemetery on Middle Road; hence the origin of the name “Over back”.
This newer East Greenwich Historical Cemetery No.9, Spencer Family Cemetery, next to Middle Road is where the following seven generations of William and Mary (née Manchester) Spencer descendents are buried. Only William and Mary, the original Spencers on the land and their first son and first daughter are buried in the Straight (aka Over back) cemetery.
The History of the Spencer Land
After being in the Spencer family for over 170 years, the land was sold in 1922 to a Thomas O’Neal (aka O’Neill, O’Neil), who lived there a few years and died. A nephew of Mr. O’Neal inherited the farm.
William J.B. Spencer, the last Spencer to own the land, was the middle son of Anna Maria (pronounced Mar-eye-ah) Spencer and John Johnson Spencer whose land was at Spencer’s Corner (Division Street and Shippeetown Road in East Greenwich). William J.B. was sent at age 12 to live with his great uncle’s family, William and Mary (née Harrington) Spencer, and to work the land with his great-uncle. William J.B. was to inherit the land, as his great uncle had no male heirs.
(Author’s note: Needless to say, there was no love lost between the older great-uncle and his young nephew and given the situation, one can understand why. There was fifty years difference in ages between older great-uncle and young nephew. Besides, inheriting land would not mean much to a twelve year old boy in 1890. To inherit the land, he had to leave his parents, brothers, his own family’s farmland and home life as he had known it for the first twelve years of his life. I doubt William J.B., the middle son of John Johnson and Anna Maria (Mar-eye-ah), was given a choice. Unfortunately, web site author never thought to ask her grandfather about this time in his life.)
Consequently, oral history portrays the uncle as a very mean man. A descendent, age 63, on reading this webpage said “so that is why I never mow or care for that walled off northwest corner section within the Spencer Family cemetery. That is where William J.B.’s mean uncle is buried! As a kid I was taught to leave that higher elevation section alone. As an adult I often wondered why, but yet I never mowed the grass or pulled weeds in that small corner of the graveyard. My earliest recollection of mowing lawns and landscaping was the historic family cemetery. That was the first time I learned how to use a lawn mower…”. To this day, when some aware younger descendents walk by the great uncle’s gravestone, they kick it. On admonition from an older person, the young person’s response was “Well, Grandma did it”.
The Last Spencers on the Farm
William J.B. and Mary Jane (née Vaughn) Spencer, the last Spencers on the farm, sold the farm and moved to an upscale neighborhood on the trolley line in Coventry, Rhode Island. Their younger daughter, Audrey Mae, born 1912, was the last Spencer baby born on the Spencer homestead, as the descendents referred to the farm, even as late as 2006. William J.B.’s and Mary Jane’s (aka Mae’s) older daughter, Edith Anna, in the 1920s moved to California with her husband and was the first Spencer since the 1600s to raise her children outside of Rhode Island. To the family’s great and lasting sorrow, they left their first son as an infant and their first daughter as a two-year-old in the Spencer Family Cemetery before leaving for California with their second daughter, Gloria Mae. Audrey’s and Edith’s brother, John Edward, was the last male Spencer in this line to carry forth this Spencer surname, but the Spencer name lives on today with male descendents, from California to Rhode Island, carrying on the name Spencer as a first or middle name.
Vaughn, Spencer, Walton, and MacDonald Press, Hemet, CA.
Copyright© 2011 by Heather D. MacDonald