For a group of Middlefield residents, caring for an old cemetery has become a way to connect with the past. Old North Burying Ground serves as the final resting place for many of Middlefield’s earliest settlers. The site was laid out in 1737 and was used regularly until a new burial ground was established in 1828. Old North has a central place in Middlefield’s history. Since 1999, its care and restoration has been a project of the Middlefield Historical Society.
Beyond its role as a cemetery, the Old North Burying Ground depicts family life in early Middlefield. Family members were buried together, and tombstones often indicate the family bonds. A typical inscription might list the person’s name; his or her place in the household; age at death; and year of death. Stillborn children were buried in marked graves alongside adults killed in farming accidents. The graves of enslaved Africans were unmarked, although they were recorded in the community’s written histories. For a Middlefield native, a visit to the cemetery can be a quick way to trace the family tree. Tombstones record the names of old families: Birdsey, Coe, Lyman, Rockwell, and many others.
Old North Burying Ground is also a repository of period artwork. Tombstone carving became a form of folk art in the eighteenth century. The earliest Connecticut tombstones were simple slabs provided by area stone carvers. That changed in the 1720s. Stone carvers started working only on tombstones and began decorating their work. The first carvers used skulls to symbolize death. By the 1740s, carvers – including Middlefield’s David Miller – took the art a step further and made it their own. Old North Burying Ground is home to many examples of their work.
David Miller’s art stands out because of its location and its unique design. David Miller, who lived from 1718 to 1789, was a Middlefield native. Miller owned a stone quarry in Middlefield and turned to tombstone carving sometime in the 1740s. He often collaborated with other stone carvers, including William Holland of Middletown. Yet, Miller still managed to develop his own style. He used the angel motif popular with carvers of the time but altered it slightly. Instead of creating cherubim with typical faces, Miller gave his angels distorted faces. One author described their expression as “somewhere between anger and disbelief.” Miller’s art can be found on gravestones throughout the Connecticut River Valley, including Old North Burying Ground. Old North is also his final resting place.
When the Historical Society took over the cemetery’s restoration in 1999, it inherited both this historical legacy and some serious challenges. Labeling of the graves was one of the first problems. Some gravesites were never marked. Those that were marked had issues. Harm to the gravestones was noted as early as 1912. Vandalism in the 1960s and exposure to the elements only compounded the situation. Mud buried stones, while snow and rain wore away the inscriptions. Fences for the family plots were also damaged. Scrap drives during World War II robbed the two enclosed plots of their metal. While earlier groups had tried to maintain the cemetery, most of the over three hundred stones needed to be repaired, cleared or righted.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers both past and present, Middlefield’s Old North Burying Ground and its history are once more accessible to the public. Middlefield Historical Society holds several burial lists for the site. One even transcribes the tombstone inscriptions, which can help a family member identify damaged stones. In addition, the Historical Society has repaired all but three or four of the stones. They have cleaned the stones by hand, righted overturned stones, and reattached broken pieces. They would still like to do more. To learn more about the cemetery or to volunteer, please call the Middlefield Historical Society at (860) 349-0665.
The Old North Burying Ground is located along Jackson Hill Road (Route 157) in Middlefield.
 Middlefield Historical Society, “Old North Burying Ground Restoration 1999,” poster; Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT. Ruth Sharpleigh Brown, “Middlefield – Old North Burying Ground,” unpublished history, 1. Wendy Parker, “Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield Cemetery Tour,” published cemetery tour, 1.
 “Old North Burying Ground, Middlefield, CT,” Connecticut Gravestone Network (http://www.ctgravestones.com: accessed 22 October 2011). Ruth Shapleigh Brown, “Are your ancestors listed here?,” undated handout. Ruth Sharpleigh Brown, “Middlefield – Old North Burying Ground,” unpublished history, 1. Mary Hooper, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 October 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan.
 David J. Malloy, “The Early Carvers of the Ancient Burial Ground of Thirty Mile Island Plantation,” Past and Present, newsletter, 44 (Fall 2006/Winter 2007): 1,4,5; PDF images, Haddam Historical Society (http://www.haddamhistory.org: accessed 22 October 2011).
 Malloy, “The Early Carvers of the Ancient Burial Ground of Thirty Mile Island Plantation,” 4. Ruth Shapleigh-Brown, “Genealogist: A Special Request From Connecticut Gravestone Network,” undated handout. Dr. Cauflield, quoted in James A. Slater, The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them: Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, vol. 21 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1987), entry for David Miller; online transcription, University of Connecticut Libraries (http://www.lib.uconn.edu: 22 October 2011). “Old North Burying Ground, Middlefield, CT,” Connecticut Gravestone Network (http://www.ctgravestones.com: accessed 22 October 2011).
 Middlefield Historical Society, “Old North Burying Ground Restoration 1999.” Brown, “Middlefield – Old North Burying Ground,” 1. John Christie, “Forgotten Graveyards to be Brought to Life,” 23 June 2003, unidentified newspaper; Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT. Rob Varnon, “Society Works to Revive Graveyard,” undated clipping, The Middletown Press; Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT. Mary Hooper, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 October 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan. Mary Lyman (Middlefield, CT), letter, October 1912; transcript, Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT, 2011.
 Stephanie Dyson, Old North Cemetery (N.p.: n.p., 1976-9). Old North Cemetery, Burial Ground List, burial list; Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT. Brown, “Middlefield – Old North Burying Ground,” 1. Mary Hooper, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 October 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan. Photographs, Old North Cemetery Scrapbook, c. 1999; Middlefield Historical Society, Middlefield, CT.