Legro Family Burial

In 2009, Independent Archaeological Consulting (IAC) recovered the remains of 11 individuals from the Legro-Leighton Family Burial Ground.  The small 19th-century family burial ground was located within Interchange 15 of the Spaulding Turnpike (NH Route 16) in Rochester, New Hampshire, but modern traffic needs required the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to relocate the burials during a highway improvement project. 



Among those interred in the burial ground were three generations of the Legro Family, including the Civil War veteran Rev. Elihu H. Legro, who died on New Years Day, 1863, in Washington, D. C.  

     IAC conducted a survey in the fall of 2009 and subsequent relocation of the burial ground.  The archaeologists were involved with overseeing all aspects of the reburial – including a thorough examination of the remains by a forensic archaeologist, extensive background research, the design and construction of hand-made coffins, identification plaques, repositioning of the original headstones at the new grave site, and the military (re)burial of Elihu Legro.

     Prior to conducting subsurface testing at the Legro Burial ground, seven bore holes were drilled in various locations in order to extract soil to test for chemical hazards associated with late nineteenth century burials.  Among the most hazardous substances used in early embalming fluid were arsenic, sulfuric acid, turpentine, alcohol, and mercuric chloride.  Following site preparation, IAC monitored the mechanicial removal of topsoil so that underlying graveshaft outlines could be exposed, once the graveshafts were exposed archaeologists shovel skimmed the loose soil to define the outlines of the graveshafts. Trowels were then used to excavate all soils within the graveshaft outlines recognized on the surface, passing all displaced soil through ¼-inch hardware mesh to separate any possible artifacts for collection. At the conclusion of two days of fieldwork, archaeologists identified eight graveshafts with possibly two others.  The interior of the coffins were excavated using fine hand tools, exposing all skeletal and personal elements present.  After mapping and photographing, all skeletal and personal material was collected.  The burials of the children lacked the high degree of preservation noted in the adult graves, complicating the removal of the burial.  To ensure that minimal disturbance to the burial occurred, archaeologists built three-sided wooden boxes from plywood and 2-x-4 lumber that were designed to slide under each of the child graves in order to preserve any skeletal remains within the sandy matrix that had filled the coffin interior upon the collapse of the lid.  Once the burial was removed, the fourth side of the box was screwed in place for transportation.  This method proved to be extremely successful.   Once all of the cultural material was removed from the burial site, archaeologists dug an additional 50-100 cm below the base of the coffin to ensure no hardware or skeletal remains had been vertically displaced by root activity from trees and to verify that no additional burials were present below the first. 

     Upon completion of the project, a total of eleven burials had been recovered in two rows, with internment dates ranging from 1832 to 1871. Notable information derived from the analysis of the funerary hardware provided insight into nineteenth century burial practices in southern New Hampshire.  The viewing glass recovered from the grave of Maria Jane Legro, interred in 1832, may be one of the earliest dated use of a viewing glass in New Hampshire.  The remains of all Legro family members were re-interred in a historic section of Rochester’s municipal cemetery, at which time the head and footstones were reunited with the appropriate set of remains.  In preparation for the re-internment, IAC Field Supervisor Jacob Tumelaire constructed coffins according to the specifications set forth by the State of New Hampshire.  The process began with the construction of simple pine coffins, custom made to match the original dimensions of each of the individual coffins.  Measurements taken in the field of the coffin length, width, and depth were replicated, with the exception of the coffins constructed for the Rev. Elihu H. and Mary E. Legro.  Both of these adult coffins were relatively narrow, the reconstructed coffins were slightly wider and some what “more comfortable” for the deceased.  Each coffin had an aluminum plaque affixed to the exterior of the coffin.  The plaques were engraved with the name, date of death and the year of the age of the person at the time of death. A sheet of muslin lined each of the coffins followed by a bed of straw.  The straw served as a cushion for the remains and helped to keep any skeletal material in anatomical position.  Soil samples taken from each of the graves were placed in the appropriate coffin, and also aided in keeping small items in place.  Careful attention was paid to ensure that the arrangement of the funerary hardware matched the location in which it was removed from the ground during the disinterment in the fall of 2009.  Each nail, handle, hinge, screw, viewing glass and personal item was placed in the interior of the coffin to mimic the original layout. 

     On May 8, 2010, the Rev. Elihu H. Legro was buried with full military honors along side his wife and son, his parents, his sister, nieces and nephews.  The procession gathered on the Rochester Common to escort the Rev. Elihu H. Legro in an 1870 horse-drawn hearse the four tenths of a mile to the cemetery.   The procession included the 6th NH Fife and Drum Corp, the 6th NH Volunteer Infantry, the NH National Guard Military Honor Guard, a riderless horse, members of the NH Governor’s Horse Guard, the 1st NH Cavalry, the 5th NH Volunteer Infantry, and several members of the public.  Graveside speakers included Dan Meehan, the State Senior Vice President of the Sons of the Union Volunteers of the Civil War, the Captain of the 6th NH Volunteers, a representative of the Tamworth Masonic Lodge, and the Rochester City mayor, TJ Jean.  Pastor Murray Nickerson of the South Tamworth United Methodist Church where Rev. Elihu H. Legro held his last ministerial post, was the graveside officiate and gave a moving eulogy that included excerpts from a church record kept by the Rev. Legro while at Tamworth.

     The relocation of the Legro family burial ground helped to fine tune the logistics involved when a cemetery is encountered in a right-of-way.  If an alternative solution cannot be found, and the burials must be relocated, the stringent and methodical archaeological process ensures that the disinterment is complete and respectful.