Who Lies in the Edwards Family Tomb at Copp’s Hill?
September 22, 2010 by Ben Edwards
When I was 2 ½ years old, I traveled to Boston with my family and walked along the Freedom Trail for the very first time. During that trip, we visited Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and one incident that occurred there is forever etched in my memory. I recall all the fuss that was made over getting one photo in particular and remember being a bit confused as I was positioned next to a strange rock while my father held my hand and the sun glared in my face. The image captured that day is shown at left. We were standing by the marker of Captain Benjamin Edwards who I later learned was a sea captain and my sixth great grandfather. I had no way of knowing it then, but this simple photo would have a major impact on my life. It helped instill in me a lifelong interest in both family history and American history. As the years passed, I would come to discover much more about my early Boston ancestors and the family tomb.
Edwards Tomb #5 is in the first row of tombs constructed at Copp’s Hill in 1717. Five generations of my family are here, including my 7th great grandmother Sarah Edwards and 6th, 5th, 4th and likely 3rd great grandparents. Their names are listed at the end of this post. It is also the final resting place of Paul Revere – not the famous midnight rider, who died in 1818 and lies in Granary Burying Ground, but his firstborn son Paul Revere Jr. (1760-1813). Paul Jr. was 15 years old on April 18, 1775 when his father made the Midnight Ride and he later stayed behind to guard the family property during the siege of Boston. Paul Jr. was apprenticed to his father as a gold and silversmith; handled the day-to-day operations of the Revere silversmith shop in the 1780s; and after the war made church bells with his father and brother Joseph Warren Revere. So why would Paul Revere Jr. be buried in the Edwards family tomb and what evidence is there to support it?
Paul Revere Jr. married Sally Edwards (1761-1808) on July 25, 1782. Sally was the older sister of my fourth great grandfather Benjamin Edwards (1765-1808). Paul Jr. and Sally had 12 children between 1783 and 1803 and five of them died young. Paul never remarried after Sally died on August 23, 1808. It is believed that Sally was buried in the Edwards tomb where she joined her five young children, her parents, grandparents and her brother Benjamin who had died just a few months prior on June 9, 1808. Oral family tradition says that members of the Revere family rest here but there was no written record of any sort to support that claim until late 1999. At that time the Paul Revere House received some interesting correspondence from a genealogist doing research for someone with the surname Edwards in their family tree. The family held in their possession a letter from an older female relative dated Gordonsville, VA October 3, 1969. That letter contained the following line: “I did visit Boston when I was about twelve years old and Aunt Sue took me around, such as to the old family tomb where great, great ???? grandmother Elliot is resting (?) with Paul Revere’s casket on top of hers…” Paul Revere House staff contacted me to see if I might help them make some sense of this clue. From the moment I read that line, I knew what it meant. The answer to the mystery was hidden in the pages of a treasured book my family owned.
I had grown up with an Edwards family Bible from 1812, passed down through five generations. Ever since I was 10, the handwritten family records it contained had captured my imagination. Those records included the death of my fourth great grandfather Benjamin Edwards (1765-1808) and the births of his five children in Boston between 1793 and 1803. Directly beneath the birth records was an entry that had never made sense to me. It was for a Helan (Helen) Mariah Elliot born on April 8, 1811. I would come to learn that after my fourth great grandfather Benjamin Edwards died his wife Polly (Mary) Bangs Edwards remarried to Samuel Elliot in 1810. Helen Mariah Elliot would have been their daughter and I believe Polly (Mary) Bangs Edwards Elliot, my fourth great grandmother, would have been the “great, great ??? grandmother Elliot” in the letter mentioned above. I have not been able to locate a death record for Polly, but if she died between 1811 and 1813 then Paul Revere’s casket certainly could have “rested on top of hers” in the family tomb (as the letter states) because Paul Revere Jr. died on January 16, 1813.
There are no paintings I am aware of that show what Sally Edwards or Paul Revere Jr. looked like but there is a painting of their son Paul Revere who was born on February 2, 1789. I obtained this image from a family who is a direct descendant of the midnight rider Paul Revere through his grandson George Revere – one of Paul Revere Jr. and Sally Edwards 12 children. When I first saw it I was struck by how much this Paul Revere’s nose resembled that of his great grandfather Captain Benjamin Edwards. Here’s a side by side comparison.
By the 1980s, the Edwards marker was in a serious state of disrepair. In 1989, only two pieces of it remained and neither contained any words. After obtaining the proper permission, my family had the marker replaced in 1998. The new marker was hand carved by Nicholas Benson of the John Stevens Shop of Newport, Rhode Island, founded in 1705. Two years later, in 2000, I wrote a children’s book One April in Boston that pays tribute to my early Boston ancestors. This photo, taken by the family marker in the summer of 2010, celebrated the book’s 10th anniversary.
Here is a list of my direct ancestors believed to be in the Edwards Tomb.
Sixth Great Grandparents
- Captain Benjamin Edwards (1685-1751), sea captain and merchant, his mother Sarah, his first wife Hannah Harrod, and second wife Bathsheba Evans Edwards (1701-1738).
Fifth Great Grandparents
- Dolling Edwards (1737-1773), mastmaker, and his wife Rebecca Christie Edwards (1739-1771).
Fourth Great Grandparents
- Benjamin Edwards (1765-1808), cooper, and his wife Polly Bangs Edwards (Elliot).
Third Great Grandparents
- Joseph B. Edwards (1799-1852), paver, and possibly his wife Sarah Mace Edwards (1806-1872).
Here is a list of other ancestors believed to be in the Edwards Tomb.
- Alexander Edwards (1733-1798), patriot, cabinetmaker and member of the Sons of Liberty.
- Sally Edwards Revere (1761-1808), wife of silversmith Paul Revere Jr. and mother of their 12 children.
- Paul Revere Jr. (1760-1813), silversmith, bell founder and firstborn son of patriot Paul Revere.
- Jedediah Lincoln (1760-1820), Revolutionary War soldier and ancestor of Abraham Lincoln; his wife, Elizabeth (Betsey) Edwards Lincoln (1765-1796), and their son Alexander Edwards Lincoln.
- Robert Edwards (1732-1770), tailor, and his wife Mary (White) Clark Edwards (?-1774).
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- The Edwards Family Home Site in Boston’s North End
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- The Unsolved Mystery at Old North Church
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