Burr’s Hill was an ancient Pokanoket royal burial ground containing dozens of grave sites, including those of people who occupied the area in the 1600s. Used as a sand and gravel source for a railroad that was constructed next to the site in 1853, many graves were looted. In 1913, in an effort to protect the remaining 42 graves, librarian and amateur archaeologist Charles Carr exhumed the contents and donated some of them to Brown University and the Heye Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Following the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council retrieved the artifacts and reburied them at the site in Burr’s Hill Park in May, 2017. Click here to read about it on page 56 in Native American Archaeology in Rhode Island.
A monument to the Massasoit Osamequin ( 8sâmeeqan ) sits over a crypt containing over 500 artifacts removed from the original burial site in 1913, including an ax head, beads, a comb and a knife pictured below.
In Alvin Week’s 1920 text, Massasoit of the Wampanoags, local author Virginia Baker notes that “in one of the graves were found a feather war bonnet, the remains of two fine muskets and a roll of gold lace. All these things indicate the burial place of a man of high rank, and the known fact that the red horseman’s coat presented to Massasoit by Winslow was trimmed with gold lace, leads to the inquiry whether this was the grave of that great chief.” [page 128]
Burr’s Hill overlooks the Warren River. Indigenous people buried their dead overlooking the setting sun where the souls of the dead were thought to reside [Gibson, 1980].
Burr’s Hill was turned into a town park in 1921, but the area where the mounds where the graves were exhumed has retained intact.
Above is a turn of the 20th century photo of Burr’s Hill before it was excavated and a current rendering of what Burr’s Hill might have looked like in the 1700s.(click for a larger view).
The contents of the grave site are documented by Susan Gibson in Burr’s Hill: A 17th Century Wampanoag Burial Ground in Warren, RI which is available at the George Hail Library in Warren.
Click here for pictures and video of a talk at Burr’s Hill Park given to children in the summer recreation program.
Click here for a description of the 1913 excavation of 42 grave sites by Charles Carr at Burr’s Hill.
Click here for a Cape Cod Times article about the 2017 reburial of the Massasoit grave site reburial ceremony.
Click on map below for a Google Map.
Illustration above right from William Turnbaugh’s chapter in Ethnohistory and Archaeology by J. Daniel Rogers and Samuel M. Wilson shows two other Indian cemeteries in Rhode Island..