Burr’s Hill Royal Pokanoket Burial Ground

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 Wampanoag Repatriation Confederation (consisting of representatives of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, and the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation) 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.

(Above) A monument to the Massasoit Ousamequin ( 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. Inscribed on the monument is a pictogram from a 1657 land deed that Ousamequin signed.


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 the Massasoit Ousamequin by Winslow was trimmed with gold lace, leads to the inquiry whether this was the grave of that great chief.” [page 128]
Also found was a copper chain “believed to be the one mentioned on Page 73 — having been found in a grave said to be Massasoit’s.” From Page 73: “Mr. Edward Winslow, and Mr. Stephen Hopkins were chosen as the ambassadors for this trip with the Indian, Squanto, as their guide. The gifts they carried with them for the great Sachem included, a red horseman’s coat trimmed with white lace, a heavy copper chain, and smaller tokens of beads tec.” (The Wampanoag Indian Federation by Milton Travers, 1957)” (Click on image below left for a larger version)
Burr’s Hill overlooks the Warren River at sunset. 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 on each 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 a description of Edward Winslow’s visit to Massasoit at Sowams in 1623.
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 along with a link to pictures of his field notes.

Click here for a Cape Cod Times article about the 2017 reburial of the Massasoit grave site reburial ceremony.

Click here for the August 24, 1913 Providence Journal cover article about Charles Carr’s excavation.

Click here for pictures of the historic marker placed at Burr’s Hill Park in May, 2020.

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..