By Celina Simmons
With a beautiful location right off Casco Bay, SMCC’s South Portland Campus offers an immense amount of adventures and sights to see, from the everlasting view of the ocean to the ruins of a historical naval base. But how many stop to think about the little ol’ cemetery right next to our dining hall? I did, and my curiosity led me to doing some research.
The Old Settlers Cemetery, also called the Thrasher Cemetery, marks the location of the first settlement established here in South Portland. It is the oldest historical landmark in the city, dating back nearly 360 years! The settlement was abandoned 20 years later due to King Philip’s war, which lasted from 1675-1678. This left the land destroyed and deserted until nine families attempted to resettle another 20 years after. In 1703, those families suffered a disastrous massacre from a local Indian tribe, where 25 of their people were killed and eight were captured. It wasn’t until 1716 that the next wave of settlement came.
There are no records dating back to the first burials on that land. Oftentimes, funerals in the New England region didn’t offer individual eulogies for the deceased, and markers would have been made out of wooden crosses or slates which, through the years, would not have survived. In other cases, the headstones could have been floor level and sunk below the ground by now. We know of 18 legibly marked stones in the cemetery today, but there could be many more.
Out of those 18 deceased, a couple names stood out to me. I found that Mrs. Ann Simonton passed away in April of 1744, which would make her stone the oldest one recorded. She and her husband, Andrew Simonton, were part of the first families to reinhabit South Portland. In the South Portland Historical Society Archive, I came across an inscription list of the cemetery, and on it was a note from the late Mrs. Rosella Loveitt, a history teacher in South Portland who passed away in 2006. She wrote that Andrew Maxwell and Mary White died in 1744 and were buried in that cemetery, though there are no other records of this. She claims the headstones were once there and stated “the oldest headstone marking.”
Another family that stood out to me was the Thrashers. Seven out of the 18 marked stones were part of the Thrasher family and I wanted to know where the Thrasher Cemetery name came from. Thanks to Kathryn DiPhilippo with the South Portland Historical Society, I found out the Thrashers were a significant family at the time.
They owned a lot of land in the area and operated a popular store on Preble Street. From what we can tell, it is possible that the Thrashers purchased the land and buried their family in a pre-existing graveyard. In the 1800s it would have been more commonly referred to as the Thrasher Cemetery due to the eminence of their name at the time.
The full history behind the Old Settlers Cemetery may be lost, but it is certainly not forgotten. As Mrs. Loveitt proves with her note, there is a lot we don’t know about this burial ground, and yet there could be so much to uncover. With historians keeping an extra eye out for the Old Settlers Cemetery, the history behind the beginning of South Portland and the settlers buried there could be revealed one day.