Graves Of 18th Century Connecticut & Rhode Island Ship’s Captains Discovered In Suriname

View of the Nieuwe Oranjetuin Cemetery, Paramaribo, Suriname

The graves of four ship’s captains and merchants dating from the mid-18th century have been found in Suriname, a former Dutch sugar colony on the northern coast of South America. The graves of privateer Capt. Michael Burnham of Middletown, CT; Capt. William Barbut of New London, CT, Capt. Nathaniel Angel and Capt. William Gardner Wanton, both of Rhode Island; were recerntly found in the Dutch colonial cemetery of Nieuw Oranjetuin in Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital city.

Graves Of Connecticut Sea Captains Discovered In South America

The historic inner city of Paramaribo, were the graves were found, lies on the left bank of the wide Paramaribo River, 15 miles up from the river’s mouth. UNECSCO recognizes the city as a world heritage site because of its intact 18th- and 19th-century wooden Dutch colonial buildings on spacious lots along tree-lined streets. Within the old city is the Nieuw Oranjetuin Cemetery, a sandy, five-acre plot once known for its lush orange groves. Established in 1755, it was the main cemetery of the Dutch Reform Church.

Some of the tombs are quite elaborate, little shines built of red brick and marble. By contrast, the headstones of the Yankee sea captains, lying flat in the sandy ground, are plain. The four men were buried between 1758 and 1765. The inscriptions offer no clue as to how they died. What is known is that commerce – based on the ubiquitous slave-worked plantations of the sugar islands – drew these canny New Englanders to the area.

Capt. Burnham, as commander in chief in the Provincial Navy, was tasked with protecting this commerce during the French and Indian War – 1754 to 1763 – when American and ritish shipping in the Caribbean was being harassed by French corsairs. Burnham was sent to the West Indies in the winter of 1757 with orders “to distress his Majesties’ enemies…” The 52-year-old commander was put in charge of the 24-gun brigantine Tartar with a crew of 100. Capt. Burnham carried Letters of Marque from the British crown, allowing him to seize French prizes.

The Burnham family has played a significant role in the maritime world of New England.  Captain William Burham of Bridgewater, CT (1847-1919) was a sailing ship ship captain before coming ashore as a founding manager of American Hawaiian Steamship in 1899.   The Burnhams have also been active in shipbuilding around Essex, Massachusetts for a very long time.  In July we posted about the launching of the pinky schooner Ardelle  at the historic Burnham Boatbuilding yard in Essex, MA.

Thanks to John Warren of the New York History blog for along the article.

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