Near the bustling center of Framingham, tucked away behind Route 9 in a small residential neighborhood, lies a small but important cemetery. Established in 1698, the Old Burying Ground Cemetery is older than the city itself which was incorporated in 1700. What makes this cemetery notable is that it’s the burying ground of 89 Revolutionary War veterans and one grave in particular is the resting place of an individual who made a distinguished impact on history.
Peter Salem was born in Framingham on October 1, 1750, and spent the entirety of his early life enslaved. His original enslaver was a man named Jerimiah Belknap who most likely named Salem after his hometown of the same name in Massachusetts. In 1775, Belknap sold Salem to Major Lawson Buckminster, the commander of the Framingham Minutemen. Buckminster emancipated Salem so he could enlist in the local militia. On April 19, 1775, Salem fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord and on April 24, enlisted in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment under the command of Colonel John Nixon.
On June 17, 1775, Salem was at the Battle of Bunker Hill and according to legend, mortally wounded British Marine Service Major John Pitcairn with a musket shot. Salem continued to serve in the Continental Army until 1780 and also fought at the battles of Saratoga and Stony Point. After the war, Salem married Katy Benson in 1783 and built a cabin in Leicester where he worked as a cane weaver. He died on August 16, 1816, and was buried in his hometown of Framingham, which had a monument erected in his honor in 1882.
The grave of Peter Salem is a memorial not just to one man but to all Black Americans who served and fought for their fledgling nation despite all the discrimination and hardships they had to endure. The contributions of Black Americans is often overlooked in the context of U.S. military history and the very first person who died in the American Revolution during the Boston Massacre of 1770, was also a Black man from Framingham named Crispus Attucks. If you wish to pay your respects to Mr. Salem and many others who came after him, the Old Burying Ground Cemetery is definitely worth a visit.
Know Before You Go
To find the grave, enter the main entrance and follow the path straight ahead until the very end. Afterwards take a right and you'll find the headstone at the bottom of a small slope near the edge of the cemetery in a secluded spot away from the other graves.