Lower Merion Historical Society

The Lower Merion Historical Society

« Burial Records

Harriton Cemetery (Harrison Family)

off Caversham Road, on private property
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

row of headstones against an ivy-covered wall
headstones in the woods
an ivy-covered wall encloseas the cemetery, headstones at far end

The Harriton Cemetery was opened by Richard Harrison in 1719. The date of opening is recorded on a datestone in the stone wall surrounding this Harrison family cemetery. The wall surrounding the burying ground was rebuilt about 1900 utilizing the stone from the old stone wall around the cemetery under the supervision of architect and family member William Sansom Vaux. The date of the first burial in the cemetery is not known; however is presumed to be the 1719 opening date, which is the same year of Richard Harrison’s purchase of the Harriton estate from Rowland Ellis.

Burials in the cemetery are principally those of Richard Harrison’s immediate family and descendants. Family tradition tells us of those buried in the burial ground through the 18th century, as graves are unmarked for the most part. Common field stones are found poking up throughout the cemetery, as graves were unmarked as memorials in good 18th century Quaker fashion. The field stones were not memorial markers of any kind, they simply marked the spot of the last dug grave. Over the years, these simple stones have been moved, pulled up as weeding was done, knocked over, etc. There are two marked graves with dates before 1800, that of Benjamin Cochran in 1794, and that of his brother Richard in 1796. These two were NOT Harrison family members (see “Strangers to the Family”). The earliest marked Harrison family or descendant grave is that of Charles McClenachan in 1811.

Except for the marked 19th century graves, it is unknown who is buried in the cemetery or where. A “map” of burials started by Richard Harrison once existed. Charles Thomson makes reference to the long-lost “map”, and references to it are found in family papers to about 1840. Although locations are unknown, family tradition tells us a little bit about the use of the cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains-of Richard Harrison and his descendants (Harrison’s wife, Hannah Norris Harrison, died in 1774 and was buried at Arch Street Meeting in Philadelphia). Richard Harrison is said to be buried next to the wall to the left at the foot of the steps which go up and over the wall. His daughter, Hannah Harrison, and her husband Charles Thomson are said to have been buried “nearby”. The cemetery also contains the remains of household servants (Harrison’s house slaves). There was a separate cemetery “on the rise behind Harriton House” for field slaves, and this second cemetery was visible on the landscape into the 1870’s. At the extreme south end of the little Harriton cemetery are found several inscribed headstones. The headstones — together with footstones — are very different from the 19th century Harrison family inscribed stones. The burials are also separate from the family, and the graves contain what are called in Harrison family tradition “Strangers to the Family”.

Although family tradition tells us that Charles and Hannah Thomson are buried in the cemetery (1824 and 1807 respectively), three bodies were removed in 1838 and taken to the new Laurel Hill Cemetery overlooking the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia amid well-publicized controversy. Because the graves were unmarked at Harriton’s cemetery when the removals were made, no one knows whose remains were taken. Today there is an enormous memorial at Laurel Hill with a great granite obelisk and three graves: Charles Thomson, Hannah Harrison Thomson, and young Charles Thomson (Charles Thomson’s great nephew, son of John Thomson), of Emma Morris Shinn and James T. Shinn, and granddaughter of Namoi & Levi Morris).

18th-century three-story stone house
Harriton House, 500 Harriton Rd., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010