Early settlers in Cayman built distinctive house-shaped graves that have piqued the interest of historians and visitors for many years.
Writing of his experiences in the West Indies in 1845, Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, a Scottish Missionary Society missionary who was shipwrecked in Grand Cayman, noted:
“The burial-place took my attention as peculiarly neat and simple. The graves were marked, not by mounds of earth and headstones, or great massive tombs, but by houses in miniature, just large enough each to cover one person; mostly about six feet long, two feet broad, and one and a half high, with a sloping roof and full gable end, in which was inserted a small slab containing the name of the occupant, his age, and the day on which he entered his narrow home, ‘the house appointed for all living.’ They were well built, white, and clean, and, of course, of all sizes. Sometimes a row of them close to one another indicated a family place of sepulture. The want of sufficient depth of earth for an ordinary grave, perhaps, led to the adoption of this literal necropolis.”
To this day, these unique grave markers, thought to date from the early 1800s, can be viewed in a few spots in George Town, including at Elmslie Memorial Church, in Old Prospect at the Watler and Eden family cemeteries, and at Spotts cemetery, as well as at several other sites around Grand Cayman.
Cayman’s cemeteries were traditionally located on beachfront family land, since the sandy ground was easier to dig and would not take up valuable arable soil used for farming.
Naturalist and amateur historian Ann Stafford has developed a keen interest in exploring the origins of these graves and recently published an extensive chronicle of their roots and locations on her blog, CaymANNature.
The fascinating story of the graves, updated in early January, is also complemented by other news and events of the time period, placing the graves in historical context.
Ms. Stafford proposes that while the quaint shape may be, by design, a symbolic home for the hereafter, it may have also been a practical way to protect the materials covering the coffin from erosion by the elements.