Rainsford Island Cemetery

Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Memorials 1,779 added

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Please note: The Rainsford Island Cemetery is on an island in the Boston Harbor. The island has a large graveyard that may contain thousands of bodies. However, if there were any headstones they are long gone.

The island is accessible by private craft, but does not have a dock. Public access is discouraged on Rainsford Island and many of the "outer islands" during bird breeding season (April-August).

In 1737, a quarantine hospital was moved to Rainsford Island from Spectacle Island and operated there until 1852. During this time, Rainsford Island was a popular summer resort.

In 1832 a small-pox hospital was built (a stone Greek-temple design), and many victims of infectious diseases were buried on the island. In about 1852, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took possession of the island and established an almshouse. The state abandoned the site in about 1866, and the City converted the island into a poorhouse. Civil War Veterans lived there until 1882, when they were transferred to a Soldiers Home on the mainland. Beginning in 1882, female paupers were sent to Rainsford. Later it was a facility for boys: the Suffolk School for Boys. In 1920, the school was closed. Now only foundation holes remain visible.

UPDATE 5-5-2018

Claims that bodies were later disinterred and moved to Long Island cannot be substantiated.

That conclusion was reached after I examined over 1,000 newspaper articles form 1831-1984, as well as each death record and available internet items.

On September 15,1948, Mayor Curley erected, on Long Island, a bronze plaque noting 79 Civil War veterans whom they believed were previously buried at Rainsford. Historical records (1880s-early 1930s Memorial Day newspaper articles noting the placing of wreaths by the Robert A. Bell GAR Post) repeatedly reported 105 -120 civil burials at Rainsford.

Additionally, an article in the Boston Globe, April 18,1947, noted a plan to remove 350 persons, including the 79 Civil War Veterans, to Long Island. If done, which I doubt, would leave over 1,000 bodies and 30 Veterans at Rainsford. Note that in June 1947, Mayor Curley received a sentence to the Federal Prison in Danbury, CT


I have been researching the history of Rainsford Island for several years. Although there were discussions, beginning in the 1920s, I cannot confirm that any bodies were removed to Long Island.

The Boston Globe, May 31, 1885, Quadruple Sheet, page 3, notes that Robert A. Bell GAR Post 134, comprised of African American Civil War Veterans, decorated 75 graves at Rainsford. That number rose to 100 in the May 31, 1887, per that date's edition of the Boston Post, page 8. In the 1890s that number rose to over 100 and was noted as 150 in the Boston Globe, May 31, 1931, page A 31.

The Boston Globe, May 30, 1937, page B5, notes that the Sons of the War of 1812, decorated a tablet that was recently placed on the grave of Lieutenant Horace Stockton White.

The Boston Globe, August 16, 1937, page 20, notes severe vandalism of “tombstones” at Rainsford Island.

The Boston Globe, June 27, 1943, page B 41, notes that the Sons Of Union Veterans of the Civil War will have an outing at Rainsford on July 4th and decorate Veterans’ graves.

The Boston Globe, July 5, 1943, page 23, notes 50 graves were decorated.

The Boston Globe, November 12, 1946, page 1, notes “Boston Assailed for Neglect of Veterans’ Graves”.. “The graves of 200 Civil War Veterans and 50 Spanish American War soldiers have been neglected and desecrated..” .. “almost all the gravestones have been pulled around and knocked apart like rock…….you can’t even tell where the graves were!” My note--- the last burial at Rainsford occurred before the beginning of the Spanish American War.

Finally, the Boston Globe, April 18, 1947, page 13 notes that “The remains of 350 persons, including 79 Civil War Veterans, will be moved from Rainsford Island to Long Island...” Note that within two months of that article, June 1947, Mayor Curley received a sentence to the Federal Prison in Danbury, CT.

I have identified 1,599 burials at Rainsford Island from 1854 to 1896. They are posted to Findagrave.com I am working on the burials prior to 1850, back to 1738. Those probably total 200.

I find no evidence that anyone was removed to Long Island. Even if 350 bodies were removed in 1947, that would leave at least 1,300 behind. The bronze memorial to the 79 Civil War Veterans that are buried at Long Island, having been transferred from Rainsford, does not include many of the names of Veterans that I know were buried at Rainsford Island.

In late 1887, certain unclaimed bodies of people who died at Long Island Hospital were transported to Rainsford Island for burial. Although death records note the place of death as at Long Island.

Per Documents of the City of Boston, Volume 6 1894, PAGE 2888, that practiced ceased on June 13, 1893, as Long Island opened its cemetery on their island.

In late 1894 to early 1898, burials were also made at Rainsford Island from deaths at the Infant Summer Hospital on the Island. There were 138 infant deaths during that period. It appears that all burials ceased at Rainsford in early 1898.

A spreadsheet has been made of all post 1850 deaths, as well as vital statistics per death records.

Prior to 1894, most infants who died on the island, were born on the island. Most likely to Female inmates. In the circumstances noted above, some infants died at Long Island Hospital

SGT William Randolph (African American) Fought in the Civil War with the Mass 5th Colored Cavalry UNMARDKED GRAVE

Pvt. Steven Ennis.(African American) was with the 54th Regt, M.V.I. from its inception until the end of the Civil War) UNMARKED GRAVE.

June 1891 - Catherine Kenney died at 1 day. Her twin brother Frederick died in July. Both of congenital syphilis.

Current postings, obtained from the Records of Deaths at Boston, are from 1800-1896 (end of burial activities)

I have also personally noted, not yet reflected on Findagrave.com, another 600 deaths at Rainsford that were claimed and buried off Island.

By Bill McEvoy member #46902415

GPS Coordinates: 42.3119800, -70.9528200

  • Added: 12 Nov 2013
  • Find A Grave Cemetery: #2519724