Unearthing History

Who is buried at Burying Hill Beach?

Local lore says it’s Native Americans.

Dr. Robert Liftig isn’t so sure.

A writer and teacher who has lived in Westport for almost 50 years, he recently retired after 4 decades as a Fairfield University professor. His courses focused on local Colonial history.

He’s done quite a bit of, um, digging, The small Greens Farms beach is beloved by many. Like others throughout town, they’ve often wondered about its name.

Burying Hill (top-center), and beach of the same name. (Drone photos/Brandon Malin)

First, some background.

In 1637, a band of Pequots — burned out of their Groton home — were chased by English settlers to a swamp between what is now the Southport Dunkin Donuts and Equinox. (A small memorial commemorates the Great Swamp Fight, the last battle of the Pequot War.)

They were burned and hacked to pieces in what Liftig calls the continent’s “first intentional genocide.” (A leader, John Underhill, is the man for whom Underhill Parkway is named.)

With the area safe for colonists, Thomas Newton, John Green and Henry Gray obtained a land grant to settle the area in 1648. Daniel Frost and Francis Andrews joined them soon. Andrews came from upstate; he, with Thomas Hooker and others, had founded Hartford in 1635.

The group were known as the Bankside Farmers (for Bankside, England, where some of the 5 came from). The area was later named for one of those 5: Greens Farms.*

An early map of Green’s Farms. The Bankside Farmers’ lands ae shown on Long Island Sound, next to “Burial Hill.”

Andrews hired a servant: 12-year-old Simon Couch. A few years later the boy married Andrews’ daughter Mary. He worked as a tailor, ran a horse saloon, and bought Andrews’ widow’s farm. At his death in 1688, age 53, Simon Couch was a wealthy man.

He also bought Forest Point, a “beautiful hill overlooking the sea.” It became a cemetery — perhaps for Andrews, along with Couch himself, his family, and some of their slaves. (It is unclear whether those slaves were Blacks or indigenous people.)

Liftig cites an excerpt from the book “History of Fairfield.” Simon Couch was

buried in land belonging to him at Forest Point, looking out upon the Sound, which he had set apart as a family burial place and which was long known as the Couch Burial Hill.

This spot could be pointed out until within the last few years [date of publication unknown], but now almost every trace of the tombs & graves have been obliterated.

Liftig believes Andrews — one of the founders of Hartford — is also there: buried below where the beach toilets are now located.

Bathrooms and lifeguard offices, at the top of Burying Hill. (Photos/David Squires)

Simon Couch, meanwhile, is listed on Find A Grave as occupying “Plot #1.”

When Green’s Farms Congregational Church established its first cemetery (at the current corner of Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector) in the early 1700s, subsequent Couches were buried there. (One stone honors “Thomas Couch lost at sea, taken by French or pirates.”)

The family grew quite wealthy, from the triangle trade. One branch moved to North Carolina. Another Captain Thomas Couch married into the Boone family, and moved to Kentucky.

Liftig has found that the Couches — and Daniel Boone — are related to his daughters Anya and Dorothy.

Liftig himself grew up in Avon, Connecticut. He joined the Peace Corps, met a “pretty Kentucky girl,” and married her. They moved to Westport.

Delving into the history of his town, he was stunned to find that his wife’s ancestors lived here.

He was even more surprised to learn of the Couch connection to Burying Hill Beach. His daughter Dorothy had a summer Parks & Recreation job, working at the front gate.

The entrance to Burying Hill now floods often. (Photo/Sally Fisk)

Parks & Rec administers the beach because in 1893, the town of Westport purchased the property for a picnic area. Ten years later, they added the swale nearby (called “Ye Olde Battleground”) — between the “burial hill” and what later became the Bedford (and later Harvey Weinstein) homes.

The Couches later married into the Bedford and Jesup families, Liftig says.

But when he inquired about the possibility of a plaque memorializing the bodies buried in the hill — including, possibly, a founder of Hartford — he was told there is no proof.

Cars should not drive on Burying Hill. It is a historic burial ground. (Photo/Rusty Ford)

Yet an old Westport Historical Society publication, “Buried in Our Past,” says:

We can surmise that the Couches shared the hill with some of the early settlers — the Greens, Andrews [sic], Frosts and Grays.

In his book “Greens Farms,” George Penfield Jennings, states he remembers seeing many gravestones on the hill, but by the time the State Legislature established the area as a town park in 1893, only one broken marker remained.

Now that marker is gone. Burying Hill has the distinction of being the first park on the Connecticut shoreline recognized by the State.

Neither Parks & Rec, the Westport Historical Commission nor the Westport Museum for History & Culture confirms Liftig’s findings.

But he is convinced: The burials in Burying Hill Beach are real.

And historic.

(Dr. Robert Liftig can be contacted directly: boblif@aol.com)

*Should there an apostrophe, making it Green’s Farms? That’s been a question ever since. 

(There’s plenty of history in Westport’s hills and beaches. “06880” unearths it all. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

9 responses to “Unearthing History

  1. Peter Jennings

    Barbara Couch (d.2017) was the last of the Couch family living in the area. Being of small stature her license plate read “SETTEE”.
    Yes, it was the Couch family burial ground, and possibly that of others.
    Peter Jennings
    Green’s Farms Church Historian and
    author of “Buried In Our Past”

  2. Eric Buchroeder

    Why is “the Museum” MIA on this? Can you provide any updates on what they’re doing? How about the tile wall? Any idea what the storage charges to date amount to? Sorry to have to ask but you’re the only one who seems to be doing anything relevant to the town’s history (as if you didn’t already have enough on your plate).

    • Bob Liftig says that the Westport Museum for History & Culture said they needed “primary sources,” and did not view his research as proof about the Couch burial site.

      As for the tile wall, the Westport Library is still in discussions with several organizations about next steps.

      • Eric Buchroeder

        As always, you are the man with the answers to what Westport needs to know. Thanks for the update.

  3. Melinda Hemson

    Darn you, Dan!! Now I have to go through our family “bible” when I go visit my parents in Vermont next week! I believe that my family has ties to the Jesup’s and the Bedord’s. I also have many relatives buried in the cemetery off the connector. I don’t remember how far it goes back but I need to know if there are any clues!

  4. Love these kinds of posts! Fascinating history of Westport. I will always feel connected to Connecticut and it’s history. My ancestors on my mother’s side founded New London and Stonington. The graves of the Minor/Miner clan are abundant there. My mother, Helen Minor lives in PA at 87 years old. Some of my ancestors moved to PA and a family of 6 Minors were slaughtered by the Native Americans on their way to church. What a complicated relationship that was and is between the Native Americans and the European settlers, and very sad.

    The genocide of the Native population? I have a significant amount of Lenape in my blood on my fathers side from NJ and Delaware and have to say, they were a gentle, peaceful people totally wiped out, and they just remain known in museums. I have the only photo of my great grandmother who was Lenape. So I have very mixed feelings to reading that the Pequots were burnt and chopped up! What we do to each other to take over territories. i realize the violence was on both sides…just a feeling and hope we can do better as humans not to wipe each other out to gain land and power. Gotta be a better way.

  5. I would add that one of the people supposed to be buried there is Aaron Fountain.

  6. Robert M Gerrity

    Dan, you are making me work!
    The date for that HISTORY OF FAIRFIELD is 1881 if it is the mammoth thing created by D. Hamilton Hurd and staff, historical works which were sold initially through subscription to the people whose families had “biographies” at the back. Invaluable source for information on 19th century lives. Always has to be confirmed by sources, but still invaluable.
    Have no idea what WM means by “not sourced.” Prof. Liftig knows what sources are and how to generate them and cite them. One ancestor of my mother left a will (1727) that explicitly states “land where there be graves” are set off from a land transaction in Freetown, MA. I can not believe that America’s pre-eminent genealogist of the early 20th century, Donald Lines Jacobus, doesn’t have articles on these families in his First Families of Fairfield series. And then there are DEEDS.
    A full report with an experienced archaeologist as co-author would be needed. But with what I know of colonial history (my speciality), yep, the extended family is buried there.

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