WELLFLEET — Deep in the woods of Wellfleet’s Bound Brook Island, a path padded with pine needles and slashed with filtered sunlight rises and dips, showing the way to a lonely burial plot, the last privately owned parcel of an 8.6-acre property that once belonged to Thomas Lombard (1813-1873) and on which he built his homestead.
Except for the small family cemetery, the Lombard parcel is now Cape Cod National Seashore property, conveyed during the 1960s when the Dept. of the Interior was acquiring tracts for the new park. Would that the story were that straightforward, but the Lombard lot has, for decades, been the focus of a complex legal case pitting Thomas Lombard’s descendants against one another and the U.S. government — a story for another time.
Over the years, the Lombard cemetery, surrounded by the disputed property, was regularly visited by family members who, it was noted in court documents, enjoyed picnics and blueberry picking at the site. Sometime in the 1970s, Seashore authorities gated the access road to the cemetery, though family members were provided with a key. Eventually the road fell into disuse and was allowed to revegetate. Access to the graves is now only by the footpath.
Who are these loneliest of Lombards, resting deep in the Wellfleet woods on a remote slope overlooking a marsh? Two headstones, marking three graves — those of Thomas Lombard, his wife Mary Paine Rich Lombard, and their son James — are enclosed by a perimeter fence of granite posts and iron rails.
These headstones were not nameless markers hinting at forgotten family members but were as thoughtfully crafted as any Lombard or Rich headstone in Truro’s cemeteries. Why, then, are they here in isolation, separated from members of their large, deeply rooted Truro families? One story has it that these three Lombards fell victim to the ravages of smallpox and were buried away from the community, as was the custom.
A poignant embellishment tells that Mary, being the first to die in February 1859, was buried on the hillside where Thomas and the family could, each day, see her grave from across the valley. Mary Paine Rich Lombard, born in Truro, was the daughter of Thomas Rich (1770-1835) and Sarah Paine (1772-1816) who were married in 1793. Ten children were born to the couple between 1795 and 1814, Mary being the last. In 1835, Mary married mariner Thomas Lombard Jr., the son of Thomas Lombard (1787-1867) and Abigail Hopkins (1787-1837). Thomas and Mary had nine children, one of whom died in infancy, another in childhood.
While there seems to be no death record for Mary Paine Rich Lombard, there is a Wellfleet death record for a Mary Rich who died of smallpox and whose personal details are consistent enough with those of Mary Lombard to lead one to conclude that they are the same person.
Mary Rich was was born in Truro and was a married woman at the time of her death at age 48 (Mary Lombard would have been 45). Curiously, the registration of Mary’s death does not include a date but was added into the vital records, almost as an afterthought, below the compilation of 1860 deaths.
If the death record for Mary Rich is, indeed, the record for Mary Paine Rich Lombard, the use of her maiden name, though she was married, is unusual and may have been done in an effort to shield the family from what was then the stigma of smallpox.
Thomas Lombard survived Mary by 14 years, and though he remarried and fathered two additional sons, when he died of heart disease in 1873, he chose to be buried next to Mary, sharing a headstone with their son James H. Lombard, who died of consumption in 1870. James had been named for his uncle, James Hopkins Lombard, the brother of Thomas. The elder James had, along with another brother, Capt. Solomon Hopkins Lombard, been among the ten members of the “lost crew” who mysteriously vanished from the schooner Commerce as it lay at anchor off Truro in September 1844.
Also belonging to that crew was Solomon Paine Rich, the 36-year-old brother of Mary Paine Rich Lombard, and his young son, Charles — a fact that reveals the close interconnection of the Lombard and Rich families.
Today, some seek out the Lombard graves as a curious bit of old Cape Cod, while others stumble upon them during a walk in the woods, pausing, perhaps, to consider their lonely situation. Wellfleet’s history, at least so far as it has been written, offers no definitive explanation for it. But it is quite likely that after Mary succumbed to smallpox, the Lombard family was prohibited from burying her in South Truro’s Pine Grove Cemetery, where the parents of both Thomas and Mary repose.
Thomas’s answer to the unfortunate shunning was to create a resting place for Mary on his Bound Brook Island property. The now-faded inscription on her stone reads: I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness/ My wife sleeps here, her end was peace/ We sorrow but with hope/ The believer’s life shall never cease/ And Christ will raise her up.
Bound Brook Island, no longer an island, was a very different place during the Lombards’ time, a small industrious community surrounded by open water and salt meadows with a thriving maritime settlement at Duck Harbor. The lightly wooded landscape was scattered with homes, a schoolhouse, windmill, saltworks, fruit and shade trees, and grazing animals. As shoaling sands filled in Duck Harbor and maritime enterprises relocated to Wellfleet Harbor, Bound Brook Island was largely abandoned and left to reforest with hardy species — pitch pine, bearberry, blueberry, briars, reindeer lichen, earth stars, and grasses — that could tolerate the less-than-productive soil.
But when Mary Paine Rich Lombard died, the view across the glacial valley from what is now South Truro was still unobscured and her grave, no doubt, was prominent atop the rise. Her family could awake each morning with her likeness. She was never alone.