In the summer of 1949, when my family took its first cross-country trip, our relatives in Bloomington, Indiana, took us to see the old Dunn burying ground in the middle of the Indiana University campus and pointed out the tombtones of our ancestors, telling us that we could also be buried there some day if we wished.
We have several articles from the Bloomington newspapers which we'll include in this page. This article, which looks like it dates back to the early 1900s, was pasted on the first page of my grandmother's scrapbook:
"God's Acre" is Burial Ground for Heroines of Revolution
Plot Deeded to Descendants of Dunn Family Forever
University Campus Now Surrounds It
Three Sisters Who Aided Washington and His Troops Buried in Campus Cemetery.
Indiana University bears the distinction shared by few schools in the country, in having on its campus a cemetery, in which are buried three heroines of the Revolutionary war.
Back in the early '20s when the east side of Bloomington was all farm land, Samuel Dunn and his wife, Elizabeth Grundy Dunn, purchased 100 acres of land which later became known as the Old Dunn Farm. The farm extended from what is now E. Tenth street to E. Third street and from a line running north and south somewhere near the present Phi Delta Theta house to what is now Dunn street.
Farm Passes to Heirs.
The farm was willed to a son, Geo. C. Dunn,1 who fixed the limits of the Dunn family burial ground and deeded it to the descendants of Samuel and Elizabeth Dunn forever. As Bloomington spread toward the Dunn farm, his son, Moses, sold what lies between Dunn street and Indiana avenue for city lots.
At the time the University was located on S. College avenue where the Junior high school building now stands. In 1883 one of the college buildings burned to the ground and Moses F. Dunn sold a part of his farm for the new site of Indiana University. That is, he sold all except the graveyard, where his family was buried. This he could not have done had he so desired, because of the terms of the deed of George G. Dunn. For this reason the plot of ground called "God's Acre" does not belong to the University and never will.
Three Sisters Buried.
In the stone wall surrounding the graveyard is built a three-faced stone upon the surface of which are carved the names of three sisters, Ellenor Dunn, mother of the original owners of the land, Jennet Irvin and Agness Alexander. [see monument #1 below]
These sisters were pioneers of the Shenandoah valley in Virginia and were born subjects of King George of England. During the Revolutionary war, they and their families gave important assistance to Washington and his army. They spun, wove and fashioned garments for the soldiers, and when the army was stationed in their vicinity, they cooked food for them. As soon as one batch of food was cooked and on its way to the soldiers, the women prepared another batch. This was kept up for days at a time.
Later the sisters moved with their families to Kentucky and from there to Indiana, settling in the small village of Bloomington. When the sisters died they were interred in "God's Acre," the little cemetery on the banks of the River Jordan and in the heart of what is now the University campus.
Only one person was ever buried in the cemetery who was not a direct descendant of one of the sisters. This was a sister of a man who married into the family and having no other living relatives, was buried in "God's Acre."
The following article about the burying ground appeared in the March 1999 issue of the Indiana Daily Student:
Ghosts of God's Acre
Revolutionary War legacies call Dunn Cemetery home
BY ASHLEY SHELBY
There are ghosts in Dunn Cemetery, unknown to most of the students who traverse the path between the Indiana Memorial Union and Beck Chapel. They might throw a wayside glance over the stone wall to the mossy headstones if someone has left a jack-o'-lantern atop one of the graves or an electric green wreath on the rusty gate.
But that little plot of old Indiana farmland (still called God's Acre by some Bloomington residents) has an interesting history with the students and those who lived on this land before our little seminary became the giant university it is today.
Dunn Cemetery is 182 years old. It was carved out of a chunk of Samuel Dunn's farm. Dunn's son sold the farmstead (Wildermuth Intramural Center is the old haunting ground of Dunn's cattle) to IU after fire ravaged the seminary located north of the current campus. IU built on the land, constructing new limestone buildings and a baseball field, but administrators agreed never to develop the land immediately surrounding Dunn Cemetery.
In fact, they couldn't. When Dunn's son deeded the land to IU, he made sure to reserve the 60-foot-by-110-foot knoll as "perpetual use as a cemetery." IU has honored that provision.
Another provision of the Dunn deed dictates that you can't be buried in the cemetery. Well, unless you are directly related to one of three revolutionary war heroines buried there.
The Dunn deed was written expressly to honor their legacies. George Dunn wrote that he intended the cemetery "to secure and perpetuate the descendants of Elinor Dunn, Agnes Alexander and Jennet Irwin ... and to those with whom they shall repose together as one family in the long night of death and rise up together as from one bed at the last day."
These must have been some wild women.
The sisters were born in Virginia in the mid-1700s and were well-known (and appreciated) for their assistance to the Revolutionary War troops. While Gen. George Washington and his army were in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the sisters cooked and made clothing for the troops. In addition, they were known to melt their cooking utensils to make ammunition for the colonial effort.
An unidentified descendant of Agnes Brewster wrote that the sisters "worked unceasingly for the comfort of the Patriot soldiers," and that "the story of the suffering of Washington's men, of the bloody footprints in the snow, was that of a condition that they (Brewster sisters) strove to relieve."
After the war, the sisters traveled to the wilds of Indiana with their families and settled the area that is now the land IU stands on.
Elinor Brewster is now a charter member of the Women in Military Service memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Dunn-only clause hasn't stopped people from petitioning for entry into the hallowed burial ground. The rule really rankled Hoagy Carmichael. Bloomington's hometown composer petitioned for burial in Dunn Cemetery but was turned away because of faulty lineage. He is buried in Bloomington's Rosehill Cemetery.
A whisper of history
Etiquette conquered rivalry during a baseball game in the early 1900s. Back in those days, the Union parking lot was known as Jordan Field and the IU baseball team played its games there. On this particular day, a spirited baseball game was in full swing, with spectators packing the stands. In the middle of an inning, a burial began at the cemetery just across Jordan River. The crowd grew quiet, and men removed their caps. The ballgame was suspended until the somber ceremony concluded.
God's Acre was an important and visible part of campus back in those days, but now the plot is just a leftover whisper of IU's history. Some students don't even know the cemetery exists. Others notice it only on Halloween when the cemetery is occasionally peppered with pumpkins.
James Capshew, history and philosophy of science professor, teaches a summer class on IU history. He said he doesn't think Dunn Cemetery really figures into the IU experience for most students.
"It provides a certain amount of serenity on campus, but a lot of people walk by without thinking of it," he said.
One student pays particular attention to Sarah Alexander's grave. Junior Sarah Schum noticed one day that Sarah Alexander not only shared her name, but also her birthday. Then she noticed the date of Alexander's death: Feb. 17, 1864.
"Every time that day rolls around, I kind of laugh to myself," she said. "But I keep it in mind when I'm about to do something crazy on that day."
Another student was paying too much attention to the headstones and not enough to her footing. Sophomore Lila Ibrahim sprained her ankle while straining to read the inscriptions.
"The worst part about it was telling people that I did it while trying to read one of those damn headstones!" she said.
Whether or not they are noticed, the Dunn descendants are memorialized around campus as the namesakes of meadows and academic buildings. But nestled between the Union and Jordan River, they take their final rest in a kite-shaped cemetery. It symbolizes, as George Dunn writes in the deed, a flight to heaven.
The list of burials below was copied from a memo from Morgan F. Carter, of the Indiana University Building and Grounds department, dated 1 Nov 1954, and was sent to me by fellow Brewster researcher Peggy Shock. It was accompanied by a sketch showing the approximate locations of the 47 monuments.
Dunn's farm was the scene of a great celebration at the end of the Mexican War when Monroe county's company of volunteers returned home. The event is described in MONROE COUNTY (Indiana) IN THE MEXICAN WAR, Henry Clay Duncan, 1911, an unpublished, 16-page manuscript available at the Main Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. It was read before the Monroe County Historical Society 13 Jan 1911. This quotation from the manuscript was made available via the Monroe county GenWeb mailing list:
After the expiration of its term of enlistment, the company came home by steam boat to Madison, then by the old Madison and Indianapolis road to Columbus and from there marched to Bloomington. On its return, a big barbecue was given in Dunn's Woods, now the college campus. Speeches were made. Every man was made a hero and a general glorious time was had. Long trenches were dug in which great quantities of wood were placed which was fired. Cattle and sheep, furnished by the farmers of the community, were butchered and barbecued over the roasting coals.
The most recent burial in this cemetery which we heard about was that of my mother's first cousin, Marilyn Warden, in February 2004, which was reported in an article in the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.
In September 2010, some of the stones in the cemetery were vandalized. This event was reported in another Daily Student article, which mentioned several of our family members.