Searching For The Lost Grave of Thomas Ridley

While in Cape Cod, I’ve explored a bunch of ancient graveyards, and am always intrigued by their distinctly Cape-ish history: sea captains, lost-at-sea deaths, the high birth mortality rate (you often find infant graves beside a mother’s, both having died on the same date), etc. In trying to find some info on them, I came across a great website called Cape Cod Gravestones, an extensive collection of interesting and historical graves in the Cape maintained by an Eastham local.

Something in particular really interested me on the site, though – a section devoted to “Isolated Burials.” These are the kind of graves you find in the most unlikely of places in New England: a backyard, at the end of a public road, in a local park, etc.

A listing that stood out was the grave of Thomas Ridley, a Truro native who died of small pox in 1776. Over fears of his then badly understood illness, he was buried far from civilization, deep in the woods on the northern side of Truro. His is the only grave for any distance around. If you were hiking, you might literally trip over his tombstone. There is no path to it, no directional arrows or helpful tourist signs. It’s a rock hidden amongst the trees. It was meant to be lost.

These are the last known pictures of his gravestone, from a visit in 1993:



Today, I decided to try to find his grave.

Directions from the photographer, a Truro native, are given as follows:

From Montano’s Restaurant..park at back right of parking lot: old road goes off to left; at fork go left…follow trail to where piles of brush are…just before old sand pit take trail to the left up a hill. At the top of the hill the trail splits… goes thru the woods east (right). Follow the trail a little over 1/4 mile in and go left off trail into woods where yellow tape is on both sides. The gravestone is on a lower ridge to the left between two small fairly deep valleys. Good luck!

Hmmm…Written in 1993, how likely is it that any of these are still accurate? While the trails might still exist, I seriously doubted we’d locate a pile of brush, or find yellow tape marking the area. Nevertheless, the description reads almost like the muddled directions on an old treasure map, and I convinced my friends to help me search.

We parked in the back of the above-mentioned Montano’s Restaurant and traipsed through the woods looking for the “old road” and our starting position. It took a while – I think the section of the old road that abutted the restaurant has disappeared from neglect, but we were able to use Google Maps satellite view to locate it deeper on. We started hiking down it:


We kept going for quite a while, but started to have doubts that we were even on the right road…


Then, lo-and-behold, we came to a HUGE pile of brush, as mentioned in the directions. We weren’t 100% sure this was the same pile of brush from 1993…


…but we continued on and soon hit the old sand pit!


Awesome! Just like the Goonies! (sort of!). With renewed excitement, we took a left up the hill and continued on, hoping to find the fork at the top of the hill.

Unfortunately, we hit the top of the hill, only to have the path end about a quarter-mile on. We tried a few possible trails that were probably just random stretches of defoliation, but found nothing. I estimate this to be the path we took:


It was drizzling and muddy, so we gave up for the day, but it’s really been annoying me. Somewhere in this expanse of woods is a single, completely forgotten grave. Even Ridley’s wife was buried far away in a populated Provincetown burial ground.

I e-mailed the owner of the Cape Cod Graveyard site, but he told me that he has never seen it in person, and that the directions/pictures were sent to him by a Truro native who has since passed away. So as it stands, no one knows where it is. It might not even exist anymore.

But “might” doesn’t mean it’s not worth a second look…


From a genealogy book: “About midway of East Harbord, near a dismal swamp, with not a habitation in sight or sound, with not a tree, or rock, or post, or sign of life, where the hills rest tier on tier, alps piled on alps, and the valleys circle deeper and deeper is the solitary grave of Thomas Ridley, who died of small-pox, 1776.”

The book relates that the grave was in pretty bad shape at the time of its discovery, but the 1993 pics suggest something is still out there.

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  1. Love your site, good luck finding this grave!

  2. That’s really interesting…he’s really resting in peace then, eh?

  3. I went on a similar goose chase once looking for David Peterson’s grave: Alas, I ultimately failed in my search.

  4. Sounded to me like the kind of place where a geocache would be hidden. Seems that if anyone has found the grave since 1993, it’d be a geocacher. I checked, however, and there’s nothing near the restaurant. oh well. it was worth a short, i guess.

  5. I’m very interested in finding this site, genealogically Thomas is in my family tree a few genereations back, Could you possibly send me any more info you might have (GPS Coordinates, topo maps, etc)

  6. I did find the grave of Thomas Ridley, Jr. in the woods northeast of Montano’s restaurant in North Truro, MA on September 5, 2008 at 1:44PM. I specifically went to the area to look for it but used directions given to me by a sibling who had seen it back in the 1960’s.

    I took photos of it, and it looks the same as those taken in 1993. The route I used to find it was to start at the top of the sand pit and go right following an old fire road (now just an overgrown trail). As best I can remember, I took this until it petered out and then bore off left through the woods until I came to several deep valleys (kettle holes caused by the glaciers receding eons ago). I went around one by going to the right and then came back left further on between two kettle holes and there it was. The way I came out of the woods seemed more like the directions going in for the 1993 siting above. I came back headed towards Rte 6 which I could hear in the distance. Kept trekking until I hit that old fire road that runs down the side of the sand pit to the west (in the pics above – the one that looks like an open path through the woods). Then followed that down to the dirt road which leads west back out to Montano’s. I did not see any yellow tape , but oddly had seen some blue tape around a downed tree on my way to the grave. I did not feel that the grave was on a ‘lower ridge.’ It is between several deep kettle holes. Did not have a GPS device with me so can’t help anyone with coordinates though. In the aerial photo above, the stone’s location would probably be beyond the top of the photograph slightly to the right of the sand pit. Don’t know how to submit pics here or I would.

  7. I’ve been to the gravesite of Thomas Ridley. He his the 10 or 11th Great Grandfather of my Son Gabriel Roberts. That was in 1997 or 1998. I have rubbings and photos. The headstone was in good condition and I would consider it desecration of a burial site for “geocaching”. We left flowers and cleaned up around the headstone. There is a memorial marker in the Truro, MA old Cemetery. This is a member of many early Americans and he should be allowed to rest in peace.

    Linda *former Roberts* Snyder

  8. 11/06/11- I found it yesterday. I marked the GPS coordinates, but will not share here for a number of reasons (keep it hallowed ground, keep up the mystery). I will say that it is WAY out there. The sand pit is the initial cue that you are on the right track. From there, I’m not going to elaborate.

    It is indeed on a ridge between 2 kettle holes, and as of yesterday, was in perfect condition. When I looked closely at it a few idiots had enscribed their names on it as having been there in “05”…too bad, but the good thing is that it wasnt that legible. I knelt and said a prayer for Thomas so as to treat it as the hallowed ground that it is. If theres one dissapointment, it is that now I wont have the thrill of the hunt of looking for it any more.

  9. Thomas Ridley was the brother of my grandfather James Ridley, eight generations back. To help clear up some of the misconceptions about the gravesite–The grave is in an area that was once well populated with farms. The small bluff to the the east of the grave, overlooking the marsh and the ocean, was known as Ridley’s Bank. Smalley’s Bank lay to the north, and Dyer’s Bank to the south, both families intermarried with the Ridleys. Thomas was a smallpox victim and was not moved to the graveyard, but buried on the family land. His wife moved to Provincetown where she lived with her son who was a seafarer out of that port. Thomas’ son, Thomas III, as well as his father, are both buried in the North Truro graveyard. The land containing the grave is now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

  10. This June I found the grave. Can you believe I wasn’t even looking for it?
    When I go to visit Provincetown I stay at North of the Highlands camp ground
    for no other reason than the spectacular forest ecology. Its very unique. I have not
    seen a lichen ground cover anywhere else. So one day me and two friends were walking around and went “off the path”. However there is an impression of a path, sort of a line ground underneath the canopy of the bushes, that leads to the plot. It would be hard to explain where it is, but all I can say is before we found it we walked on a ridge between two particularly deep depressions. Deep enough where the tops of the trees were at the level of our feet, but maybe this is just my idea of it. We thought the grave was some sort of halloween decoration at first. Its in very good condition. We admired it for awhile and had a beer in his name.(I hope he wasnt a puritan!)

  11. My mother a Ridley, this ancestor Thomas is the son of Captain Marke Ridley, our family tree from Truro Mass, which hence has scattered throughout America.