Eastern Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Portland, with reputed burials dating to the late 17th Century. The oldest known gravestone in the cemetery dates from 1717, when Mary Green died. The earliest known Irish Catholics in Portland are buried here.
A John Mayland, a native of Ireland, was buried here in March 1804, aged 19. He is not listed as a Catholic, but three years later Mrs. Mary Gannon, listed as a Catholic, was buried in Section L of Eastern Cemetery. She is one of the first known Irish Catholics to be buried in Portland. The wife of a cabinetmaker named Michael Gannon, Mary died February 16, 1807, aged 29. A James Davis, Catholic, was buried in the cemetery in 1810 at the age of 46. His gravesite is lost.
Nicholas Shea (1776-1824) was buried in Section B-10 with his wife and several children. Shea, a County Wexford native, and his wife Barbara Connolly Shea resided on the corner of Free and Cross Streets, where he operated a grocery store. In the spring of 1822, Mass was first celebrated in Portland in their home by Bishop Jean Cheverus of Boston. When Nicholas died, his widow Barbara continued to run the store until her own death in January 1830. Their daughter Eleanor was buried here in 1807 at the age of nine months and was followed in death by two young brothers, Nicholas in 1813, and Edward in 1824. Another son named Nicholas was buried here in 1875, aged 57.
Some of the Irish Catholics buried here in the 1830s and 1840s included Mrs. Catherine Bowers, wife of Nicholas, and their son Nicholas; John Duffy (1772-1838); Margaret Finney (Feeney?), widow of Peter, who died January 1, 1837, aged 75; John M. Haggerty (1826-1828), the son of John, a tailor, and his wife Susan; Richard Landers, the five year old son of prominent Irishman John Landers; Margaret McAnelley, wife of Patrick, who died in 1838, aged 28; John O’Friell, the fifteen-year old son of Barney, who died in 1834 (buried Section C:89); and Martin O’Riley, a native of Anacarty Parish, County Tipperary, and four of his children (Section B:14).
John Connor, son of John Connor, a prominent block maker from Wexford, was buried in the cemetery in March 1843, aged 16. His brothers Charles F. and Richard Connor are also buried here. They died four days apart in their early twenties in the fall of 1855. All three gravesites are lost. The father John was one of the founders of St. Dominic’s Church.
John Mahan (1818-1846) was buried in “A Tomb 67.” He was the grandson of William McMahon (McMahan), an Irish schoolteacher who taught in Portland (Falmouth) during Revolutionary War times.
On July 21, 1851, Daniel Sheridan (spelled Sherredon in the records), age 19, was killed on board the steamer Boston. He was “crushed to death in the crank pit, where he had fallen.” Daniel was interred in Eastern Cemetery, but his gravesite is lost.
It is interesting to note that at least two African-American Catholics are buried in the cemetery. Mary Martin, the wife of Francis, died in February 1822, age 42. Her husband died in 1836, at the age of 64. The records note that they were Catholic and that they were interred in Sections L and A, respectively.
After the 1830s, most Irish Catholics were buried in the Catholic Ground of Western Cemetery, and after 1858, they were brought across Vaughan’s Bridge to be interred in Calvary Cemetery in what is now South Portland. Most of the graves and gravesite locations of the Catholics in Eastern Cemetery are lost, although some survive. There was a cluster of such gravesites off Funeral Lane, near the main entrance to the cemetery on Congress Street.
Related sites: Western Cemetery, St. Dominic Church