New England is full of ghosts. A walk in the woods will bring you across old stone walls by the mile. In places that you feel like you’re the first person to ever walk in a place, you’ll come across hard evidence to the contrary. Settlers and the farmers who came after them cleared this land, raised crops and the next season did it all over again. New England’s gift to these farmers were the stones that would come up with the frost, which the farmer would toss drag to the edge of the field to build stone fences to mark the property line, or the line between crops and grazing fields for livestock. It was a hard life, compounded by hard winters, disease, wars with the native population, and a whole host of other things.
These early residents lived in modest houses built over stone cellars. The houses are mostly long gone now, and many of the cellar holes are too. But many remain to tell their story. Coming across an old cellar hole in the woods is like a telegram from the people who once lived in the house it sat on. Cellar holes and the stone walls are often the only thing left to mark the existence of these people.
This cellar hole in Hampstead, NH was once the foundation of the house that Job Kent lived in. Job was born in 1743, bought land from his father to farm, and built a house on this site around 1770. Job fought in the Revolutionary War as a Sergeant in the Northern Army, and he died in 1837. He’s buried in the Town Cemetery in Hampstead, making his stay in town permanent. Today his farmland is conservation land, hopefully making the land a permanent monument to what once was; forest and, for a time, farmland. The stone walls criss-cross the land marking the fields that sustained Job and his family at a significant time in our nations history. The walls and his cellar hole marks where he lived his life. Quiet now, this cellar hole was once the foundation of a busy family enduring the struggle of living off the cold, unforgiving New Hampshire land. Job Kent didn’t make a large dent in the universe, but he lived a life of significance, fought for our nation’s independence, and returned to his farm afterwards to work it season after season.
I spent a little time inside this cellar hole and walking around the woods in November 2016. I didn’t hear ghosts calling out to me at the time, but this hole and the man who built it still stay with me 17 months later. Almost 52 and I’m still building my stone walls. I’ve got a good foundation beneath me, and hope to make my own dent in the universe, however modest that dent might be.