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Roger Terrill of Surrey — A Monumental Record?

by Conrad W. Terrill, 28 August 2009

DOR member Phyllis Richardson recently directed our attention to a very peculiar record, an item in a list of tombstone inscriptions in Rahway Public Cemetery, Rahway NJ, read and transcribed long ago (1950s?) by Ruth Carter Hillier, and compiled and typed in manuscript form by Delene H. Keddington. This manuscript was put in web form on RootsWeb in 2000 by Arlene Dunkum and a group of volunteers from RootsWeb's Union County NJ listserve. This list is where Phyllis noticed the curious item:


Roger (Ins. Roger Terrill or Tyrrel of Surrey, England, settled in New England about 1638.)

"Ins." means "inscription:" or "inscribed" (this abbreviation is used extensively in the manuscript), so it's what follows that's of concern to us. The most curious aspect of this item is its very existence in this list. Rahway Cemetery has grown from the cemetery of First Presbyterian Church of Rahway, which formed in the early 1700's. The earliest tombstone there, probably from a farm graveyard predating the formation of the church, is dated 1727. However, (our) Roger Terrill who settled in New England about 1638 died circa 1682, very likely in Milford CT, where he lived. Descendants of Roger have always assumed that he is buried there in the old Milford cemetery, in an unmarked grave. So what do we make of this bizarre item?

First, why is it important to us? Because, of course, it states that Roger was "of Surrey, England"! Since we don't know Roger's England origins this piece of information is extremely important. (Surrey, by the way, is the county across the Thames from London.) But is it true that Roger was from Surrey? We'd have to know more about this record to even begin to form an assessment. It would help enormously if we could take a look at the monument, and view its surroundings. We'd like to know: Who erected it? When? In whose plot does it stand? What is it (or, what was it), exactly? My wife, Judy, and I went up to Rahway Cemetery (a four hour trip for us) on a Saturday in early August to take a look. We'd made arrangements in advance, and were met by Billy McCracken, the groundskeeper, anticipating that he would lead us to the monument. How overly optimistic! Judy and I searched the entire old part, in vain. But many of the tombstones are unreadable, and some have fallen on their faces. I have been back to Rahway Cemetery since, better prepared, but no more successful. On that second visit, prior to my planned systematic search of the entire cemetery, I met with Alex Shipley, Director of Operations for the Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum Association (he's also the Rahway city historian), and with Eric Rickes, the president of the Rahway Public Cemetery Association, both of whom were very helpful, and both of whom are as perplexed as I am.

Let's look now at the record itself: 1.) Why is no date of death given? We think this is probably because the inscription is not on a Roger Terrill tombstone. It may be part of an inscription on someone else's tombstone (which raises more questions). 2.) Why "Terrill or Tyrrel"? This could be a clue. It's not entirely surprising that a memorial to Roger Terrill should exist in Rahway. Roger's son Thomas settled in this area, probably in the early 1690's, and probably in what is now Linden. Many of his descendants lived and died in Rahway. But all of these descendants spelled their surname "Terrill"—so why should the inscription on Roger's monument read "Terrill or Tyrrel"? Perhaps it was because the monument was erected by some other descendant of Roger and Thomas, someone who did not live and die in Rahway. Many such descendants did spell their name "Tyrrel." Or perhaps the inscription is based on some piece of memorabilia, passed down from Roger, inscribed "Roger Tyrrel, Surrrey." It's very likely that Roger's surname was spelled "Tyrrel," "Tyrrell," "Terrill" and many other ways in early 17th century England. 3.) The most recent tombstone included in the Hillier/Keddington manuscript is dated 1952, so we can assume that the Roger Terrill monument dates to some time before that.

Have we hit a brick wall? Not yet. How can we proceed? We're alreading proceeding. We've communicated with Arlene Dunkum, and we've written to Delene H. Keddington. We'll write to Ruth Carter Hillier too, if we find that she's still alive. It's expecting a lot, of course, to think that anyone might remember details of work that she did fifty years ago. But it's worth asking. We've also learned that an earlier (1929) Rahway Cemetery tombstone inscription effort was conducted by the Rebecca Cornell Chapter of the DAR. This effort involved the transcription of tombstones dating up to 1850. There is no mention in the report of the "Roger Terrill or Tyrrel of Surrey ..." inscription. Does this mean that the Roger Terrill monument was erected sometime between 1850 and 1952? Possibly. Probably. (I don't know.) In my systematic search of the cemetery I searched all but a narrow tract of newer tombstones on the left, running from the front of the cemetery to the back. Some of those dated to pre-1952, I think. (Contact me if you're interested in finishing up the search. You'll definitely want to know where the bees are.) Even if we are able to find the monument there's still the question of how some person knew that Roger Terrill was from Surrey. Of course, we can ignore the question entirely and begin searching Surrey records for some trace of our Roger Terrill. In fact, we've already begun. And it's already evident that this search will require considerable work. It will also require luck, to be able to determine that some Roger Terrill from Surrey, born sometime between 1605 and 1620, we suppose, is very likely our Roger Terrill. We are not dropping other England counties from consideration, though, since we have not established any provenance at all for the unfound Rahway monument. Still, the England search effort is under way, focussing, for a start, on Surrey.


Arlene Dunkum's groups' transcription now appears on other web sites, including those of the Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum Association, of Rahway NJ, and the Westfield Memorial Library (where Arlene found the Hillier/Keddington manuscript), in Westfield NJ. Arlene informs us that her list is an exact replica of the Hillier/Keddington manuscript.

New Jersey DAR report ; s1 v038.5 : Inscriptions on Grave-stones in the Presbyterian Cemetery, Rahway, New Jersey from the earliest to 1850, ("copied from lists compiled by Mr. Marsh, Miss Quimby, and Mr. George Thomas"); DAR Library, Washington, DC.