With Memorial Day weekend in the rearview mirror, it is important to acknowledge those who have died while serving for their country.

At the Riverside Cemetery on Friday, May 27, Bill and Ruth Wakeley did just that — recognizing the men and women who’ve served by placing flags next to their graves.

Every year, this is done at many cemeteries in many different towns.

During the process, the Wakeleys replaced any old flags on the gravestones with new ones. Any old flags are sent to be burned at a flag-burning ceremony later in the year.

At Riverside Cemetery, in particular, there are graves from different years, ranging from the 1800s to recent. Most graves where flags are placed belong to people from the 1800s. With worn gravestones, it’s difficult to differentiate between each gravestone.

In order to navigate between the headstones, a gravestone layout at Riverside has been produced to get an idea of exactly where they are in the cemetery.   

Nero Hawley, a slave in Connecticut who joined the Continental Army during the American Revolution, was buried at the Riverside Cemetery back in the early 1800s along with other historical people of the time.

The man, the myth, the legend

Nero Hawley was born in 1742 and died in 1817 at the age of 75.

He served at the Valley Forge during the winters of 1777 and 1778, and is featured in the book From Valley Forge to Freedom.

Below Hawley’s headstone, there is a platform which states “Nero Hawley made bricks at the kiln where these bricks were made about 1/2 mile north of here at the clay pits. Circa 1776-1800."

Nero’s gravestone is located in the center row, near the far end of the cemetery.

About the cemetery

The historic cemetery has been around since 1807, when 35 neighbors and friends, including Nero Hawley, joined together and purchased the land for $71.21 and used it as a burial ground. It isn’t all that big and is often times overlooked for its size.

The cemetery, which is part of The Freedom Trail, is located down a seemingly hidden road off of Daniels Farm Road.

The Freedom Trail extends through all of Connecticut, including buildings reported to have been used in the Underground Railroad, gravesites, monuments, homes, and other structures that represent American freedom.