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Tombstone in basement opens a window into Bridgewater’s history

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Derek Kruk sat beside the tombstone for Jabez Harden, which is embedded in the basement of his home in Bridgewater.
Derek Kruk sat beside the tombstone for Jabez Harden, which is embedded in the basement of his home in Bridgewater.Jessica Rinaldi

Derek Kruk and his roommates wondered about the tombstone in their Bridgewater home. They figured the stone, laid flat and sunk into the concrete floor of the basement, wasn't covering a body — but it probably had a story behind it.

"If I'm hanging out with a few people, I'll just say, 'There's a grave in my basement,' " said Kruk, a fourth-year criminal justice student at Bridgewater State University. "And they'll be, like, 'What are you talking about?' "

It turned out that the yellowed stone had once marked the burial site of Jabez Harden, who served as a teenager in the War of 1812. His father, Samuel, fought in the Revolutionary War, and his son, Benjamin, served the Union in the Civil War.

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After Kruk and his roommates embarked on a quest to find out the stone's origins, all three Hardens got military honors at their graves that had been overlooked.

The town adorned Jabez Harden's resting place in a local cemetery with a medallion showing that he had served in the War of 1812. His father and son received similar recognition.

"It's always important because it's a connection to our history and our past," Bridgewater Veterans Agent Roderick K. Walsh said of the medallions. "Current residents and the young people in our community should be aware that people sacrificed 200 years ago for this country."

Town Clerk Marilee Hunt found that the stone in the basement had probably been discarded and Jabez Harden now shares a headstone with his wife, Sarah (Pratt) Harden and his in-laws in a cemetery.

Documents suggest that Harden may have actually been born in 1795, though his headstone lists 1796. Records show he was part of the state militia during the War of 1812. He died in 1879.

Benjamin Harden was born in 1833 and raised on a farm, and worked in agriculture and the lumber business, according to a town history. After an 1861 call for volunteers by President Lincoln, he joined the military and served a term largely at Fort Monroe in Virginia. He was honorably discharged after one tour of duty and returned home. He died in 1905.

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Historical records also indicate that Jabez had another son, Albert, who also served in the Civil War. Albert Harden was born in 1842. He was a corporal and served for three years starting in 1862 before being discharged for disability. Bridgewater officials could not be reached Monday for further information about Albert's gravesite.

Detailed records were not available about the service of Jabez's father, Samuel, in the Revolutionary War.

Hunt is encouraged that the town's archives have helped reveal a piece of local history to a new generation. Such endeavors are what makes her job so satisfying, she said.

"It's very rewarding to help people find those kind of details for their life, to see where their roots are and what their history is," she said.

It's not clear how the stone got there — Kruk's landlord could not be reached for comment — but the tenants believe it is being used to cover a hole in the floor. There's another, nondescript block of the same size nearby, Kruk said.

The roommates are pleased that their curiosity has led to recognition for three men who served the nation.

"Initially, we just started trying to figure out who he was," Kruk said. "It turned into something actually worthwhile, and we got someone the recognition he deserved. All three of them, actually."

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The new stone for Harden, who served in the War of 1812 and died in 1879, is in Bridgewater’s Pratt Town Cemetery.
The new stone for Harden, who served in the War of 1812 and died in 1879, is in Bridgewater’s Pratt Town Cemetery.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.