But these gravestones do occasionally contain misspellings that shed light on the limits of literacy in Concord (at least among stone carvers). The John and Anna Howard stone (1718) in the South Quarter Burying Place is somewhat crudely carved (both the lunette design and the letters are amateur) and contains the interesting misspelling "wife fo." It is unlikely that a literate person would misspell the word "of." It's even stranger that no one gouged out the mistake and amended it. Perhaps the carver was copying an epitaph written by a more talented artisan and most of the people who saw the stone couldn't read it well enough to correct him.The Mary Meriam stone (1731) at Old Burial Hill has two interesting mistakes: the misspelling of "relict" as "reliks" and the division of the word "anno" into "an" and "no." The former mistake is unique to this stone, but the latter appears on several other stones by the same carver. This suggests that the carver may have been literate in English but did not recognize Latin. When presented with a Latin word, he transformed it into English homophones.
Another curious misspelling can be found on the Joseph Hubburd stone (1768): "Here lies Burred . . ." This is a strange mistake, especially since any gravestone carver must have carved the word "buried" hundreds of times. Perhaps this is just a mistake — the carver's mind wandered and the "r" looked enough like an "i" that his eye just skipped over it. Then again, perhaps the misspelling reflects a regional pronunciation (like the "depated" stones).
I'm also going to assume that this person's name was "Humphrey Barret," and not "Humprey Barret."
UPDATE: Cranky Yankee's comment made me reflect on this a bit, so I want to make it clear that I'm not arguing that phonetic spelling is evidence of a lack of literacy. The most educated men and women in America often spelled as the spirit moved them until the end of the 18th century (and beyond). Rather, I'm saying that some of these mistakes ("fo") hint at a low level of literacy while others ("an no") merely reflect a lack of familiarity with Latin.
Thanks to commenter RJO for supplying some details about the carver of this stone: John Worster.
I'm posting a photo of the John Meriam stone (1724) for a couple of reasons. First, Worster (or a letterer in his shop) misspelled the month ("Feruary"). I also think that it supplies evidence that the letterer thought that "AN" and "NO" were separate words. It looks like he likes to put big spaces between words when he needs to take up room, rather than splitting words into syllables (see lines 1, 4, 8, and 9).
The space between AN and NO might be a spacing issue rather than a Latin issue. I'm not sure I'm right, but I think I can make a good case for the latter.