Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Plot Thickens . . .

In two previous posts, I have discussed efforts to identify the carvers of some gravestones in Brooklyn, CT. I went to the library this morning to read up on John Dwight, and have found some helpful information, but also uncovered a few new mysteries.

First, some background info:
John Dwight was born in Boston c. 1740 to Capt. John Dwight (d. 1744) and a mother whose maiden name was Foster. In her article, "The John Dwight Workshop in Shirley, MA, 1770-1816," Eloise Sibley West suggests that Dwight's mother may have been related to the stonecutting Foster family of Dorchester and that John may have learned to carve in their shop. By 1770, Dwight was living on a farm in Shirley with his wife, Susanna Harris Moors Dwight, and their growing family (they eventually had 8 children plus Susanna's kids from a previous marriage).

West says this of the earliest stone attributed to Dwight:
The earliest stone I have found that can be attributed to John Dwight is that of William Simonds (1758) in the Shirley Center Burial Ground. It is probably back-dated by several years since it displays the skill of an experienced carver. This stone is not documented but does have many of the elements typical of Dwight's early patterns. The Simonds stone has a round skull with narrow chin, round eyes, pointed nose, and visible teeth. The high wings begin at the side of the face, along with the palm fronds. Hollowed lobes droop from the top. The outside feathers of the wings are ribbed — a good element for identifying Dwight's work. Pinwheel and teardrop finials were chosen often. The scroll and leaf border and lettering are typical of the carver's work. His peculiar mark is barely visible in the corners of the stone's tablet.
Dwight's "peculiar mark" is a tiny lozenge-shaped gouge that can be found in the upper corners of the stone, near the finials. They are clearly visible on the Hannah Stickney stone. West says that she has "not seen this exact identification used by any other carver."

Happily, these distinctive marks can also be observed on three of the five stones I mentioned in yesterday's post (Scarborough, Perrin, and Grosvenor). There may also be marks on the Penelope Williams stone, but I can't see them in the pics and I didn't know I was looking for them when I visited that particular stone.

But, the plot thickens.

There are other stones in Pomfret, CT that bear Dwight's distinctive mark and a share some elements of his signature style, but which predate his earliest known stone by more than a decade. These may be cases of drastic backdating. Then again, they are a little different from Dwight's other designs.

Stone #1:
Martha Cotton, Pomfret, CT, 1744
This stone shows many signs that point to Dwight (lozenge marks, slate, border scrolls, visible teeth, narrow chin, etc.). The Martha Cotton stone actually reminds me more of the Thomas Williston stone (1783) in Copp's Hill in Boston more than it reminds me of other Dwight stones. Notice the wing design:
Of course, Dwight may have carved the Williston stone too, but it looks very different from the other work he was turning out in the 1780s.

Stone #2:
Anna Cotton, Pomfret, CT, 1746
This stone has no tic marks in the corners, but it is very similar to Anna's mother's stone.

Stone #3:
Thomas Cotton, Pomfret, CT, 1770
This stone definitely bears Dwight's signature marks. Perhaps the Cotton family contracted Dwight to make Cotton's stone in 1770 and asked him to make some backdated stones for Martha and Anna while he was at it. I'm sorry that these pics are so awful — I didn't realize I'd be using them.

Stone #4:
Zechariah Waldo, Pomfret, CT, 1761
Is that a Dwight mark in the left corner? Hard to say. But the style looks right. Those three-lobed leaves in the border look like Dwight's work to me.

Stone #5:
David Howe, Pomfret, CT, 1768
Bingo. Tic marks in the corners, whorls in the finials, parentheses in the epitaph. This is the only one of these stones that really looks like the Simonds stone in West's article.

Stone #6:
Jehosophat Holmes, Pomfret, CT, 1745
The Dwight marks are clearly visible on this one. The face looks very different from the David Howe stone, but similar to the Martha Cotton stone, except that the wings are stunted. What gives? 

Stone #7:
Abigail Grosvenor, Pomfret, CT, 1763
There's a hint of a corner mark on the right, but I can't be sure. The wings look right, though. Someone was obviously dissatisfied with the epitaph and carved the addendum "JUNR" in the stonecutter's equivalent to crayon marks.

And really, all of these stones look very much like the Williams brothers' stone in Brooklyn, CT:

So why would a successful Massachusetts carver take up the project of backdating lots of stones for a community 60 miles away? Was there another carver in Dwight's shop who came from the Pomfret area and brought this style with him? Or did someone move to Pomfret from Boston, bringing that Copp's Hill style along with him?


Robert J. said...

I'm just an interested amateur like you; I only know the few localities and people that I've look into. But for what they're worth:

#1 & #2 are surely the work of the James Foster workshop of Dorchester.

#3 is definitely very early John Dwight. His lettering style is unmistakable (note the tiny t, inscribed entirely within the x-height; an extremely unusual feature). John Dwight appears to have copied his usual border from the Foster shop's template. This stone is a very early one, before the distinctive face-style of most of his early work had developed.

#4 - don't know. Definitely not Dwight.

#5 is extremely interesting. It must be very early Dwight, with some of his features ("Dwight drops" and "Dwight sprouts" in proto-form). I'm worried by the lettering, though, which doesn't quite look like his. Compare the Simonds stone in West's paper.

#6 - can't see too well. My guess is that it's a Foster stone from Dorchester.

#7 looks like a Foster stone also, but I'm certainly not an expert on them.

Also, I wouldn't put too much confidence in the Dwight corner gouge. It is indeed usually there in his earlier stones, but not always, and in the later ones (he and his son are working well into the willow-n-urn period) it is absent. I have a very hard time with some of the later stones that may be from the Dwight workshop -- the styles all seem to merge and become much more generic (i.e., uninteresting).

You should have a copy of Forbes' "Early New England Gravestones" at hand for general reference. Even though it's old, it still hasn't been surpassed for a general overview of the major carvers.

Robert J. said...

Here you go: Pomfret, Connecticut, was settled from Roxbury, Mass., adjacent to Dorchester:

Foster stones are abundant in Dorchester and Roxbury. And Forbes illustrates a 1734 George Payson stone from Dorchester, carved by the Foster workshop.

I.e., Pomfret was a suburb of Dorchester.

Robert J. said...

Yup, I just checked Slater's "Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut" and he's got most of this down already. Pomfret maintained a long association with its communities of origin in eastern Massachusetts, and he notes the presence of many slate stones from the Foster workshop. He does *not* mention Dwight, however, so this may be a new angle that hasn't been described yet.