Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sarah Jackson Inches

To the person who is running Google searches for "Sally Jackson Inches" and "Joseph Jackson Esq Boston":

If you are interested in more information on these people, please leave a comment here and I will email you. I have a whole thesis filled with trivia about them.


101 Ways, Part 45: Yielding Up Her Spirit

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

North Burial Ground, Providence, RI:

In Memory of
the amiable daughter
of the Hon. Darius Sessions
& Sarah his wife;
who though suddenly called,
met her dissolution with great
yeilding up her spirit into the
hands of her Creator in full
confidence of His power and mercy,
on the 22d. day of Oct. 1829,
in the 60th year
of her age.

The beautifully precise lettering is the work of S. Tingley & Sons, whose work dominates the Providence burying grounds during the 1810-1840 period.

Monday, September 29, 2008

101 Ways, Part 44: Ended All Her Cares in Quiet Death

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

Wednesday was such a nice fall day, I had to blow off my reading and take a road trip. I ended up in Bristol, RI at the North Burial Ground, which is right next to Colt State Park.

There, I found this great stone which, unfortunately, is in tragic shape. I noticed about thirty other stones in this cemetery that have fallen and are half buried and mown over, as well as another dozen thrown in a pile. I don't know what their conservation policy is in Bristol, but it seems to involve attrition rather than preservation.

Here lies the Body of
the amiable ELIZABETH
and Daughter of
of Bristol
who ended all her Cares in quiet Death
January 17th A.D. 1777
In the 23d. Year of
her Age.

Update: I should add that this stone was carved by Stephen Hartshorn, descendant of John Hartshorne. According to James Slater, Stephen and his brother Charles did not follow in their ancestor's "carving tradition but rather in that of George and Gabriel Allen and the Narragansett Basin school of carving on slate" (Slater, The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut, 112).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

101 Ways, Part 43: Expired in the Faith of Christ

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
In Memory of
Consort to
who expired in the faith of Christ
June 2d. 1790
In the 54th Year
Of Her age
This corruptible must put on incorruption
and this mortal must put on immortality.

The professor who introduced me to material culture studies had a theory about this stone: he thought that, perhaps, the text on the scroll is meant to be read from inside the stone/grave. I don't know if that's right, but, frankly, I don't have any better guesses.

The verse is 1 Corinthians 15:53. I checked to see if it is KJV or Geneva, but this particular verse is identical in both.

iMovie Creations

I'm learning to use iMovie. It isn't as easy or intuitive as iPhoto, but I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Here are some of my practice creations. Compression for YouTube was not kind to them:

Grant, Grant, Grant:

Hail Columbia:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

101 Ways, Part 42: Fell by the Hands of . . . an Infatuated Man

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

On December 11, 1782, William Beadle of Wethersfield, CT attacked his family with a knife and an axe, killing his wife and all four (or five?) of his children. He then committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol. The family's maid was the only survivor of the household — William sent her to bring a letter to a neighbor just before the attack. The letter turned out to be a confession, but by the time the neighbors arrived at the house, it was too late.

William Beadle was not the only 18th-century American to murder his family. Many modern readers will be familiar with the Purrinton murders, a case publicized by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Midwife's Tale. Between 1780 and 1840, at least seven American men committed acts of familicide, crimes that were widely publicized in sensational (and very popular) pamphlets. Daniel Cohen, author of "Homicidal Compulsion and the Conditions of Freedom," argues that family annhilators "were profoundly traumatized by the radical new 'conditions of freedom' experienced by common Americans in the early republic, particularly the new geographic mobility, economic instability, and religious liberty."

Most of the family annihilators, like Beadle, committed suicide and were not given "decent" burials. I'm not sure whether they were denied the honors of burial in consecrated ground because they were murderers or because they were suicides. Here's the Connecticut Journal (12/12/1782) on the subject:

I have not been to the graveyard in Whethersfield, so I don't have a picture of Lydia Beadle's grave. I don't want to steal other people's photos, but I will link to them (here and here).

Here lie interred Mrs. Lydia
Beadle Age 32 Years
Ansell Lothrop Elizabeth Lydia & Mary
Beadle her Children: the eldest aged
11 and the youngest 6 years Who
on the morning of the 11th day of Decr AD 1782
Fell by the hands of William Beadle
an infatuated Man who closed the
horrid sacrifice of his Wife
& Children with his own destruction.

Pale round their grassy tombs bedew's with tears,
Flit the thin forms of sorrow and of fears;
Soft sighs responsive swell to plaintive chords,
And Indignations half unsheath their swords.

Friday, September 26, 2008

101 Ways, Part 41: Passed into the World of Spirits

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

From Billerica, MA:

Sacred to the Memory of
Mrs. Ann Cumings Consort
of the Revd. Henry Cumings
Who quitted this Stage of Mortality
and passed into the world of Spirits
Jan 5, 1784 in ye 45th Year of her Age
supported by lively Hopes of ent'ring
into the Joys of her Lord.
My flesh shall slumber in the ground
Til the last trumpet's joyful sound,
Then burst the grave, with sweet surprize,
And in my Saviour's image rise.
Cease then my friends to mourn, Bid earth adieu,
Loosen from hence the grasp of fond desire,
Weigh anchor and some happier clime explore.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Memo: Drinking "Flip and Shrub" Makes You a Liar

I had to prepare a mock lecture for my 19th century proseminar this week, which included a section on evangelical reformers. I needed an illustration for the slide show, so I dug around in the Early American Imprints collection at Archive of Americana (a life saver!) and found this broadside: The Drunkard's Looking-Glass, distributed by Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia in 1810.

This broadside contains lots of useful information, including "symptoms of drunkenness" such as "singing, halooing, roaring, imitating thenoises of brute animals, jumping, tearing off clothes, dancing naked, breaking glasses and china, and dashing other articles of household furniture upon the ground or floor." Also, drinking gin will send you to the GALLOWS.
In case you're wondering, "flip" is a drink made by pouring a gill of rum into a mug of beer that has been sweetened with pumpkin, cream, eggs, molassas, and/or sugar, and then stirring it all up with a red-hot poker.

Shrub is actually quite nice — we used to make it for Civil War reenactments because it's refreshing even at room temperature. I know that drinking a big ol' cup of vinegar sounds a little strange, but it's not bad.

101 Ways, Part 40: Second Birth

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

Here I go again, breaking my own rules. These gravestones are way outside of my original chronological constraints. The only defense I can offer is that they are from the South Burying Ground in Billerica, where almost all of the stones are from the colonial era.

I wonder if there are any modern Christian gravestones that record three births: a physical birth, a spiritual birth, and an immortal birth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Obscure Offices

Did you know that Andrew Craigie was the United States' first Apothecary General?

Did you know that there used to be an office called "Apothecary General"?

I didn't. Thanks, biography of Longfellow!*

*I'm reading Calhoun's biography of HWLongfellow for class. Longfellow's rich father-in-law bought the house on Brattle St. in Cambridge from Craigie's widow.

Beyond Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker

Recently, I was thumbing through the Boston city directory for 1798 and noticed that many women were identified by their non-domestic professions. Here is a sample — I only listed one woman for each of the professions (there are dozens of hucksters, mantua-makers, and school mistresses). Most unexpected female profession: "Cancer Doctress."

Maria Ayers, mantua-maker
Patty Bacon, school-mistress
Sarah Badger, huckster
Anna Barrel, instructress
Augusta Baxter, milliner
Elizabeth Bayley, baker
Ruth Beales, glove-maker
Susanna Benjamin, retailer
Dorcas Blake, nurse
Catherine Breal, boarding house proprietor
Mary and Faith Butler, shopkeepers
Mary Clough, seamstress
Ann Corbitt, tayloress
Eleanor Druitt, boarding school proprietor
Silence Eustis, washerwoman
Abigail Perkins, ironer
Hannah Pope, cancer doctress
Eleanor Reed, slop shop owner
Mary Wentworth, pastry cook
Abigail Woodman, toy shop proprietor

favorite male profession: lemon dealer (there were at least 3!)

101 Ways, Part 39: Breathed Her Soul Away into Her Saviour's Arms

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

My, but those Newburyport-ers were verbose. Here is the bizarre and prolix epitaph of Mary McHard:
Sacred to the Memory
the virtuous & amiable Consort of
of NewburyPort who amidst the
laudable exertions of a very useful
& desireable Life in which her
Christian Profession was well adorned
and a fair copy of every social vir-
tue displayed was in a state of
health suddenly summoned to
the Skies and snatched from ye eager
embraces of her friends (and the
throbbing hearts of her disconso-
late family confessed their fairest
prospects of sublunary bliss were
in one moment dashed) by swal-
lowing a pea at her own table,
whence in a few hours she sweetly
breathed her Soul away into her
SAVIOUR'S arms on the 8th day
of March A.D. 1780 AEtatis 47.

Photo available at A Very Grave Matter.
I attempted to get my own photo, but the Newburyport cemetery is a weird, west-facing cemetery with lots of trees and I was never able to figure out the right lighting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

101 Ways, Part 38: Finish'd a Life of Examplary Piety

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

We're getting to the end of my poorly-lit trip to Newburyport, thank goodness.
SACRED to the Memory
Mr. Ralph Cross
Who served God & the Presbyterian
Church as a ruling Eder in this
town more than XI years
being a faithfull reprover of vice
both in public and private
Finish'd a Life of Examplary Piety
in a well Grounded hope
of eternal glory
Janr. the 4th 1788 in the 82nd
year of his Age.

Monday, September 22, 2008

101 Ways, Part 37: Hung

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

Obviously, this is not a seventeenth-century stone. In 1998, the town of Marblehead, MA erected this gravestone on Old Burial Hill to memorialize a local fisherman's wife, Wilmot Redd, who was executed for witchcraft on September 22, 1692. Redd, an acerbic, impoverished, middle-aged woman, was accused of torturing the young girls of Salem Village. The transcript of her "examination" preserves the frenzy of the courtroom scene:
When this examinant was brought in Mercy Lewis Mary Walcot and Abigail Williams fell into fits. Mercy Lewis said this Woman hath Pincht me a great many time Mary Walcot sais this woman brought the Book to her. Ann Putnam jure Saith she never hurt her, but she hath seen her once upon Mercy Lewis and once upon Mary Walcot the last fast day, Eliz. Hubbard said this Examinant had brought the book to her, and told her she would knock her in the head, if she would not write. Ann Putnam said she brought the Book to her just now. Eliz. Booth fell into a fit, and Mary Walcot and Ann Putnam said it was this woman afflicted her, Susan Sheldon was ordered to go to the examinant but was knockt down before she came to her, and being so carryed to said Redd in a fit, was made well after said Redd had graspt her arm. Eliz. Hubbard dealt with after the same manner. This examinant was bid by the Magistrates to look upon said Hubbard, she the said Hubbard was knoct down. Abig. Williams and John Indian being carried to the examinant in a greivous fit were made well by her grasping their arms. This examinant being often urged what she thought these Persons ailed, would reply, I cannot tell. Then being askt if she did not think they were Bewitched: she answered I cannot tell, And being urged for her opinion in the case. All she would say was: my opinion is they are in a sad condition.
More documents of Redd's trial, including additional testimony against her, can be found here.

New Englanders of the nineteenth century remembered Wilmot Redd in a popular rhyme:
Old Mammy Redd of Marblehead,
Sweet milk could turn to mold in churn.

I could be picky about the hanged vs. hung issue, but I'm trying to reduce stress in my life by learning to let these things go.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Destitute of the Qualities of a Gentlemen"

I'm thinking of having some of these printed up, but substituting my name at the bottom and leaving a blank for the offender.

101 Ways, Part 36: Lost at Sea

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

In coastal towns like Newburyport, MA, many gravestones bear the epitaph, "lost at Sea." As you can see from the Brown family stone, the sea could claim many members of the same family.
In many maritime communities, so many men died at sea (or spent months away from home) that women ended up taking very active roles as heads of households. I recommend Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's discussion of "deputy husbands" in colonial Salem in Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

101 Ways, Part 35: Her Longing Spirit Sprung . . .

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

Ok, this one is a little long. I felt like I needed to diagram this sentence in order to find the verb for the title. Despite the syntax, I think it is more sincere than the Anna Palmer epitaph:

to the Memory of
the mournfull but resign'd relict of 
sleeps in dust beside her
to Religion she was an ornament to
the neglect of it a Reproof.
After a long confinement by a languishing
disease which yet could never draw her to
a discontented moan nor quench the ardor
of incessant prayer,
Her SAVIOUR whisper'd rise and come away
and at the welcome sound her longing spirit
sprung with joyfull assurance from the eager
arms of lov'd and loving friends to the 
far more lov'd and loving arms of her LORD
On the 17th of May 1790
AEt 80.

Mercy Tappan, Newburyport, MA, 1790

Friday, September 19, 2008

101 Ways, Part 34: Changed This Mortal Life for That of Immortality

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
I had some lighting issues in Newburyport. Apologies for this photo.
Perhaps I'm just in an uncharitable mood, but I don't like this epitaph very much. It may very well be an expression of Anna Palmer's family's grief, but it comes off sounding pretentious and lugubrious:

Here darkness dwells —
Fit contemplation for proud human thought.
Under this mournful Stone
lie the remains of 
Wife of
who changed this mortal life for that 
of immortality on the 21st of
JULY AD 1786.
In the 32d Year of her age.
O the soft commerce! O the tender ties,
Close twisted with the Fibres of the Heart!
Which broken, break them; and drain off the soul
Of human joy; and make it pain to live —
And is it then to live? When such Friends part,
Tis the Survivor dies — my Heart! no more!

After reading this epitaph (and deciding I didn't like it much), I did some googling and found that the verse at the end is from Edward Young's poem The Relapse, which is part five of his famous Night Thoughts. This series of poems is, apparently, an important work of early Romanticism, but I found it quite a slog. 

Nevertheless, it is significant that Anna Palmer's family in Newburyport decided to convey their grief in the words of a poet whose "avowed purpose is to establish a defense of the teachings of Christian orthodoxy in direct protest against the optimistic philosophy of the deists."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Joined the Choir Invisible"

Here's a mental health break during this, the first week of classes. Who knows more ways to say "died" than John Cleese?

101 Ways, Part 33: Exchanged Worlds

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

The Newburyport, MA graveyard is full of beautiful stones, including this stunning example. I love the imagery of plucked flowers and this mother-and-child design is particularly poignant. I wonder what happened to them — the baby was 8 months old, so they probably didn't die as a direct result of the birth. Perhaps it was a difficult birth and mother and child were still weak when the August/September epidemics came around.

In Memory of
Wife of
who exchanged Worlds,
Augst 29th 1793;
in the 26th year
of her age.
Also MARY, her Infant,
who died Sept. 14th 1793,
aged 8 Months.
Ye Angels guard this sleeping Clay,
Till comes the great decisive day;
When in their SAVIOUR'S Image drest,
They'll wake to be completely blest.

I don't know who the carver was, but he was clearly very talented. Here are some other examples of his work from Newburyport:
Perhaps there is a clue in those shell-like scrolls in the border pattern. They look like the scrolls on this stone (and on the Parsons stone), though the carving style is different (deeper, not as nuanced):

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Constitution Day!

When I was teaching in California, we were required to devote the week of September 17th to the study of the Constitution. At all grade levels. In the low primary grades, most teachers confined themselves to writing a "Class Constitution" that set out goals and rules for the year.

I had second graders, so they were able to handle a little bit more. As long as they finished the week knowing that the Constitution is a list of rules for how to run the government, I was happy. We also made a "Freedom Quilt" (I know, I know), which was a 6-foot long piece of construction paper on which each child decorated a square with "America is . . . " It was goofy and indoctrinating, but some of the kids actually wrote pretty touching things. Not too surprising when you consider that most of the kids in the class were first generation Americans or immigrants themselves.

Whenever we talked about America or immigration, the kids always had hair-raising stories to tell. One little girl told us about how her father had to fight off snakes in the desert and eat rats when he went back to Mexico to get her mother. A friend of mine who taught fourth grade had a student who told the whole class about how he and his mother swam to San Diego one night, only to be caught, be sent back, and try again. I never really knew what to say to them.

Anyway, happy Constitution Day, and good luck to all of those kindergarten teachers who have to find some way to work these lesson plans in. Making a construction paper flag counts.

101 Ways, Part 32: Joined the Congregation of the Dead

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

This monument to the Rev. Ebenezer Bridge stands in Chelmsford, MA:

By the Church of 
Christ in Chelmsford. 
In Testimony of their Esteem and Veneration
this sepulchral Stone was erected, to stand as a
sacred Memorial of their late worthy Pastor,
the Reverend Ebenezer Bridge,
who after having officiated among them,
in the Service of the Sanctuary,
for more than a year above half a Century,
the Strength of Nature being exhausted 
sunk under the Burden of Age,
and joined the Congregation of the Dead,
Oct. 1 1792. Age, 78 yrs.
"Joined the Congregation of the Dead" is an unusual way to say, "died," particularly in light of the text of Proverbs 21:16:
  • The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead (KJV).
  • A man that wandereth out of the way of wisdom, shall remain in the congregation of the dead (Geneva).
My Bible skills may not be top-of-the-line, but that sounds bad to me. Do you really want your minister to be a member of the "congregation of the dead"? The only way I can put a positive spin on this is to say that perhaps Rev. Bridge is currently among the "congregation of the dead," but will rise on judgment day, while others will "remain" there. Any ministers/seminary students out there who want to tell me how this is an appropriate reference for a pastor's gravestone?

Thanks to RJO for the tip on this one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

101 Ways, Part 31: Passed to the Summer Land

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

This gentle epitaph can be found in the Menotomy Burying Ground in Menotomy/Arlington, MA.

Martha H.
Passed to the
Summer Land
Sept. 13, 1817
Et. 31 yrs
---- is no death[?]

Many thanks to Lori Stokes for pointing me toward this one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

101 Ways, Part 30: Killed By a Waggon

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
Also from Arlington, MA:

In memory of
son of Jonathan &
Sibil Frost
who was killed by a
waggon Sept. 11,

Perhaps it's unfair to count this as its own entry. After all, how much difference is there really between "killed by a waggon" and "kill'd by a cart"? On the other hand, I'm trying to get to 101, so I'm cutting myself some slack.

And if you find yourself in Arlington, MA, watch out for those carts/wagons.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yet Another Reason I'm Not Catholic Anymore

Check out this thread, in which a bunch of Catholics argue over whether there is any moral way to end an ectopic pregnancy. They are very concerned about avoiding directly killing the embryo and the consensus seems to be that a drug-induced abortion is not morally defensible, but a salpingectomy is ok because the embryo's death is incidental to the procedure. In any case, the termination of an ectopic pregnancy is deemed morally problematic and women who undergo any treatment for this life-threatening condition are advised to go to confession.

Fifty points to anyone who can spot a commenter on this 100-comment thread who acknowledges that saving a woman's life may have some moral merit. There may be one — I didn't get all the way to the end before I had to go increase my monthly donations to Planned Parenthood.

Keep these whackos off my body.

101 Ways, Part 29: Kill'd By a Cart

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

John Hill of Arlington was "kill'd by a cart" in 1798. Boston's Columbian Centinel elaborated in a June 30th death notice:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

101 Ways, Part 28: Barbarously Murdered in His Own Home by Gages Bloody Troops

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

On April 19, 1775, as the colonial militia chased the British Regulars back to Boston, some of the fiercest fighting took place in Menotomy/Arlington, near the home of Jason Russell. Russell, a 58-year-old farmer refused to flee with his neighbors. Supposedly declaring that, "An Englishman's home is his castle," he barricaded his door and decided to stay and fight. When his wife and children returned to the house after the battle, they found his bayonetted corpse (along with eleven other dead Americans and several Regulars scattered around the house and orchard). The Russell house still stands in Arlington — it is a museum and the headquarters of the Arlington Historical Society.

barbarously murdered in his own
House by GAGES bloody Troops
on ye 19 of April 1775 AEtats. 59.
His body is quietly resting
in this Grave with Eleven
of our friends who in Like
manner with many others were
cruelly Slain on that fatal day.
Blessed are ye dead who die in ye Lord.

I'm not really sure when this stone was erected, but, as Lori pointed out in comments, if it was put up during the occupation, it is a bold political statement. I think that it was probably carved soon after the battle because it stands in the shadow of a giant, post-war obelisk dedicated to Russell and the other dead. I'm just guessing here, but it looks like the slate stone was erected right away and the obelisk replaced it later.

The Jason Russell stone isn't the only occupation-era gravestone with an overt political message. In Billerica, MA, two epitaphs reference the war and its hardships.

The Lydia Dyer stone (1776) reads,

Here lies ye Body of the
the Place of her Nativity where
She left a good Estate & came
into ye Country May 22d. 1775 to
escape ye abuce of ye Ministerial
Troops sent by GEORGE ye 3d to
subject North-America to Slavery.
She died July 28th 1776, Aged 80 Years.
The sweet Remembrance of the Just
shall flourish when they Sleep in dust.
Rebecca White survived until 1782, but her epitaph still referenced her flight from Boston:
Here lies the Body of
Widow of Mr.
ISAAC WHITE late of Boston.
When the British Troops took possession
of the Town of Boston, she went
to her Son JOHN WHITE Esq.
of Charlestown and continued in his
Family 'til She died at Billerica,
Sept. 13th 1782 Aged 94 Years.

See also the Faith Durant stone in Dedham, MA (photo available on A Very Grave Matter):
Here lies buried
the Body of
Miss Faith Durant
Who was driven by the
hand of tyranny from
the place of her Nativity
She departed this life
Octr. 7th Anno 1775
Aged 56

Thanks to Lori Stokes for pointing me toward this epitaph.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Grief and the Myth of Puritan Stoicism

Over at The Historic Present, Lori makes a good point about the power of evocative epitaphs to combat the idea that the Puritans and their descendants were phelgmatic stoics who did not mourn their dead (particularly dead children) as modern Americans would.

The pernicious myth of Puritan dispassion has at least three main sources:
  • the colloquial use of words such as "puritan" and "puritanical" to describe prudish or moralistic elements of American culture — I prefer "Comstockery"
  • an assumption that the prevalence and capriciousness of death (particularly in early childhood) before the advent of modern medicine inured people to sorrow
  • the work of historians such as Lawrence Stone and Phillip Greven who argued that the early colonists were subject to powerful fathers who were both physically and psychologically abusive and who controlled every aspect of their children’s and wives’ lives (This line or argument has been substantially challenged by more recent work by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Roger Thompson, John Demos, and many others, who have investigated cooperation, affection, and spaces for autonomous action within the Puritan family. If anyone is interested in these studies, I recommend Wallington's World by Paul Seaver — even though it's about an English Puritan, Seaver does a great job of examining the emotional involvement of Puritan parents.)
It's tough to draw too many conclusions about Puritan emotions from epitaphs because extensive epitaphs are rare before 1700, and I'm not sure that you can really call anyone past the 2nd generation a "Puritan." The epitaph as a form of literary expression in New England hit its peak between 1750 and 1830, so I don't want to misattribute sentiments to Puritans when they really belong to unitarians.

I also do not wish to promote ahistorical thinking by asserting that the experiences of death and grieving do not change over time. As Drew Gilpin Faust argued so convincingly in This Republic of Suffering, dying and mourning are social, historical processes. Certainly, the shock of losing a child in modern America is different than it would have been in an earlier era when parents would have shared that experience with many others and could access community-sanctioned explanations for children's deaths. 

Even with those caveats, I do think that epitaphs combat the idea that people in the past grieved less passionately because death was omnipresent. When we assume that people who are surrounded by death can't possibly feel the depth of emotion that we feel over our own tragedies, we dehumanize them. The same can be said of many Americans' indifference to the suffering in the developing world.

Eighteenth-century Americans felt the deaths of their loved ones accutely. Parents who lost children were devastated. For proof, we need look no further than the gravestone erected by Timothy and Sarah Stearns of Billerica, MA, in memory of their son, who died in 1795 at age 2:

Thrice of this cup we drank our fill,
Wormwood & gall we tast[e] it still;
O who can tell that never felt
What Parents feel for children's death.

This verse also appears on a baby's grave in Bedford, MA.
I don't know how much thought they put into this, but the verse is nearly perfect iambic tetrameter, the metre of folk ballads and Romantic poets.

The Children's Crusade?

Someone in Billerica is getting a little careless with the decorations placed on veterans' graves. These graves look great from afar, but upon closer inspection, there is a wee problem: they belong to babies.
Most of the decorated graves in Billerica's South Burying Ground bear a black-on-clear sticker that says "VETERAN." I'm guessing that someone with a list of veterans' names and a roll of stickers went around looking for gravestones that matched the list. Later, someone else came through to place flags. Unfortunately, it seems that neither person bothered to read the entire epitaphs.

Either that or Billerica was defended with very tiny muskets.

101 Ways, Part 27: Bid Farewell to This World

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

This Lamson family stone stands in the Harvard Square graveyard in memory of Elizabeth (Muzzey) Hovey, the very young wife of John Hovey, a schoolteacher. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Muzzey of Lexington. The couple married in 1727, two years after John's graduation from Harvard.

John and Elizabeth Hovey married very young for 18th-century New Englanders (she was 17, he was 20). In Albion's Seed, David Hackett Fischer aggregated the marriage ages for 17th-century New Englanders from several town studies and put the average age of marriage at 26 for men and at 23 for women. My own research on women born in Boston in the year 1739 indicates that their mean age at marriage was 23.6 (median and mode 23, only 18% were 18 or younger). In some cases, early marriage followed pregnancy, though I have no evidence that that was the case here. John Hovey's entry in The Hovey Book does not mention any children born to John and Elizabeth (though pregnancy is still a possibility).

Elizabeth Hovey, Cambridge, MA, 1729

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stebbins Bacon

I feel ogre-ish for giggling at a dead baby's gravestone. Still, you know I can't overlook a great name like

Stebbins Bacon.

Poor little Stebbins is buried in Billerica, MA.

The Grackle

 Any bird lovers out there? I'm trying to identify this bird, which I spotted in Charlestown, MA at the end of August. I've been told that it is a grackle, and that seems to be right, though it is more iridescent on the wing and less blue around the collar than the common grackle. Is it just a particularly flashy individual or is it a particular variety? It looks like a great-tailed grackle, but this map says that the great-tailed grackle doesn't live in New England. Any suggestions?

If I were a grackle, I would definitely maximize my spookiness by living in an old graveyard. This is a grackle with style.

Also, if it helps with identification, here is a pic of the bird it was hanging out with, which I assumed was a female grackle:

101 Ways, Part 26: Peracto Hac Vita

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

In most cases, Latin is used sparingly in 17th- and 18th-century New England epitaphs. "Memento Mori" and "Fugit Hora" are common enough, as are individual words such as "Obiit" and "Aetatis," but if you see an epitaph that is entirely written in Latin, it probably belongs to a minister, doctor, professor, or other eminent citizen.

This gravestone belongs to Rev. John Barnard of Marblehead, MA. Barnard, a friend and sometimes rival of the Mathers, is remembered chiefly for writing an autobiography (excerpts available here).

As I have noted before, I am no classicist, so the best I can say here is that I think that "Peracto Hac Vita" means something along the lines of "Finished this Life." If you have a better translation, please leave it in the comments.
Rev. John Barnard, Marblehead, MA, 1770

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


First "Novemba," now "Mach."
I love it.
Nicholas Danforth, Billerica, MA, 1748
stone by Jonathan or Moses Worster/Worcester