Thursday, October 30, 2008

Combine! Ye Sons of Freedom

A poem from the commonplace book of John Stevens, gravestone carver:

The nation free, dispotic rule that craves,
And gives up Liberty to sink to slaves,
When cruel Kings and harde decrees oppress,
In vain shall mourn, and hope in vain redress.

Combine! ye sons of freedom, ah, combine!
The people are invincile who join:
Factions and feuds will overturn the state,
Which union renders flourishing and gereate.

Treat not a foreigner with pride barb'rous pride,
Mock not his accent, or his garb deride:
For peace at home that people ne'er shall find,
Who wage a war all with all mankind.

I spent some time with a reproduction of this commonplace book at Houghton Library yesterday. It contains notes and accounts from the first two John Stevens showing how much they charged for gravestones and other work (building chimneys, laying hearths, whitewashing walls, reinforcing wells, etc.). These entries end sometime in the 1730s. In the 1760s, the third John Stevens used the book as his own, copying poetry and lists of the books he read into every unusued inch of paper. He also sketched some truly beautiful border designs into the margins, one of which I have never seen on an actual gravestone. This poem appears on a page marked "1728," but I suspect it was actually recorded in the late 1760s.

I was looking for some trace of Zingo Stevens, but he seems to have entered the picture after the systematic entries ended. There may be another book at the Newport historical society containing John Stevens III's accounts - at least, I hope so. If this book is all I have to go on, I would conclude that John III was a free spirit with little concern for the business end of things.

Zingo is absent, but there are two men who I think are slaves mentioned: Phillip Stevens and "Sypeo." Since John II records how often he worked alongside these two men and how much they were paid, it will be good evidence for how members of a shop may have worked together on projects.


Robert J. said...

Does the Stevens book contain any examples of verses that were or could have been suitable for gravestones? I've been interested in the sources of gravestone verses, and whether the carvers collected a body of useful examples. I've been intending to go to Houghton for this purpose myself, to track down the earliest American publication of a poem that appears on a number of Massachusetts stones.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Yes, there are "epotephs" (as John would call them), as well as longer poems that may have been quoted. I'm still new to this document, but I'll post some as I continue to go through it.

If I remember correctly, some of the 17th-century stones have Latin quotations from Roman poets, though, of course, those were not specially composed for the stones.

There is one poem in the book that I have only been able to find in one online source - there's more in the Stevens book than appears in that book.

One note: disregard everything I've said about Newport up to this point. I just got my hands on a copy of Vincent Luti's Mallet and Chisel: Gravestone Carvers of Newport, Rhode Island in the 18th Century. When I finish reading it, I will have a much better idea of what I am talking about.