Wednesday, November 5, 2008

101 Ways, Part 60: Resigned His Soul to God

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

I am currently working on a project on the Pompe Stevens stones in Newport, which has gotten me thinking about African-American burials in New England. There is a fairly large African-American section in Providence's North Burial Ground. One extant gravestone is dedicated to "Yarrow an African."

Unfortunately, I do not have a good picture of this stone. It is underneath the giant copper beech tree near the Stephen Hopkins monument and I haven't yet figured out how to light it. Pete got me a new external flash for my birthday, so I'll try that out next time I'm in Providence.

The text of Yarrow's epitaph reads,

Here Lies
the Body of YARROW
an African who after a
Life of strict Integrity
Resigned his Soul to
GOD April 7, 1786 aged
Aged [sic] about 60 Years

There is a verse at the end, but my pics are so awful I cannot read it. I'll update this post when I have more information.

Here is a picture of Yarrow's stone, courtesy of Robert Emlen at Brown University. The entire epitaph is clearly legible:
Thanks, Prof. Emlen!


Robert J. said...

There's a long paper on African-American gravestones in the 1989 volume of Markers (VI). I don't know if it mentions Newport, but it may.

Parenthetically, it's a shame we don't have more surviving stones from the very earliest period in Massachusetts, otherwise we might be able to track down the stones for some of the ancestors of our new president-elect. Not many people have taken note of the fact that Barack Obama is a descendant of several Puritan immigrants who came to Massachusetts during the Great Migration, including Samuel Hinckley (d. Barnstable, 31 Oct. 1662) and his wife Sarah Soole (Barnstable, 18 Aug. 1656). Their stones, if they had any, probably don't survive, but they're buried on the Cape even so.

The wonderful thing about genealogy is its long reach. Samuel and Sarah Hinckley, it turns out, are also ancestors of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. Ten generations of descent casts a wide net.

You are at Harvard, yes? These long reaches always make me think of the last verse of "Fair Harvard," which you may not have come across yet:

Let not mosscover’d error moor thee at its side,
As the world on truth’s current glides by,
Be the herald of light, and the bearer of love,
Till the stock of the Puritans dies.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Hmmm. I wrote a lengthy response to your comment yesterday, but it seems to have been eaten by the internet.

I found the Markers article. Thanks for the tip — it looks like it will be quite a useful piece.

I know I shouldn't be, but I am always surprised by how many Americans can trace their families to the Great Migration. My husband's mother has been doing some work on her family's genealogy and it's fascinating to trace all the lines through American history.

My own family is not so easy to trace — six of my eight great-grandparents are 20th-century immigrants from Argentina and Italy. I have one great-grandmother whose family came from Ireland in the 1840s and one mysterious great-grandfather who was either French Canadian or Native American or some combination of the two. In any event, the longest line I can trace dead ends around 1820 when one of my grandfather's ancestors was abandoned as an infant at a convent. The nuns gave him our family name: DeAngelis.

I wonder about the pre-1650 Puritans and their graveyards. I would be surprised if they didn't mark the graves in some way. Perhaps they made wooden markers or painted names on stones like the Pennsylvania Germans.

I just read an article about Dutch gravestones in early New York that said that early colonists used wooden planks that have not survived. When they started using stone, the stones were still shaped like planks. There are a few 17th-century stones in Massachusetts that have a plank-like shape, so I wonder if early colonists here had similar practices.

Robert J. said...

I remember seeing a conjectural number somewhere once -- I think it was something like 30 million, as the number of Americans who had at least one ancestor among the 20,000 Puritans of the Great Migration from about 1620-1645.