Sunday, August 31, 2008

101 Ways, Part 15: Changed a Fleeting World for an Immortal Rest

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

I've written about the William Goger stone before. He's one of the three Columbia, CT residents who died of smallpox in 1771. As always, my apologies for the crappiness of the picture. I'll have to go back and re-photograph these stones now that I've decided to post them.
Sacred to the MEMORY
of Mr. William Goger
who changed a fleeting
World for an immortal
rest the __ of March
A.D. 1771 In the
33d Year of his Age.
I can't quite make out the verse at the bottom.

Is Sarah Palin Pro-Choice?

Sarah Palin is not pro-choice.
She is extremely, viciously, condescendingly, hypocritically, terrifyingly, unwaveringly anti-choice.

Over the past 24 hours, dozens of people have visited my blog after following Google searches such as "palin pro-choice," "is sarah palin pro-choice," "sarah palin is prochoice," and "is sarah palin pro-choice or pro-life?" These Google searches scare the crap out of me.

There should be no doubt about it. Regardless of what you may have seen on FOX News, Sarah Palin is not pro-choice.

Spread the word.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

101 Ways, Part 14: Fell Asleep

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

"Fell Asleep" is a very gentle euphemism for "died." Initially, I was mildly surprised to see such a placid sentiment on an eighteenth-century stone — I would not have looked for it before the 19th century. Then, I decided that it wasn't so strange — "fell asleep" implies that the deceased will awake at the Second Coming. Perhaps that is what Peter Coollidg's family hoped for him. On the other hand, the other language in the epitaph — "In Memory of" and the verse — do not seem to indicate a strong belief in literal resurrection:
In Memory of
of Mr. DAVID & Mrs.
who fell asleep Oct. 30th 1784
in ye 15th Year of his Age.
Within this Grave here one doth lie
who saw God's glory & did die.
Peter Coollidg, Watertown, MA, 1784

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin: Pro-Choice for Me, Not for Thee

By now, everyone in America has heard that McCain has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I haven't heard anyone call the pick "bizarre" yet, but someone on NPR did call it "bafflingly irresponsible."

Thousands of blog-hours will go into dissecting Palin's record and McCain's decision to put her one recurring melanoma away from the Oval Office, so I will stick to a single topic here: Palin's anti-choice stance.

If you know one thing about Sarah Palin, you know that she is staunchly anti-choice. You're also way ahead of most Americans (including me), who never heard of her before this morning.

I am equally staunchly pro-choice, by which I mean that I not only support a woman's right to have an abortion, but also her fundamental right to make the most important decisions about her body and her family without the interference of government. That means that I support a woman's right to be childless or to have 18 children. I support her right to give birth to high order multiples, or to selectively reduce. I support her right to abort a pregnancy for any reason and I support her right to maintain a pregnancy even if she knows it will kill her. I support her right to have a non-medicated home birth or an anesthetized, scheduled c-section. That is the essence of pro-choice: realizing that the decisions that women make about their bodies and their families are so endlessly complex that they can only be made by the women themselves. Of course, most women turn to spouses, parents, friends, and dieties for help in their decision making process, which is fine by me. But I don't think that any woman's reproductive choices should be restricted by the ham-fisted decrees of government.

Sarah Palin disagrees. She believes that the government should step into intimate family decisions and ban all abortions, including those that are medically necessary. I don't know her stance on birth control, but you can bet I'll be looking for more information.

The thing is, Sarah Palin has made choices about her family that I might not have made for mine. I respect her right to do so. She does not return the favor.

I would not choose to have a baby in my forties because I watched my own mother, an indomitable advocate for infants, struggle mightily to recover from her own fifth pregnancy at age 40. My sister was born hale and hearty, but my mother did not bounce back to full health for six months after her birth. My younger brothers and I remember that as the Christmas when I led the baking of the Christmas cookies and 10-year-old Ben took on the wrapping. We laugh about it now — about the dough on the ceiling from the out-of-control mixer and the impenetrable layers of tape entombing our gifts — but the truth is that, while the younger kids were oblivious, we older kids were scared. I would not choose to have a baby in my forties because I know what it's like to be 12 years old and be afraid that if your mom doesn't come around, you might end up taking on a lot of responsibility very early.

This is not to say that women should not have babies in their forties. It is to say that neither I, nor the government, nor anyone else should be able to choose what's best for someone else's family. Clearly, Sarah Palin and I differ on some key parenting issues.

And here is where the pro-choice bit comes in: I wouldn't make the same choices for myself or my family, but I respect Sarah Palin's right to do so. I don't have the right to tell her how many kids she can have and when and she doesn't have the right to dictate to me.

I am proud to live in a country where women can have five kids or no kids or twenty kids. I'm proud of being pro-choice and supporting a woman's right to work at home or work outside the home or combine the two in any combination, and I will continue to support causes such as paid family leave, fair pay, and better childcare that make that choice a reality. I'm even proud of Sarah Palin — even though I think she's batshit insane, I respect her for fighting for what she believes in and sticking by her principles.

Sarah Palin is pro-choice when she is the one making choices for her own family. She does not respect me enough to allow that I am also capable of making good choices for my family.

**Also, I should say for the record that I can't wrap my head around Biden's decision to serve in the senate when he had two grieving, injured children. If it had been me, I don't think I would have done what he did. But I certainly think he had the right to make the choice he did.

***N.B. I wrote this post before Gov. Palin's daughter's pregnancy became such big news. I just wanted to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the Palin family's statement asking that everyone respect the family's privacy. I only ask that my privacy be respected as well.


Is this supposed to be funny?

101 Ways, Part 13: Submiting Her Self to ye Will of God

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

According to her epitaph, Martha Jue of Watertown, MA exhibited exemplary Christian virtues: faith, patience, meekness, love, and submissiveness.
Although these adjectives might call to mind the specific duties of a virtuous wife, I think that they are probably meant to praise Martha as a good Christian rather than as a good woman. The language of patience and submission is evocative of Christian virtues, but is markedly different from the terms in which parts of the Bible describe good wives. In particular, I am thinking of Proverb 31:10-31, which praises the virtuous woman for her industry and managerial skills, not her meekness. While the wives of the Old Testament are generally obedient, they are also resourceful, productive, and courageous. The Puritans were big on the Old Testament, so I think that if the author of this epitaph wanted to praise Martha Jue as a wife, he would have extolled her good works. Instead, he turned to the language of the New Testament and praised her as a Christian.

As far as I can tell, this stone was carved by the man Harriette M. Forbes identified as "The Stone Cutter of Boston." The lightbulb-shaped head, curled eyebrows, and layered feathers on the wings are characteristic of his style.

I'm having some trouble finding Martha Jue in the available histories of Watertown, MA. If anyone has any information on her, please let me know.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

101 Ways, Part 12: Went Rejoycing Out of this World into the Other

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

John Stone's gravemarker in Watertown, MA is stunning. It is similar to the famous William Dickson stone in Cambridge's Harvard Square Burying Ground, though it lacks that stone's coffin-carrying imps. His epitaph is a testament to the place he held in the hearts of his neighbors:
I abosolutely love that line, "rejoycing out of this world." It makes me think of Miriam and tambourines and that scene in The Prince of Egypt when all the children of Israel start singing, "ashira l'adonai." If you don't know the scene, skip to the 2:30 mark in this video:

Most Puritan epitaphs are restrained at best and grim at worst. Even when they offer some comfort, the 17th-century gravestones seldom strain beyond the cool assurance of "ye memory of ye just is blessed." I know next to nothing about John Stone, but I wonder whether he ascribed to the orthodox, Calvinist-inspired Puritan god — just, mighty, stern, and imposing — or to a more gentle and loving idea of the deity.

101 Ways, Part 11: Departed This Stage of Existence

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

In 1811, Sarah A. Johnson of Lexington, MA "Departed this stage of Existence." That sounds sort of Transcendentalist-y to me. She was only 21 years old when she died and I wonder whether she ran with a proto-Trancendentalist or Swedenborgian crowd. If not, perhaps her stone was erected a few decades after her death, when Transcendentalism was gaining popularity in town. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into a turn of phrase.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

101 Ways, Part 10: Slain by the Enemy

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

Robert Munro was one of the ten Lexington residents killed during the Battle of Lexington in 1775. The 62-year-old, a veteran of the Louisbourg campaign (1758), was one of the first to fall. He is buried in Battle Green Park with the other militiamen who were killed on that day.

In addition to the monument on the Battle Green, Robert Munro is memorialized on the gravestone belonging to his wife, Anna Munro, that stands in the old burial ground in Lexington.
Remember Death
Here lies Interr'd ye
Body of Mrs. Anna
Munro widow of Mr.
Robert Munro (who
was Slain by the Enemy
on the 19th of April 1775)
who departed this
Life Augt. 20th 1775 In
ye 57th year of her age.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Urban Legend Names

Recently, I've noticed several high-profile articles devoted to unusual names. David Zax has a piece entitled "What's Up With Black Names, Anyway?" featured on the front page of Salon today. Salon also ran a piece by Kate Harding on a similar subject a few weeks ago. Plenty of people are writing about Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii of New Zealand. I'm glad to know that others share my fascination with names.

People who are interested in onomastics walk a fine line between enjoying interesting names and mocking them. As many of the authors mentioned above are careful to point out, urban legends often ascribe ridiculous names to African-American or poor white children in order to reinforce racist or classist prejudices. According to Snopes,
Legend [sic] of the "kid named Eczema" ilk attempt to reinforce belief in the rightness of racism or regionalism. Just as parables were used in the Bible to communicate in a simple-to-understand form a behavior thought worthy of emulation, racist legends try to drive home the point that the looked-down-upon group is inherently inferior . . . The more stories like there are told, the more the message of them is worked into the fabric of the people exposed to them. Hearing the "kid named Eczema" story again and again makes it that much more easy to think of Blacks as less intelligent.
The urban legends generally focus on medical terms and report that an uneducated mother gave her child an inappropriate name such as "Chlamydia" or "Gonorrhea" after hearing a doctor use the term. In addition to ridiculing African-American or poor women for their supposed ignorance, these stories also imply that the mothers are promiscuous or sexually deviant by placing them in situations where their doctors would be mentioning sexually transmitted infections.

I agree with Kate Harding, David Zax, and Snopes about the purposes of these urban legends. On the other hand, I am an historian-in-training, and as such, I am loath to accept statements such as, "Was there ever a mother so stupid as to name her kid Eczema without realizing what the name meant? Probably not." "Probably not" is not good enough. In this essay, I will put some of these urban legend names to the test by running them through the census, birth, marriage, and death records at and seeing what turns up.

Before I begin, a few words on my methodology:

The names tested will be drawn from the list on Snopes.

I will search for these names in several databases, including the Federal Census records (1790-1930), US military records, the Texas Birth Index (1903-1997), and the California Birth Index (1905-1995). These public records are available through Ancestry's Library Edition. This collection also includes many smaller sets of records, which I will cite appropriately when necessary.

If I can find no evidence of a particular name, I will classify it as "unconfirmed."If I find a name, I will classify it as either "confirmed" or "possible." The criteria for these categories are as follows:
  • Confirmed: A name can be confirmed in one of two ways. First, if a name appears in an official, typed record, such as the California Birth Index, that provides substantial identifying information (birthdate, parents' names, residence), it will be confirmed. Second, if a name appears in a handwritten record (1800 census), it will only be confirmed if a second source establishes its authenticity. This is necessary because many handwritten records are difficult to read, so a name like "Denis" can be misread as "Penis." For example, I can confirm Gay Hitler as an authentic name because I verified the individual's existence on the 1910 Census, the 1930 Census, and on his WWII draft card.
  • Possible: If I can only find the name on one handwritten record, I will classify the name as possible, rather than as confirmed. Sometimes, the person indexing the census has a hard time reading the handwritten records, so "Virginia" might look like "Vagina." If I find the same individual listed as "Vagina" in one census and "Virginia" in another, I will assume that "Virginia" is correct. *Caveat: just because a name appears in only one census, it is not necessarily incorrect. Census takers often missed people living in rural areas or those who did not speak English as a first language, so someone might turn up in the 1910 census, but not the 1900 or the 1920. Other problems can occur, particularly with the 1890 census, which was destroyed by a fire at the National Archives in 1921. If a woman was born in 1875, she might show up on the 1880 census and have been married or dead by 1900, so it would be difficult to confirm her identity.
— I can only confirm the existence of a name, not the circumstances under which that name was chosen. Thus, I cannot confirm the truth of urban legends such as those listed at Snopes.

— Public birth, marriage, and divorce records do not always identify the race or ethnicity of individuals. I have not made an effort to verify the race, ethnicity, or native language of individuals unless that information is readily available in the public records.

— These results are based on the information that I have at hand. If further research indicates that the results listed here are incorrect, I will be delighted to update my post. I'm not trying to prove that the urban legends are true — I'm just trying to find out whether the names are real and am not emotionally invested in the results. If you see the name of someone you know or you notice a mistake, please comment so I can add to or revise my conclusions.

Ok, here are the results for the Snopes list:

Asshole: Unconfirmed. However, I can confirm that there are several people named Anal, including Anal Exceus of Houston, TX (b. 8/26/1988 — happy birthday!), Anal Singh, and Anal Shah. I noticed that several people named "Anal" are South Asian, so I suspect that it might be a variant spelling of "Anil," the Hindu god of wind.

Clitoris: Unconfirmed. Variant forms can be confirmed, viz. Clitty Jones of Somers, OH (b. 1895, married to Walter, confirmed in 1920 and 1930 census). The name "Clit" appears in several census records, but cannot be independently confirmed (ex: Clit Mangum, Commerce, GA, 1930 census).

Chlamydia: Unconfirmed.

Eczema: Possible. Three women show up in the census records as "Eczema": Eczema Wright of Indiana, Eczema Hugey of Missouri, and Eczema James of Texas. All three of these women were born before 1900, so I doubt that anyone alive today has ever met a "kid named Eczema."

Enamel: Confirmed. Enamel Landry of Ascension, LA (b. 1869 d. 1944 — confirmed in 1910 census and in Louisiana death records), Joseph Enamel Pereten of Williamson County, TX (b. March 5, 1932). Searching for "Enamel" in the census records returns about 40 hits, some of which seem to be misspellings of "Emmanuel."

Female: Possible. This one is tricky because there is a legitimate reason for "Female" to appear on vital records in various fields and it could be misinterpreted. In addition, it is difficult to distinguish between someone named "Female" and female child who has not yet been named. This name shows up in circumstances that indicate that it may be an actual name, but there are so many opportunities for error here that I am not willing to call it confirmed. The California birth records (image above right) show three babies named Female, all of whom have middle names (either that or their middle names are really their first names and someone screwed up when they typed them into the computer). The Texas birth records also contain several Females (Female Butler, Female Hardin), though neither has a middle name, which makes me suspicious.
"Male" is a confirmed name: ex. David Male Tiumalu (b. 8/1/1953, Alameda Co., CA), Linda Male Osmer (b. 5/8/1952, Texas), Male Joseph Cotton (b. 3/29/1974).

Gonorrhea: Unconfirmed.

Latrine: Confirmed. Latrine seems to be a legitimate name. Examples: Latrine Sharmine Olive (b. 11/24/1979, Sacramento, CA), Quiana Latrine Phillips (b. 4/1/1988, Los Angeles, CA), Latrine Nicole Cook (b. 1/21/1976, Dallas, TX), Charlotte Latrine Martin (b. 2/8/1971, Wichita, TX). A variant form, Latrina, is actually quite popular, even cracking the top 1000 baby names in America for six years running during the 1970s. There are nearly 500 girls named Latrina in the Texas and California birth records alone. The most unfortunate example of this name has to be Latrina Pickens-Brown of Nevada (that's her married name).

Lemon Jello/Orange Jello: Unconfirmed. Perhaps this rumor got started by someone who heard the Neapolitan surname "Lemongello."

Meconium: Confirmed. Willie Meconium Cage (b. 3/15/1933, Texas), Alfredo Meconium Gallardo (b. 5/18/1936, Los Angeles, CA).

No Smoking: Confirmed. Nosmo King Cheatam (b. 11/26/1918 d. 11/10/1997). Mr. Cheatam was a veteran of the United States Navy and is buried in Texarkana, TX. He is listed on the 1920 census as "Nosmo Cheatam" (residence: Garner, Arkansas) and on the Social Security death index as "Nosmo K. Cheatam." "Nosmo" is not a unique name — see Nosmo Welch, Nosmo Corsa, Richard Nosmo Whiteheart, etc. It is possible that Nosmo Cheatam adopted the middle name "King" as an adult as a joke or that he was named after the vaudeville character Nosmo King. Either way, the Federal Government knew him as Nosmo King Cheatam. Also, Nosmo Cheatam was white.

Pajama: Possible. I found several people named "Pajama" in the public phone/address records, including Pajama Ngongba of Alexandria, VA and Pajama Howanitz of Alabaster, AL, but was not able to confirm their names independently. Since phone records are not official, I can't confirm that these are real names.

Placenta: Confirmed. Placenta Ann Woodard (b. 8/7/1953, Freestone Co., TX, married Rahman Hassan 11/10/1986 in Tarrant, TX), Placenta Ayala (b. 10/5/1951, Howard Co., TX), Placenta Theresa Bennett (b. 7/21/1958, Caldwell Co., TX). Others show up in the census — the picture at right is of the entry for Placenta M. Duncan of Green Bay, Iowa in the 1860 census.

Shithead: Unconfirmed.

Syphilis: Unconfirmed.

Testicles: Unconfirmed. Only one person named "Testicles" appears in the census records — a Sioux boy born in 1892 in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. The U.S. Indian Census Schedules (1885-1940) record Native Americans' names as well as the English translations of those names. The records indicate that the boy's name, Susu, means "testicles." I really enjoyed looking through these records and recommend them to anyone interested in names or in Native American history. Some of my favorite names from Susu's community include Itekanpeskawin ("Face Like an Ornament"), Hotaninmaniwin ("They Heard Her Voice"), and Tawakanhdiwayakapi ("They See Her Electricity"). These records really drew me in — after I'm done with this essay, I'm going to try to find out more about them.

Urea: Confirmed. Urea Pyle of Delaware Co., PA (married to Reece Pyle, confirmed in 1900, 1910, and 1920 census records), Elton Urea Juniel of California (married in Las Vegas 3 times: married Tish Denise Harris 6/27/1981, married Beverly Jean Mills, 8/17/1991, married Julie Marie Bossin 9/23/2003), Sophia Urea Nelson of Los Angeles, CA (b. 1/11/1991). The Texas birth records contain information for six babies named Urea:

Urine: Confirmed. Nora Urine Workman (b. 10/13/1940, Lamar Co., TX), Jonathan Urine Smith (b. 12/3/1996, Denton Co., TX), Urine Adkins of Coeburn, VA (b. 6/15/1896, d. March 1972, according to Social Security Index). Several others appear in the census. At right, Urine Thibideoux of Louisiana, listed in the 1900 census.

Vagina: Confirmed. Vagina Ann Williams (b. 3/18/1934, Hall Co., TX), Ellen Vagina Goode (b. 9/13/1918 Lee Co., TX, listed as "Ellen V. Goode" on 1930 census), Lorene Vagina Cranfield (b. 7/26/1938 Rowan Co., NC), Vagina Harper Bland (b. 1/19/1842 in Virginia, d. 5/4/1927 in Kentucky). Hundreds of women (and a few men) are listed as "Vagina" in the census, but many of them seem to be misspellings of "Virginia." Some, like Vagina Carrera of Hawaii (b. 1899), can be confirmed in two or more documents. One that caught my eye was "Vagina Glasscock" who lived in Somerville, Alabama in 1910. I was not able to find her in any other census, but then, I couldn't find her father or mother in any other census either. I'll post a pic of the record and you can decide for yourself.

From this evidence, it is clear that some of the most outrageous of these alleged names (particularly the diseases) are entirely made up. On the other hand, nearly half of the names on the Snopes list are genuine. I need to stress that this does not mean that the legends themselves are true. I do not know what inspired Willie Meconium Cage's parents to bestow that name on him and I will not speculate. I don't know whether this information will help fellow nomatophiles, anger them, or (most likely) go ignored. In any event, I enjoyed exploring the holdings and compiling this list.

101 Ways, Part 9: Obit

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

Early Americans who wanted to class up their epitaphs a bit could choose the Latin "obit" (abbreviated "obt."). Dropped into an otherwise unremarkable epitaph, "obit" conveys a desire to seem educated or perhaps to connect with the classical past with words as well as with images.

"Obit" comes from the Latin obire, which means "to meet," or, in this context, "to meet death." I took Latin in high school, but am no classicist, so if anyone reading this knows the difference between obire and morior, speak up and let me know.

An interesting note: More Harrington's father, Jonathan Harrington, Jr. served as a fifer with Capt. Parker's militia during the Battle of Lexington in 1775 (he was 16 or 17 at the time). He was the last surviving veteran of that battle when he died in 1854. Read Benson Lossing's 1848 interview with Harrington here.

More Harrington, Lexington, MA, 1802

Monday, August 25, 2008

101 Ways, Part 8: Left Us

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

Ok, I'm violating my own rules by posting a stone from 1858. I just found it very compelling for some reason. "Nancy" is buried in Stow, MA.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stones and Bones of New England

Today, I read Lisa Rogak's Stones and Bones of New England: A Guide to Unusual, Historic, and Otherwise Notable Cemeteries. In this skimpy volume, Rogak profiles several notable cemeteries in each of the six New England states, offering directions, brief descriptions, and amusing anecdotes.  Each chapter is frustratingly short and offers very little historical information.

I will read (and recommend) pretty much any book about graveyards. Still, I found this book disappointing. The author's focus is much more on curiosities than on really investigating the burying places or their histories. If that's what you're looking for, you might enjoy this book, but it wasn't for me.

Even worse, there are very few pictures. For example, there are 15 cemeteries in the Rhode Island section, but only five (small, not very compelling) photographs. At times, the only gravestone pictured is not the one that is most discussed in the chapter.

If you buy this book, be prepared for breathless descriptions like this one (for the "Spider Gates" Cemetery in Leicester, MA):
Spider Gates Cemetery is notorious for being among the most haunted cemeteries in Massachusetts . . . If you do decide to visit Spider Gates, you should know what others have reported from previous visits: peculiar noises and screams out of nowhere in the middle of the day, cold spots — a phenomenon frequently associated with a ghost passing by — and unexplained smoky, cloudlike images seen in photographs taken at the site.
So, if you're into that sort of stuff, this is the book for you. I'm not, so I found it moderately irritating.

This review is turning into more of a pan than I had originally intended. There are certainly some gems in this book. For example, I had never heard of the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard before, so I enjoyed that chapter. A few of the quoted epitaphs are genuinely interesting and I'm looking forward to tracking them down on my own. Like Ms. Rogak, I am a taphophile, and criticizing her book makes me feel like a traitor. It isn't that it was worthless — it just wasn't what I was looking for.

101 Ways, Part 7: Killed by the Fall of a Tree

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

Captain Thomas Stetson of Harvard, MA was "killed by the fall of a tree" in 1820. His epitaph comments on the irony of a seaman dying in a farming accident:
In Memory of
who was killed by the fall
of a tree Nov. 28, 1820, AEt. 68.
Nearly 30 years he was master
of a vessel and left that
employment at the age
of 48 for the less hazardous
one of cultivating his farm.
Reader, remember that man is never
secure from the arrest of Death.
"Watch ye therefore for the
son of man cometh in an
hour when ye look not
for him."
I'm not sure that this is an appropriate use of Luke 12:40 — Luke is saying that you have to be prepared to serve Christ at all times and the epitaph seems to be saying that Death can sneak up on you when you think you are safe. I suppose both scenarios have to do with preparation, but they seem slightly, but crucially, different.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

101 Ways, Part 6: Departed This Transitory Life

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

The very popular phrase, "departed this life" inspired many slight variations, including today's featured phrase: "Departed this Transitory Life." This version is particularly appropriate for Ruth Green of Wellfleet, MA, whose short life was fleeting indeed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Tim Kaine

As I told the very nice, but befuddled, woman from the Obama campaign on the phone today, if Obama picks Tim Kaine, they can stop calling me for money.

I've given before and I'm planning on giving again, but if Kaine is the VP pick, those future donations go directly into the liquor cabinet fund so I can make it through the years when an anti-choice, anti-gay Democrat is the party's #2 (or, FSM forbid, #1).

I was never a Clinton supporter (I was for Edwards before he dropped out). Still, I think it would be incredibly tone-deaf for Obama to pick a VP who would be seen as a slap in the face to female democrats and to men who care enough about pro-choice issues to understand that they're not peripheral to a progressive agenda.

I've got a nice, fat donation sitting right here, waiting for Obama to announce anyone other than Tim Kaine.

Biden. Donation made.

Elizabeth Phillips, Midwife

Yesterday afternoon was gorgeous, so I took RJO's advice and visited the Phipps St. Cemetery in Charlestown. This is a beautiful graveyard. It's full of stones carved by the Lamson family over the course of a century (including the stones they carved for their own families). Most of the stones are in terrific shape due to both their initial quality and the very tall, very spiky, locked iron fence surrounding the place. Note to prospective visitors: you must call the Boston Parks Department to be let in legally. Good luck with that.

I arrived a little after 3pm and was pleased to find that many of the stones were illuminated by raking sunlight. The stones in this graveyard are arranged in rows, but the rows are all higglety-piggelty, so no matter what time of day you go, some stones will be completely in shadow, some will be blown out in full light and some will catch the raking light.

One that caught my eye was the Elizabeth Phillips stone (1761). Although the epitaph is partially decayed, I could read enough to know that this was a special stone — it belonged to one of the most prolofic midwives in New England.

An 1872 book on English midwives offers a transcription of Phillips' epitaph that contains multiple errors (ex: gives Mr. Phillips' name as John rather than Eleazer). Other books also contain versions of the epitaph. None of these are perfect, but combined with the evidence left on the gravestone, it is possible to recreate an approximate facsimilie of the text:

Here lyes Interred ye Body of
Mrs. Elizabeth Phillips, Wife
to Mr. Eleazer Phillips; Who
was born in Westminster, in Great
Britain & Commission'd by John,
Lord Bishop of London, in ye Year
1718, to the office of a Midwife, & came
into this country in ye Year 1719, and, by
ye blessing of God, has brought into
ye world above [3000] children.
Died May 5, 1761, aged 76 years.

I put the number 3,000 in brackets because it looks like there may be another digit to the left of the 3 on the stone. It could be the edge of the previous letter, though it looks straight, so it can't have been the "e" of "above."

I am inclined to think that 3,000 is a more likely number. In addition to the evidence presented in the 19th-century sources, it means that Phillips attended an average of around 75 births per year over the course of her 40-year career. This still makes her a very busy midwife (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich found that Martha Ballard attended between 45 and 60 births per year during the peak of her practice and over 800 in her career). A figure of 13,000 would mean that Phillips delivered an average of one baby every day for 40 years. Even for a dedicated midwife living in an urban area, that seems unlikely. I'll post the close-up and you can decide for yourself.

From time to time, I'll come across a man's stone that specifies his profession. Ministers' epitaphs nearly always mention it. Women are often praised for being good mothers or pious church members, but very rarely specify a woman's particular skills or tell us what she was known for in her community. In Elizabeth Phillips' case, her work made her a vital and respected part of the town's life and someone — her husband, the Lamsons, or her neighbors — saw fit to memorialize her profession as well as her family connections.

101 Ways, Part 5: Fell a Victim to an Untimely Disease

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

This is an awful picture. I apologizeit was taken on a day that was too rainy for me to go to the beach (I went gravestoning instead). This stone can be found in Wiscasset, ME in a little cemetery down by the Sheepscot River. The epitaph conveys Samuel Kelton's family's sense that his death was unfair in the extreme:
Here rest
The remains of Samuel Kelton
who in the midst of his
usefulness and activity
with the fairest hopes & most
sanguine prospects fell a victim
to an untimely disease on the
31 of July 1805
AEt. 40
Of course, otherwise healthy adults died of all sorts of diseases in the early 19th century: cholera, typhus, influenza, routine infections, etc. Still, I would be interested in examining expectations of mortality in the early 19th century. Plenty of babies and small children died and a major illness could still be catastrophic, but this epitaph seems to imply that people expected middle-aged men to live to be old men. I recently read Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering, which does a great job of explaining how 19th-century Americans were supposed to die, but does not explain who was supposed to die. I'm just brainstorming here, but this might be a good topic for a paper.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Children Writhing on the Pike and Halberd"

Anti-Jefferson attack ad, 1800:

Love it. The best part is, it's almost a verbatim quote from a pro-Adams essay. I say "almost" because the video leaves out "adultery." In October of 1800, several New England newspapers (including the Portland Gazette) printed an essay predicting that a Jefferson victory in the upcoming election would lead to a civil war between upstanding Federalists and "Jacobins . . . destitute of morality and religion." Such a war would result in unimaginable horrors:
Of course, Jefferson supporters gave as good as they got. Every fife and drum corps in the country knows "Jefferson and Liberty," which has great lyrics:
The gloomy night before us flies,
The reign of terror now is o'er;
Its gags, inquisitors, and spies,
Its herds of harpies are no more!

Rejoice! Columbia's sons, rejoice!
To tyrants never bend the knee;
But join with heart and soul and voice,
For Jefferson and Liberty.

No lordling here, with gorging jaws,
Shall wring from industry the food;
Nor fiery bigot's holy laws
Lay waste our fields and streets in blood.

(etc. for another twelve verses)

101 Ways, Part 4: Entred Apon an Eternal Sabbath of Rest

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

The Reverend Michael Wigglesworth of Malden is buried in the Bell Rock Burying Ground in Malden. His epitaph reads:
ye 10th 1705 IN ye 74th YEAR OF HIS AGE
I hope that Rev. Wigglesworth enjoyed his work. Perhaps an eternal sabbath sounded good to him, but it seems deadly dull to me.

Unfortunately, Rev. Wigglesworth's beautiful stone, like many others in the Bell Rock Burying Ground, has been vandalized.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

101 Ways, Part 3: Deceased

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

Rounding out the top three ways to say "died" (after the very popular "died" and "departed this life"), is today's synonym: "deceased" (commonly abbreviated "Decd.").

Today, we generally use "deceased" as an adjective, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was also employed as a verb. The Oxford English Dictionary Online offers three definitions for the verb "decease" (all of them archaic):
  • intr. To depart from life; to die.
  • to decease this world (cf. to depart this life). Obs. rare.
  •  fig. To come to an end, perish; cease
The OED gives the epitaph of James Stanley (d. 1515) as an example of the second definition: "[he] decessed thys transytory wourld the xxii of March."

A few carvers favor this term. Many of the Worster family stones say "Decd.," as do those carved by Joseph Lamson of Boston. Other carvers use it only occasionally and spell it as the spirit moves them.

Edward Sprague, Malden, MA (1715)

Carver: Based on the descriptions given by HM Forbes in Gravestones of New England and the Men Who Made Them: 1653-1800 (pgs. 52-3), I think this stone was carved by the elder James Foster of Dorchester (b. 1651).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Melverina Elverina Peppercorn

While reading They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, I came across the story of Melverina Elverina Peppercorn.

According to Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, Melverina was strapping, six-foot farm woman with a man's strength. When the war came to Tennessee, Melverina and her twin brother, Alexander the Great, joined the fight. Alexander the Great (a.k.a. "Lexy") was wounded in battle and his sister left the army in order to care for him.

I would like to take this opportunity to bestow an award of onomastic merit on the parents of Melverina Elverina and Alexander the Great Peppercorn.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the Peppercorns in the census, even after trying variations such as Pfefferkorn. This is not entirely surprising since they were supposedly from a remote area of the mountains in Tennessee. The state of Confederate records also makes verifying their service tricky. Since I can't verify the Peppercorns' existence with an independent source, I can't say for sure that their names are real.

Still, in my search of the census records, I did find several other people named "Alexander the Great," including,
  • Alexander the Great Hazelrigg (b. 1 Oct. 1854, Bath, KY)
  • Alexander the Great Bailey (b. 1849, lived in Phelps City, MO 1880)
  • Alexander the Great Debose (b. 24 Aug. 1986, Dallas, TX)
  • Alexander the Great Chivers (b. 1878, Lancashire, England)
There are also dozens of people named Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and William Shakespeare. I suppose I can understand why parents might choose famous names for their children, but I do wonder about the parents of Judas Isacariot Upton (b. 4 Jan. 1951, San Diego, CA). Perhaps they had a brainstorming session with the parents of Pontius Pilate Crews (b. 1876, Tally Ho, NC), Lucifer Seraphini (b. 1916, Lackawanna, PA), and Genghis Khan Hatch (b. 26 April 1984, Dallas, TX).

Then there's Adolf Hitler Hargrove, who was born in Smith Creek, North Carolina in 1940 and died 5 months later, thus avoiding unprecedented levels of bullying. I don't wish to make light of a baby's death or his family's grief — I only mean to say that life in the Jim Crow South was hard enough for a black man without going through life named "Adolf Hitler."
P.S. There was also a man from Circleville, Ohio named Gay Hitler (b. 1882). Look him up if you like — his wife's name was Mabel and he was a dentist. They lived at 50 West Mound St. in Circleville, OH in 1930. I've verified his name in the 1910 and 1930 census records, as well as on his draft card.

101 Ways, Part 2: Departed This Life

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

By far, the most popular synonym for "died" appearing on New England gravestones is "departed this life."

I think that this phrase probably spoke to people because it portrayed death as a journey from earthly life to the eternal life that followed resurrection. A departure implies an arrival, though, especially for people were pushing ever farther into the wilderness, it does not necessarily imply a return. In this telling, New Englanders departed their temporal lives in the same way they might leave Boston or their former homes in England.

Joanna Ingles, Copp's Hill, Boston, MA (1678) 

There are thousands of epitaphs in New England that include the phrase, "departed this life" (I estimate one third of all pre-1800 stones, and am in the process of putting together better statistics). With so many opportunities for error, it is not surprising that some carvers misspelled "departed" on occasion. On the other hand, they carved the word "departed" so often that it is somewhat surprising that they could not spell it correctly in their sleep. Why would Josiah Manning leave out the "r" when he had remembered it on hundreds of other occasions? I don't have a good answer for that yet.

Monday, August 18, 2008

101 Ways, Part 1: Died

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

One of the most common ways to say "died" in an early New England epitaph is to just come right out and say it: died. No euphemisms, no flowery language, just died. It's not quite as popular as "departed this life," but it is a close second.
Thaddeus Ridden, Marblehead, MA (1690/1)

101 Ways to Say "Died"

Starting today, I'm going to start running a series called "101 Ways to Say Died." In this project, I will be cataloging all the synonyms for "died" that appear in early American epitaphs.

In order to qualify, the word/phrase must appear in the main part of the text, not the verse. That is to say, I'm looking at the part where it says, "Here lies John Doe, died January 1, 1750," rather than the poetic epitaph that sometimes appears after the primary epitaph. If I can't make it to 101 with this criterion, I'll look at the verses. Similarly, I'm going to limit eligibility to pre-1825 stones with the option to extend that to 1850 if I fall short of 101.

Complete list of 101 posts after the break.

John Boyle: Gossip Columnist

Over a third of the entries in John Boyle's diary are death announcements. These are generally fairly sparse: name, age, family connections, sometimes cause of death. Once in a while, though, Boyle adds a little extra zing. Here's his entry for June 12, 1766:
Died aged about 70, Mr. John Walker, formerly a noted Merchant lately a noted Miser He has left a great Estate to one of his illegitimate Offspring.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is Freedom of Religion a Shield?

Cross-posted @ American Creation.

In recent weeks, there has been an uproar over blogger P.Z. Myers' desecration of a consecrated eucharistic wafer. A little background: A college student in Florida received death threats from angry Catholics after he smuggled a consecrated wafer out of a Catholic church. P.Z. Myers, an outspoken atheist, was outraged by the vitriol cast at the student and pledged to desecrate a post-transubstantiation host in order to affirm his belief that "nothing must be held sacred." Bill Donohue and the Catholic League got in on the action and Myers has received several death threats of his own, along with thousands of angry emails from offended Catholics.

In response to this incident, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy issued a press release that caught my eye because of its pronouncements on the meaning of religious freedom and the intentions of the founding fathers. The statement reads, in part,
We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech.
The same Bill of Rights which protect freedom of speech also protect freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers did not envision a freedom FROM religion, rather a freedom OF religion. In other words, our nation's constitution protects the rights of ALL religions, not one and not just a few. Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper . . . The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.
I haven't been able to find much information on this organization. According to their website, the CCC is an "Association of 600 Roman Catholic Priests and Deacons pledged to the pursuit of personal holiness, loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, commitment to theological study and strict adherence to the authentic teachings of the Magisterium." Since they lack either the resources or the web-savvy to hire a web designer, I have to assume that it's not a very powerful organization. Still, I think that their understanding of religious freedom is worthy of comment.

First, I think that it’s important to dispel the idea that the actions of any private citizen can be unconstitutional (unless that citizen is acting as an agent of the government). Private citizens can violate laws, but the Constitution only applies to governmental actions. As Professor Laurence Tribe once pointed out, there are only two ways a private citizen can violate the Constitution: by enslaving someone or by transporting alcohol across state lines in violation of section 2 of the 21st Amendment. Even though Myers works at a public university, the desecration took place at his private residence and he discussed it on his personal blog (not hosted by the university), so it’s difficult to argue that he has the standing to act unconstitutionally.

I’m not writing to defend Myers’ actions, but to examine the CCC’s take on freedom of religion. Their position includes three main elements, one of which is probably true, while the others are, I think, way off the mark.

The first (true) part of their argument is that the Founding Fathers did not envision a society that functioned without religion. As various contributors to this blog have shown, the leading political figures of the late 18th century believed that religion was the backbone of private and public morality (though by “religion,” they did not necessarily mean orthodox Christianity). I disagree with the Founders on this issue, but I don’t deny that they thought that way.

The second part (“Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech”) is worth fleshing out. I don’t think there’s anything in our founding documents that prevents me from going out and buying a Bible and starting a bonfire with it. It may be crass, but it isn’t illegal (as long as I don't start a forest fire). There may be something here about hate crimes, but since hate crimes are all about intention, I don’t think Myers' acts would meet hate crime criteria since they were meant to demonstrate the folly of sacred objects, rather than to convey hatred of a particular group. Not 100% sure on this — anyone with legal expertise please feel free to prove me wrong. And just for the record, I don’t support burning books for any reason.

Of course, you can’t burn a church or destroy a sacred object that belongs to someone else (arson and theft are crimes, after all), and they may be arguing here that the consecrated host was stolen. Can you be said to steal something if it is freely given to you? Is the implied contract between a communicant and a celebrant legally enforceable? If anyone knows case law on this, I’d be interested in seeing it — the only relevant examples I can find involve stealing large numbers of free things (like campus newspapers) in order to keep them from being distributed. The distinction here is that there is a difference between criticizing a religion’s beliefs and attempting to intimidate its membership by vandalizing their buildings/libraries/relics, etc. I think Myers’ actions (destroying an object with negligible monetary value in the privacy of his own home and then writing about his reasons for doing so) are closer to the former than the latter, but the CCC obviously disagrees.

The last pillar of the CCC’s argument is the strangest. It deserves to be quoted again:
The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.
By placing this statement immediately after their speculations on the Founding Fathers’ intentions, the CCC implies that the Founding Fathers understood the 1st Amendment to be a Constitutional shield protecting religious orthodoxies from the uncouth rabble who might “malign” them.

I have a mental image of John Adams doing a spit-take.

Adams certainly did his share of maligning. Speaking of his own forebears, Adams spoke approvingly of how they “derid[ed], as all reasonable and impartial men must do, the ridiculous fancies of sanctified effluvia from Episcopal fingers.” He also believed that the Mass and its trappings were intended to “bewitch the simple and ignorant.”

Come on, John, tell us how you really feel:
In the Countries of slavery, and Romish superstition, the Laity must not learn to read, least they should detect the gross Impostures of the Priesthood, and shake off the Yoke of Bondage. But in Protestant Countries and especially in England and its Colonies, Freedom of Enquiry is allowed to be not only [illegible] the Priviledge but the Duty of every Individual. We know it to be our Duty, to read, examine and judge for ourselves, even of ourselves what is right. No Priest nor Pope has any Right to say what I shall believe, and I will not believe one Word they say, if I think it is not founded in Reason and in Revelation. Now how can I judge what My Bible justifies unless I can read my Bible.
I don’t know whether the CCC would be “grossly offend[ed]” by those remarks, but Adams certainly meant them to be offensive.

Adams was not alone in saying mean things about the Catholic church. In 1774, the Continental Congress called Catholicism, “a Religion that has deluged [Britain] in blood and dispersed Impiety, Bigotry, Persecution, Murder and Rebellion through every part of the World.” John Jay supported an article of the New York Constitution that prevented people from becoming citizens unless they would “abjure and renounce all allegiance and subjection to all and every foreign king, prince, potentate, and State in all matters, ecclesiastical as well as civil.”

Our founding documents may enshrine a right to worship without fearing government persecution, but our Founding Fathers did not surrender their right to criticize "faith traditions." I doubt that Americans who grew up reading about the Marian martyrs would endorse any legal barriers preventing people from criticizing the doctrine of transubstantiation.

I am envisioning a comments thread that runs off the rails picking apart Prof. Myers’ actions rather than the CCC’s position on the freedom of religion. I’ll save you lots of time by linking to several threads that have beaten that subject to death.

Instead, what do you think: Did the Founding Fathers believe that the first amendment should function as a cocoon to insulate “faith traditions” from non-members who wish to “attack, malign or grossly offend” them?

"He'll Gitcha"

Every time I read one of John Boyle's thinly-veiled celebrations over the providential misfortunes of his political enemies, I think of the video of the little girl who says, "Don't talk back to Darth Vader, he'll gitcha."

Maybe God isn't Darth Vader, but in this diary, he's certainly in the "gitcha" business. John Boyle's God is aligned with John Boyle's politics and regularly brings his wrath down on the heads of Boyle's political opponents. He sends lightning to destroy Andrew Oliver's house and hurricanes to drown thousands of potential British army recruits.

In April of 1766, Providence came looking for Brigadier General Timothy Ruggles. Ruggles' transgression: as president of the 1765 Stamp Act Congress, he refused to endorse the anti-Stamp Act petitions that the group sent to the King and Parliament (years later, Ruggles' Tory sympathies made it necessary for him to flee to Nova Scotia).

In February of 1766, the Massachusetts legislature formally censured Ruggles for "Neglect of Duty." The Boston Post Boy (Boyle's paper) covered the story:
Boyle himself mentioned the Ruggles affair in his diary on February 22nd:
A Congress of Deputies from the several American Colonies met at New-York in October last, and petitioned the King, Lords, and Commons, severally, for a Repeal of the Stamp-Act. The Deputies on the part of this Govt. were Brigadier Genl. Ruggles, of Hardwick, James Otis, Esqr. of Boston, and Oliver Partridge, Esqr. of Hatfield. On the 12th. Instant, Brigadier Ruggles was reprimanded by the House of Representatives for neglect of Duty at said Congress, particularly in refusing to sign the Petitions The Conduct of the other two Gentlemen was approved of. 
Boyle had never mentioned Ruggles before, but six entries later, the General shows up again:
Brigadier General Ruggles of Hardwick, being with some Men who were falling some Trees, one of the Trees falling sooner than expected, struck the Brigadier before he could get out of the Way, whereby he was greatly bruised, and had several of his Ribs broke, also one of his Arms in two places.
As in his comments about the destruction of Oliver's house, Boyle did not explicitly attribute Ruggles' injuries to divine retribution, but it's impossible to overlook his insinuations. In Boyle's mind, God's creation is allied with the Whig cause. Lukewarm patriots, beware!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


The Josiah Baker, Jr. stone (1726) in the Trumbull Burying Ground in Lebanon, CT has a great example of r-dropping: "Novemba." If you put your nose right up to the stone, you can see a teeny lower-case r offered as a correction. This stone was almost certainly carved in Obadiah Wheeler's workshop (though it is slightly uncharacteristic in some ways — most Wheeler epitaphs are written in lower-case letters).
The rest of the epitaph also demonstrates creative spelling (and formatting). It reads:
NOVEMBAr 27 1726 

Friday, August 15, 2008

Alletherr Grosvenor

Following up on a comment in this thread, I wanted to post some more evidence of accents showing up on gravestones.

In addition to the depated stones, I've seen a few stones that add an extra "r" sound onto the end of a word or name. The best example is the Annar Lawrence stone (1776) in Rumford, RI.

When I was looking over my pictures for name corrections, I found another possible example. There's a little blue slate stone in Pomfret, CT carved by the Soule workshop and dedicated to little Pearley Grosvenor, age 4 (d. 1791).* Pearley, we are told, was the son of Capt. Thomas Grosvenor and his wife, "Alletherr." It seems to me that Pearley's mother was probably named "Althea" and that one of the Soules just did his best to spell it the way it sounded.

I think this is likely because there ia at least one woman named "Althea Grosvenor" listed in 19th century census records for Pomfret (possibly a granddaughter).

 What do you think? Is "Alletherr" really "Althea" with a New England accent?

*An aside — there is a tiny town in northeastern Connecticut called North Gosvenorsdale. People on the internet will tell you it's pronounced "GROVE-ner-dale," but I've never heard anyone call it anything but the much less dignified "North Grunnerdell." It's not as bad a name as Penn Yan, NY, but it looks terrible in print.

UPDATE: I found a marriage entry for Thomas and Allethea Grosvenor in the Pomfret section of the Barbour Collection's pre-1870 vital records on They were married on June 3, 1784.
Apparently, her last name was Grosvenor both before and after her marriage. Allethea was the daughter of Caleb Grosvenor, a tavernkeeper.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"the Glorious and never to be forgotten 14th"

On August 14, 1765, citizens of Boston took to the streets to protest the Stamp Act. John Boyle described the crowd and its actions in his diary:
The Stamp-Act having occasioned a general Uneasiness among the People, this Morning the Effigies of Andrew Oliver, Esqr. the Stamp-Officer, and Lord Bute, the supposed Instigater of the Act, were discovered hanging on the Great-Trees at the So. part of the Town, (one of which Trees is hencforth to be called Liberty-Tree). The report of the Images soon spread thro' the Town, bro't a vast Number of Spectators, and a spirit of Patriotism diffused itself through the whole Concourse. About Sun-set set the Images were taken down, placed on a Bier, supported in Procession by 6 Men, followed by a great Concourse of People, some of the highest Reputation, and in the greatest order. They proceeded thro' the Town, down King-Street, from thence to Oliver's dock, where an Edifice was erected for the Use of a Stamp-Office, which they speedily levelled to the ground; then taking up the pieces of broken timber upon their shoulders, they proceeded with the Effigies to the Top of Fort-Hill, where a Fire was enkindled and the Images consumed amidst the Acclamations of Thousands of Spectators. After which they pulled down the Garden Fence of Mr. Oliver, the Stamp-Officer, entered his House, drank some of his Wine, and broke some of his Windows. They would not have entered his House had it not been from some irritating Language from those within.
From this account, it is difficult to tell whether Boyle himself took part in the protests or learned of them from those who did. Since Boyle maintains a journalistic distance even when writing about his own marriage ("Married, Mr. John Boyle, Printer and Stationer, aged 25, to Miss Caelia Gay, aged 20, Daughr. of Capt. Martin Gay"), I think that it is possible that he participated in the crowd action.

In later years, Boyle habitually noted the anniversary of the 14th in his diary, calling it, "the Glorious and never to be forgotten 14th." Each year, the Sons of Liberty held a celebration to commemorate the day:
The Fourteenth Day of August 1765 Celebrated by Sons of Liberty in Boston. At eleven o'Clock great Numbers of them assembled at Liberty-Hall, where a Number of Patriotic Toasts were drank. After which they proceeded to the Grey-hound in Roxbury, two in a Chaise, to the Number of about 300, where an Elegant dinner was provided; and about 6 o'Clock return'd to town, and passing in slow orderly procession, thro' the principal Streets, and round the State-House, they retired to their respective dwellings.
The 1773 anniversary was memorable for its humorous mishaps, while the 10th anniversary saw Boyle narrowly escape death at the hands of the occupying army:
[W]hile coming through Roxbury Street, a great Number of Cannon were discharged from Gage's outermost Lines on Boston Neck, some of the Balls (24 Pounders) came very near us — one Man being near our Horses was wounded in the Head — A Bomb which was thrown came directly over our Heads, fell about two Rods to the right of us, stuck in the Ground and broke, the explosion of which so frightened my Horse that he threw me off, but happily I received no hurt.
As it turns out, the 14th of August has indeed been forgotten, but only because it has been replaced by other significant anniversaries (notably April 19th). Those who do celebrate August 14th generally remember it as the end of World War II (Rhode Island, Hawaii, and a few towns in Connecticut still recognize VJ Day, though they don't call it that), rather than as the day when the Sons of Liberty held their banquets. I think it's silly to govern by speculating on the thoughts and intentions of the founding fathers, but I can't help but wonder about them in a more informal way. What might those Sons of Liberty have thought if they knew that 180 years later, the country they helped start would be a military superpower capable of blowing away whole cities in a single instant? The contrast between the anniversaries really brings home to me the intimate scale of the Revolution — pulling down Mr. Oliver's fence, someone shouting insults from inside the house, a frightened horse on a narrow road — compared with the modern scales of warfare and politics.

(Teapot image via the National Museum of American History. I own a reproduction of this teapot — it was a wedding gift from an archaeologist friend.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

18th-Century Connecticutian or Muppet?

Today, I have a game for you. I'll give you some names and you tell me whether they belong to people born in Connecticut between 1701 and 1800 or to Muppets who have appeared on Sesame Street.

1. Herbert Birdsfoot
2. Sherlock Doolittle
3. Hannah Hobby
4. Vincent Twice
5. Herman Bird
6. Orange Wedge
7. Alice Braithwaite Goodyshoes
8. Bathsheba Bird
9. Bathsheba Bugbee
10. Appleton Osgood
11. Lola Tuttle
12. Algernon Snerp
13. Noble Lyon
14. Nobel Price
15. Samuel Snively
16. Grover Partridge
17. Fanny Nesselrode
18. Comfort Hungerford
19. Christopher Clumsy
20. Forgetful Jones
21. Remember Baker
22. Abby Cadabby
23. More Bird
24. Polly Darton
25. Festus Canada

Answers here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Amending Imported Stones

When I was in Maine, I noticed that many of the 18th-century graveyards were dominated by stones from the big Boston carvers, particularly the Fosters of Dorchester. This makes sense due to the close ties — social, economic, and political — between coastal Maine and Massachusetts. Besides the prevalence of Dorchester-carved slate, one of the most notable things about Maine gravestones is the vast number of epitaphs that emphasize the deceased's connections with Massachusetts.

In addition, the readily-available stone in southeastern Maine is crappy for making gravestones (the stones made of local stone are typically severely deteriorated and illegible), so it makes sense that anyone with enough money would send home to Boston for slate.

The quality of the lettering on these stones indicates that the epitaphs were carved by professionals in Boston. This raises an interesting question: how did they know what to carve? Unlike local carvers who might have known the deceased or his/her family, urban carvers serving a rural market must have received orders by letter (this is probably true of any of the larger carving workshops). I don't know who wrote those letters, but it seems that somewhere along the line, there was a failure of communication.

I say this because I've seen several slate gravestones in outlying communities on which an unskilled person has altered the dead person's name.

The Joshua A. Hopkins stone (1815) in Wellfleet, MA, out near the tip of Cape Cod, is a good example of this pattern. The high-quality slate and elegance of the engraving suggest that this stone was carved near Boston and shipped across Massachusetts Bay (though I should note that I'm not 100% sure — the urn is fairly simple and could have been carved by a local). That far out on the cape, there's very little native stone worth carving. When the stone arrived, someone was obviously dissatisfied because the letterer left out Hopkins' middle initial. Since the rest of the stone is run-of-the-mill (not even a verse), it's possible that a friend of the Hopkins family ordered the stone while in Boston and didn't think to include personal details. Regardless of who ordered the stone, someone in Wellfleet was disappointed and did his or her best to correct the omission.

The Abigail Grosvenor stone (1763) in Pomfret, CT has a similar correction. It's a Boston-area slate stone (probably from the Foster shop) with competent lettering, though, to be honest, it looks like they let a high-level apprentice do the lettering because it's not as crisp as it should be. If the original lettering looks a little rough, the prominent addition of "JUNR" looks like it was gouged out with a sharp stone. If the text had been carved by a local, it would make sense to have the same hand make the correction. Instead, a much less skilled carver hacked out the missing designation.

Of course, a local carver could mess up name just as well as a carver who had to send his stone 100 miles. I'll put together a collection of name corrections and we'll see whether there are any differences between small-time carvers working in a local market and large operations serving distant communities.