Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I find this 1,000x scarier than any gravestone.
"It's a wonderful night for eyebrows . . ."

Charles Bardin

One of the most famous gravestones in New England is the stone carved by John Bull for Charles Bardin (1773). I'm always reluctant to call something the "only" example of a motif, but it's the only stone I've ever seen that has a literal depiction of God as the tympanum design. The cherubim on the finials are also particularly lovely — they have that slightly abstract quality that separates quality English painting of the 18th century from the rigid specificity of the American provincial style. Luti says John Stevens I may have been the greatest of the 18th c New England carvers, but John Bull was undoubtedly an artist of considerable merit.



To anyone who may be reading this blog: please disregard all my musings on Newport written before this date. I just got a copy of Vincent Luti's Mallet and Chisel: The Gravestone Carvers of Newport, Rhode Island in the 18th Century and it is so exhaustive and well researched that I'm sure I can't say anything intelligent about Newport without reading it first.

The great thing about blogging is that it allows me to look back on the various stages of a project. In that spirit, I will not go back and expunge all my uninformed speculations about the Newport cemeteries. Just consider this official notice that I won't stand by anything I've said on the subject in the past few weeks until I've had a chance to read Luti and see how my guesses measure up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I've gotten into reading FAIL Blog recently.
It has given me a new vocabulary to deal with things like this.

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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Amanda Jones, the 109-year-old daughter of a former slave, votes for Barack Obama.

I spend a fair amount of my time reading, thinking, and writing about slavery, but I will admit, it sometimes seems a remote topic. I know it isn't — "slavery" did not necessarily end in 1865 and no matter what the pundits say, we are by no means a "post-racial" nation. My privilege allows me to think of slavery in a vague "back in the day" sort of way, and I am grateful to be jolted out of that complacency by stories like this one. And this one, and this one, though they don't give me the warm fuzzies.

Harbottle Grimston

Name o' the day:

Harbottle Grimston

Make that Sir Harbottle Grimston. Grimston was a member of parliament and a critic of Archbishop Laud and his policies.

My discovery of Harbottle Grimston has led me to rethink my position on Grimstone Bowde — it's possible that a Puritan New Englander would honor an anti-Laud MP by naming a som after him.

Hat tip to Conrad Russell, whose tome, The Fall of the British Monarchies, 1637-1642, has been haunting me all week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Caitlin the Blogger

Jon Stewart made a joke about historical naming patterns!

The McCain campaign's official sign generator lets you fill in the blanks in the phrase, "I am _____ the ______."

Imagine the possibilities.

Dropped "D"s and "T"s

When people poke fun at the Boston/Rhode Island family of accents, the "conservation of rs" problem gets a lot of attention (cah vs. car: non-rhoticity and idear vs. idea: intrusive R). Undoubtedly, this is one of the most easily recognizable linguistic quirks of the region.

A subtler characteristic of southern New England speech is the routine dropping of ds and ts. I have no idea what this is called, but it seems that speakers of other American accents have a similar habit. Dropping ts and ds is much more common than full-blown non-rhoticity.

Why do I care? Gravestones, of course:
Hugh Ellis, Newport, RI (1723)

Samuel Winsor, Providence, RI (1758)
also, potentially, "Winsor"
I don't know how other people pronounce this, but I would pronounce "Windsor" as "Winzzer," as in "South Winzzer, Connecticut." Was he Samuel "Windsor" or "Winsor"? This book says "Windsor."

Susannah Lane, Billerica, MA (1713)
These may be coincidences, but I'll be on the lookout for more d/t irregularities from now on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm 25 today.
Here I am with my dad in 1983. I was a hirsute newborn, but I think you can see who's to blame.
Sadly, I will probably not get a cake as long as I am tall this year.
My brother, Ben, and I were born 2 years and 9 days apart. As kids, we always shared a birthday party. If I'm reading those candles correctly, we are 6 and 8 in this picture. I'm the one with the pink headband, rocking the Hermione hair before it was cool.

On this day in 1640, the Treaty of Ripon was signed. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened. In 1881, the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in Tombstone, AZ.

I share my birthday with William Sprague, Benjamin Guggenheim, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Seth MacFarlane.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Depated Update

+1 to the list of "depated" stones.
Martha Brown (d. 1769) is buried in Providence's North Burial Ground.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tingley Columns

When I think of columns on gravestones, I generally associate them with the post-Revolutionary War move toward neoclassical motifs. Imagine my surprise at finding so many "neoclassical" columns on Newport gravestones dating from the 1720s and 1730s! I can't be 100% certain, but these stones do not look like they were backdated, at least not by more than a few years. Perhaps there is something to be said here about carvers who were working from European pattern books or who had originally done some architectural work.
James Green, Newport, RI, 1723
precise columns with right angles
Sarah Mitchell, Newport, RI, 1718
columns with floral embellishments
Patienc Osband, Newport, RI, 1723
columns with lilies
Hannah Fitzhugh, Newport, RI, 1721/2
ruled columns, organic fronds, curvy hourglass

All four of these stones appear to be the work of a single carver, possibly one of the Tingleys (see Forbes). I've been calling him the lion head carver because some of his distinctive soul effigies remind me of lions:

Samuel Tingley and his descendants (many of whom are also named Samuel) were from the Attleborough/Providence area, not from Newport, and few of their stones appear in Newport after 1730 or so. The chronology I've been able to cobble together goes something like this:

Before 1700, Newport was part of the Boston gravestone market. Most of the handful of stones in the Common burying ground from the 17th century are Boston-area slates:
There are a handful of stones from the 1650s and 1660s that are unlike anything I've ever seen in New England. There are only a few of these and I'm not entirely sure they weren't imported from England:
In 1705, John Stevens I started producing gravestones. They were of dubious aesthetic quality, particularly for people who were used to Boston standards:
This is where the Tingleys come in. I'm speculating here, but it seems that people wanted something of higher quality than the early Stevens stones and found the Tingleys more acceptable. I do not know why they stopped buying stones from Boston.

By the late 1720s, there was a new carver in town: John Stevens II. His work was much more refined than his father's and (I suspect) convinced customers that there was no need to go to Providence when they could get quality stones in Newport:
This is a curious reversal — I'm used to thinking of Providence as the backwater and Newport as the cosmopolitan port city. That would prove true later in the 18th century (in gravestone quality, at least) as John Stevens II matured and fostered the artistry of John Stevens III and John Bull.

October 24th

October 24, 1929: Black Thursday
October 24, 2008: Not looking so good at the moment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Variation on a Willow

This isn't a substantive post — I just wanted to highlight the William Stall stone (1808) in Newport, RI, which features a particularly lovely version of the willow design (sans urn).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Within the Plantation Household

I review these books for class. I post them on the internet so I don't lose them. If you are reading this because section is in two hours and you haven't read the book yet, I understand. I've been there. Just don't make a habit of it. And don't think I can't see the Google searches that lead to this post.

Today, we have
Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988)

by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Twenty years after its initial publication and two years after the death of its controversial author, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988) by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese remains an influential work. Much like Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), Within the Plantation Household presents a broad range of strong arguments that modern scholars continue to refine and refute. Although some of Fox-Genovese’s conclusions have not worn as well as others, Within the Plantation Household remains a must-read for students of slavery and gender history alike.

Using slaveholding women’s diaries, letters, and postbellum memoirs, along with the Works Progress Administration’s slave narratives, as her principal sources, Fox-Genovese argues that both enslaved and slaveowning women lived and worked within a single household that comprised the basic unit of “a unique form of modern society that no familiar theoretical categorization captures” (57). She identifies the household, “a basic social unit in which people, whether voluntarily or under compulsion, pool their income and resources,” as the irreducible unit of a non-capitalist Southern slave society (31). In this telling, it is the household as a “social system,” rather than the plantation as a place of agricultural production, that defines antebellum slavery. Within this household, enslaved and slaveowning women imagined themselves as members of “one family, broadly construed,” although hierarchies of race and class ensured that their relationships were fundamentally antagonistic (133). Though they “shared a world of physical and emotional intimacy,” black and white women did not enjoy a “sense of sisterhood” (35, 184). Fox-Genovese’s long and detailed chapters trace the daily lives of plantation mistresses and the slaves who worked in their houses, devoting sustained attention to the tasks they performed, the expectations that others held for them based on their race, class, and gender, and the identities they imagined for themselves.

While several of the debates that Fox-Genovese engages continue to drive productive scholarship, others are not as pressing as they were in the 1980s. At the time of its publication, Within the Plantation Household made a substantial contribution to the move from an essentialist “women’s history” to a more theoretically rigorous “gender history.” In the 1970s, feminist scholars of women’s history tended to extrapolate broad conclusions about American women’s experiences from studies of white, middle class New Englanders, a propensity that was strengthened by their avowed political project of uniting all women behind a feminism that was still not fully conscious of its racial and class privilege. Fox-Genovese drew a distinction between white women in the North, whose urban, bourgeois culture valued individualism and the redeeming power of domestic work, and white Southern women, whose hierarchical, dependency-based culture judged women’s worth on their success in conforming to the ideal of the “lady,” rather than on their thrift, industry, and devotion to all-sacrificing motherhood. By arguing that white, Southern women’s history “does not constitute a regional variation on the main story; it constitutes another story,” Fox-Genovese joined women of color and labor historians who were offering critiques of both the white, middle-class feminist movement and the histories it produced (42).

Her exploration of slaveholding women as active and enthusiastic proponents of the slave system also delivered a heavy blow to the theses of C. Vann Woodward and Catherine Clinton, who argued that white women were secretly opposed to the system of slavery that oppressed and confined them as completely as it circumscribed the lives of slaves.  Rather than reading the complaints of women like Mary Boykin Chestnut as expressions of their contempt for slavery as a system, Fox-Genovese interprets them as personal frustrations resulting from highly privileged women’s day-to-day difficulties in managing a complex household that “never amounted to a concerted attack on the system” (335).

In addition to her contributions to women’s and gender history, Fox-Genovese stakes a claim in some of the major ongoing debates in the history of slavery. Arguing in concert with Eugene Genovese’s claims in Roll, Jordon, Roll, Fox-Genovese defines the Southern slave system as “in but not of the transatlantic capitalist world” (98). Since she understands slavery primarily as a social system in which a hierarchical network of patriarchal dependency, rather than the contractual exchange of free labor, governed relationships between individuals and classes, slavery cannot be a capitalist enterprise. Neither is it precapitalist nor feudal. Instead, Fox-Genovese describes slavery as “a system of social relations of production historically associated with the precapitalist era but nonetheless extruded by capitalism itself and therefore in essential respects congruent with capitalist forces of production” (58). Though she repeats and restates this definition several times, it is unclear whether her evidence supports such a forceful denunciation of slavery as a capitalist system. Since Fox-Genovese’s argument depends on such a precise and peculiar definition of both “slavery” and “capitalism” and because she makes no attempt to investigate economic aspects of slavery (cotton production, the slave trade, debt and credit, etc.), her sweeping conclusion seems unwarranted. Her evidence does indicate that the relationship between slaves and slaveowners went beyond a simple contractual interaction, but that alone does not preclude capitalism.

Within the Plantation Household makes other lasting contributions, including its insistence that white and black Southerners enjoyed/endured intimate relationships that were neither uncomplicatedly affectionate nor unrelentingly inhumane. While early twentieth-century historians like U. B. Phillips had portrayed relationships between slaveowners and slaves as essentially harmonious and historians of the post-World War II generation had emphasized the dehumanizing brutality of the slave regime, Fox-Genovese argued for a middle ground that recognized oppression and even cruelty while giving due consideration to the intricate human relationships among the members of the plantation household.  Similarly, she tried to find a middle ground between depicting slaves as paralyzed by their suffering and exaggerating the extent of resistance. Her instincts toward moderation in these areas are admirable, though her dependence on slaveowning women’s writing leads her to imagine female house slaves as individuals isolated from larger slave communities, a proposition that does not bear scrutiny. Some secondary arguments are also notable, particularly Fox-Genovese’s exploration of how Southern women defined their identities through writing journals and reading proscriptive literature in a way that echoed, but did not emulate, Northern women’s use of slightly different sources.

Some of Within the Plantation Household’s weaknesses can be attributed to its age. While a modern reader might wish that Fox-Genovese had applied a keener post-structuralist eye to her relentlessly orthodox sources, it is unfair to demand that an older work conform to the standards of a later era. Other methodological failings cannot be so easily forgiven. As part of her argument against capitalist slavery, Fox-Genovese rejects the methodology of the new social history and its use of quantitative methods. Her one foray into statistical analysis is dreadful; she spends eight pages arguing that the North was more urban than the South, an uncontroversial claim rendered curiously tenuous by her insistence on comparing frontier states in the Southwest to the oldest settlements in New England and her exclusion of Louisiana from her data set because “the presence of New Orleans . . . heavily skewed the data” (71). More substantially, Fox-Genovese’s near total reliance on the writings of slaveholding women render her interpretation of enslaved women’s behavior incomplete at best. While she does devote substantial attention to Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in her epilogue, most of Fox-Genovese’s evidence attesting to enslaved women’s actions and intentions comes from slaveowners’ writings and the recollections of ex-slaves who were children during the antebellum period, supplemented with an often intrusive layer of psychoanalysis.

Perhaps the most glaring weakness of Fox-Genovese’s work is her refusal to engage with the topic of sexuality. In nearly four hundred pages of text on the relationships among the members of the plantation household, she devotes a scant two paragraphs (and fewer than ten oblique references) to the sexual assault of slave women by white men and even less attention to any other types of sexual relationships (325-6). On the few occasions when she is forced to take notice of rape, Fox-Genovese demurs, coyly maintaining that a slave master was “trifling with” or “distracting himself with” an enslaved woman (96, 238). Her refusal to acknowledge sexual violence is a glaring omission with political consequences.  Moreover, it weakens her argument. If indeed both enslaved and slaveowning women’s “complex and frequently conflicted relations with the premier custodian of their own specific and different subordinations lay at the core of their identities and informed their everyday lives in innumerable particulars,” the sexual/political dynamics within the household are crucial to understanding those immensely fraught relationships (101). Since she does not grapple with this aspect of life within the “family,” Fox-Genovese is reduced to blaming conflicts between mistresses and slaves on “incompatible personalities” and “normal mood swings on both sides” (135). In her prologue, Fox-Genovese defends her “conscious choice” to ignore sexuality, arguing that the available sources do not allow for responsible exploration of sexuality on antebellum plantations and dismissing other scholars’ work as “speculation” (34).

Another troubling aspect of Fox-Genovese’s analysis is her penchant for soft-pedaling the violence and persecution inherent in the slave system. In order to maintain the idea of the “household” as a meaningful unit of analysis, Fox-Genovese is forced into untenable understatements of conflict, such as, “Southern slaves strenuously differed with slaveholders about ‘household’ decisions that affected the size of rations or, especially, the sale of family members” (67). Although she does pay serious attention to oppression elsewhere in the book, this and similar statements, coupled with her avoidance of rape and her insistence on referring to slaves as “servants” make Fox-Genovese’s portrait of the plantation household overly sympathetic toward the slaveholders.

Within the Plantation Household
is a work of substantial scholarly (and physical) heft that is still useful to historians of slavery. Although he disagrees with her conclusions, Walter Johnson’s consideration of the rancorous intimacy between masters and slaves in Soul by Soul owes something to Fox-Genovese’s argument that those relationships were social and complicated as well as economic and coercive. Fox-Genovese’s focus on women helped to uncouple the terms “slaveowner” and “slave” from earlier historians’ uncritical use of those terms to denote male slaveowners and male slaves, just as her insistence on drawing distinctions between Northern women and Southern women undermined universalist assumptions about women’s shared experience, even when those women enjoyed the same racial and class privilege. Although the modern reader will no doubt encounter many objectionable assertions in Within the Plantation Household, it is too important a work to bear hasty dismissal and should be read with an eye toward what it can still offer after two decades of intense scholarly revision.

Taliaferro Stubbins

Name of the day:

Taliaferro Stubbins

If I remember correctly from my well-worn Civil War trivia cards, the Taliaferros of Virginia pronounce their name as either "Toliver" or "Tay-fer" or something inbetween. Taliaferro Stubbins is remembered in the historical record chiefly for his son-in-law's embarassing extramarital affairs. In Within the Plantation Household, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese uses the story as an example of how sexual impropriety could end up bringing shame on an entire family.

Monday, October 20, 2008


If I have learned anything from taking this course on the seventeenth century wars in England, Scotland, and Ireland, it is that the tax code of the United States is a true blessing.

Honestly — you pay your taxes every year, the rules are written down, and you can plan for them. Sure, the rules are tricky and the laws are written to protect the wealthy. I'm not saying America's tax system is perfect. But seriously, we don't have to go to war every time some jackass levies ship money or "fifths and twentieths."

Similarly, eminent domain sucks, but it's noting like confiscation and sequestration.

Pete had a professor in college who used to say that the thing he loved most about America was the DMV. In his native India, you can't get a driver's license without bribing ten different people and even then you might be out of luck. In America, everyone waits in the same line, fills out the same forms, pays a set fee, and that's it.

So, thank you, Early Modern British history, for teaching me that the income tax, while a pain, is at least predictable and relatively easy to understand.

Old Style, New Style

Back in July, I asked, "What's the latest date you've ever seen written with OS/NS notation?" Today, the surprising answer is 1817.

Jeremiah Brown of Providence, RI was born in 1746, before the official switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Still, it seems bizarre to draw attention to that fact in 1817, especially since Brown was born in December, so it doesn't matter if it's old style or new style — it would be 1746 either way.

Just another data point in the case for proving that Rhode Island is a strange and wonderful place.

Desire Tripp's Amputated Arm

I know I've posted this one before, but I was piggybacking off of Prof. Emlen's photos. Now that I have my own, it's time for a repeat.
I won't say that this is the strangest gravestone in New England because the weirdness of New England is endlessly baffling. Nevertheless, I'm willing to give it top-10 status.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

101 Ways, Part 59: Basely Assassinated

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

Brevet Capt.
21st Regt. Veteran Res. Corps.
After serving
with distinguished courage
in the U.S. Army
from the commencement to
the close of the Civil War,
he was basely assassinated
while in the discharge of
his Military duties
at Grenada Mississippi,
April 30, 1866,
in his 25th year.

Blanding served with a unit attached to the Freedman's Bureau and tasked with "protecting the citizens [of Mississippi] from outrage." Though a report to the House of Representatives states that the murderer was "well known," as far as I can tell, he was never arrested.

Zingo Stevens: Unsung Carver of Newport

Note: These comments reflect the state of my knowledge about Newport at the beginning of my project. I'm learning more now and am not quite sure everything here will continue to be my best understanding of the subject.

Note II: Please note that I no longer believe that Zingo Stevens and Pompe Stevens were the same person. I will post a longer paper detailing my reasoning on this matter soon (Jan. 2009). I am leaving this post up without editing its text because it shows the evolution of my thinking on this project, but please do not use this post as a source to establish evidence for conflating Zingo Stevens with Pompe Stevens. They are two different people, as I will show in my longer work.

The stonecarvers of eighteenth-century Newport are among New England's most celebrated. John Bull and the Stevens family supplied the wealthy merchant's of Rhode Island with exquisite gravestones that rival Boston's best. The John Stevens shop is one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the United States — it opened in 1705 and its artisans are responsible for the lettering on many buildings and memorials, including the National WWII Memorial.

But there was another carver in Newport, one whose work has often gone unacknowledged. His name was Zingo Stevens, sometimes known as Pompe, and he was John Stevens' slave.

We know that Zingo Stevens was a stone carver because he told us so. A stone dedicated to his brother, Cuffe, reads,"this Stone was cut by Pompe Stevens in Memory of his brother Cuffe Gibbs who died Dec. 27th 1768 aged -- Years" (note: Stevens was known as "Pompe" while he was a slave, but reverted to his birth name, Zingo, as a free man after the Revolutionary War).
There are a few important things to notice about this stone. First, it is obviously not in the best condition. It is made of a rough slate with many inclusions — not the most expensive stone. Second, the tympanum design is roughly carved by someone who appears to have been uncomfortable with the facial details that distinguish Stevens shop stones. Third, the letters are competently, but somewhat hesitantly, cut. Fourth, the border designs are top notch.

What does this mean? Most importantly, it means that Zingo was responsible for some of the carving attributed to the Stevens shop. This can hardly have been the only stone he ever cut, though it is the only one explicitly attributed to him.

But what, exactly, did Zingo Stevens carve, and what does that mean for interpreting the Stevens shop's work?

I think that we can assume that Zingo was a fairly competent carver. It seems unlikely that he would have claimed the stone as his own if he hadn't done more than rough out its shape. Two scenarios seem likely to me: 1) Zingo is responsible for the rough soul effigy and competent lettering, but not the elegant border scrolls, or 2) Zingo is responsible for all of the carving on the stone. Scenario #1 is plausible — perhaps he took charge of a blank with pre-carved borders.

The reason I think scenario #2 is compelling is that border carving could easily be "staffed out" to Zingo or another carver other than the shop's master in order to free John Stevens himself for detail work. This border pattern is very common on Stevens shop stones, and could have been perfected by a decent carver through repetition. Furthermore, it would make sense for a non-master carver to "rough out" a face, but not be able to finish the details with confidence. I don't mean to imply that Zingo Stevens was a poor carver — his letters are much better than many rural carvers — but it seems that he was not as accomplished as John Stevens.

A few other stones, notably the Quash Dunbar stone (1770) have this same combination of beautiful borders and rough tympanums/letters, and can be reasonably attributed to Zingo Stevens.
Some have attributed the stone dedicated to Zingo's wife, Phillis, and their son, Prince, to Zingo Stevens. Roy Hilbinger writes that "Zingo Stevens was employed to carve the stones of Newport's African-American community, both slave and free. He specialized in portrait stones, and often his portraits incorporated African motifs" such as a checkerboard design similar to Kente cloth. I think that this interpretation is unlikely. The "portrait stones" that Hilbinger attributes to Zingo postdate the Cuffe Gibbs stone by 4-5 years, but the carving is nothing like Zingo's signed work. The intricate relief carvings are typical of John Stevens' own work, which can be seen on the Nathaniel Waldron stone (1769).
I think that the truth is more complicated (and more interesting) than Hilbinger implies. Rather than John carving stones for white residents of Newport and Zingo carving stones for black residents, both were responsible for work that appears in both sections of the graveyard. It is, perhaps, uncontroversial to observe that John Stevens was responsible for many of the gravestones dedicated to Africans and African Americans — Forbes argued as much in 1927. It is similarly obvious that Zingo Stevens did some carving — his signed work is some of the earliest American sculptures attributable to an identifiable African-American artist. What I have yet to find is someone taking the logical next step and arguing that Zingo Stevens is responsible for at least some of the carving, not just of gravestones belonging to African-Americans, but on many of the Stevens shop stones. Perhaps he carved the border for Hart Cranston Dunbar's stone (1762), which is nearly indistinguishable from the border on the Cuffe Gibbs stone.
This is an intriguing possibility. Scholars have long recognized "God's Little Acre" — the African-American section of the Newport Common Burial Ground — as an important historical site. If we could prove that Zingo Stevens had a hand in carving these other stones, the whole graveyard becomes a gallery of his work. It is probably impossible to attribute specific border carvings, particularly in such a large and busy workshop, but I think that there is enough evidence to accept the proposition provisionally.

Now what I want to know is who carved the Prince Stevens stone (1759)? The lettering and border could be Zingo's — did he carve the face, too?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

El Tinklenberg

Meet El Tinklenberg.

I think that's Spanish for "The Tinklenberg."

101 Ways, Part 58: Died . . . From Stabs Inflicted With a Knife

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

It's true! It's true! Drinking makes you a murderer. Just check out the last line of Freelove Ball's epitaph:

To the Memory of
wife of Elijah Ball,
& daughter of Jonathan
Mitchell of Block Island.
She died April 18, 1836,
from stabs inflicted with a knife,
in her 44th year.
The Mother of nine children
who all lived to deplore the loss
of so excellent a Mother.
Oh! tis a trying thing to be bereft of life
By the vile hand of him who called her wife
And those who read may thus infer from hence
That this rash act sprung from Intemperance!

Elijah Ball was tried for murder and convicted. On, October 1, 1836, the Norfolk Advertiser reported that "the Jury was out only ten minutes," though the Columbia Register says it was 20 minutes. Although Ball was sentenced to death, he petitioned for clemency, and it was granted (via the Newport Mercury):

Freelove Ball is buried in Providence's North Burial Ground.

Friday, October 17, 2008

101 Ways, Part 57: Began to Dissolve

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
I'm not generally squeamish when it comes to graveyards, but this epitaph, despite its economy of language, evoked an extremely unpleasant mental image. I suppose it isn't so bad in context, but I didn't remember the whole epitaph — only that phrase stuck with me.

The human form
respected for its honesty
and known 53 years
by the appellation
began to dissolve in the
month of February 1789.

Christopher Ellery, Common Burial Ground, Newport, RI, 1789

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Desire Dyre

Name of the Day:

Desire Dyre

Desire Dyre died in Newport, RI in 1767.

101 Ways, Part 56: Was Found Lashed to the Mast of His Sunken and Ill-Fated Vessel

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

Continuing on with the drowning theme, here we have Captain Thomas Green Hull of Providence, RI, whose epitaph gets downright graphic:

BORN AUG. 17, 1832.
DEC. 21, 1864,

The top of the monument has broken off, but it looks to me like it might be part of a ship. The capstan, perhaps? I don't know. Any pirates out there who can help me out?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John McCain is a Troll

Stupid me, worrying about my "health." Did you see how he said that? Oh, women's health, airquotes, that's such bullshit — only a radical would care about a woman's so-called health.

John McCain should crawl back under his bridge because the sun is coming up.

In Which I Am a Slacker

Yes, I have to read Eugene Genovese's Roll Jordan Roll and read/review Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Within the Plantation Household before tomorrow night. And yes, both of those books could stop a bullet. But who could stay inside on a day like today?

Pete needed a ride to Providence, so I packed my camera and the Genoveses' greatest hits and spent the morning in the North Burial Ground.

The little girl buried under this beautiful monument is named "Minnie Maria," which is an adorable name.
I'll post more good Rhode Island names and epitaphs in the coming days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sir Norton Knatchbull

I am more than a little swamped at the moment, so it will be a few days before I get back into the "Ways to Say 'Died'" series.

At the moment, I am juggling two papers and a heavy load of reading that includes an unintentionally hilarious monograph called The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-60 (1966) by Alan Everitt. Most of this book is about the intricacies of petitioning parliament in the run-up to the English Civil War and how the county of Kent responded to the war once it came (answer: fighting anyone who wanted to infringe on local autonomy, regardless of ideology).

What makes Kent a surprisingly interesting read is the hobbitishness of it all. Seriously, the first chapters are all about how the Honywoods and Twistletons raise hops on their estates at Nizels Hoath and Challock on the Downs and Boughton-under-Blean. Then, war comes and nothing is ever the same.

Onomastic Honors go to:
Sir Norton Knatchbull of Mersham-le-Hatch
Prebendary Blechynden of Canterbury
Barnabas Knell, vicar of Reculver-cum-Hoath

If I ever go to England, I'll make an effort to visit Knatchbull's tomb.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Give Us A Flag

A few months ago, I posted the lyrics of "The Marching Song of the First Arkansas," a song ostensibly written by a white officer serving with the 1st Arkansas USCT. I am of the opinion that the officer, Captain Miller, merely transcribed the lyrics after hearing the soldiers sing the song on the march (argument here).

Today, in honor of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw's 171st birthday, I present a song written by a private serving with Company A of the 54th Massachusetts (my source does not give his name):

Give Us A Flag
Frémont he told them when the war it first begun,
How to save the Union, and the way it should be done;
But Kentucky swore so hard and old Abe he had his fears,
Till every hope was lost but the colored volunteers.
Oh! give us a flag, all free without a slave,
We'll fight to defend it as our fathers did so brave:
The gallant Comp'ny "A" will make the rebels dance;
And we'll stand by the Union if we only have a chance.

McClellan went to Richmond with two hundred thousand brave:
He said, 'keep back the niggers' and the Union he would save.
Little Mac he had his way, still the Union is in tears,
Now they call for the help of the colored volunteers.

Old Jeff says he'll hang us if we dare to meet him armed:
A very big thing, but we are not at all alarmed;
For he first has got to catch us before the way is clear,
And 'that's what's the matter' with the colored volunteer.

So rally, boys, rally, let us never mind the past:
We had a hard road to travel, but our day is coming fast;
For God is for the right, and we have no need to fear:
The Union must be saved by the colored volunteer.

(Some sources add the following verse, but it does not appear in The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867), and I don't have access to the original source, the Boston Transcript. I can't confirm its authenticity at the moment, but I don't doubt that it may be original — poems in 19th century newspapers generally go on at some length.)
Then here is to the 54th, which has been nobly tried,
They were willing, they were ready, with their bayonets by their side,
Colonel Shaw led them on and he had no cause to fear,
About the courage of the colored volunteer.

101 Ways, Part 55: Drowned

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

There are many places to drown in New England. Today, people drown in the ocean, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, pools, and bathtubs. In the eighteenth century, there were not so many pools and bathtubs, but people drowned in other places: rainwater hogsheads, troughs, and occasionally, buckets. In addition to drowning, many young children died after being scalded when hot kettles overturned. Here's a quick sample of death notices:

Boston Evening Post, November 26, 1753:

The Boston News-Letter and New-England Chronicle, May 21, 1767:

Boston Weekly News-Letter, July 11, 1741:

As sometimes happened when death was violent or unexpected, the epitaphs of drowning victims often go beyond the quotidian "died" and "departed this life" to include a specific cause of death. Here are a few examples:

Jacob Stone, Charlestown, MA (1746):

Comfort Eddy, Providence, RI (1785):

William Mills, Copp's Hill Burying Ground, Boston, MA (179-):