Thursday, April 30, 2009

Anonymous Baby

This Victorian baby's stone in Grove Hill Cemetery in Waltham, MA, is probably for a still-born or miscarried child. No name appears on the stone (front, back, or top), which stands only a few inches tall.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum

Today, I visited the Massachusetts Archives out by the JFK Library. I had been to the JFK library before, but never to the Archives. I'll definitely be going back — the reading room is crammed with probate records, vital statistics records, and loads of other useful resources.

I was there to see the probate records pertaining to Robert Cuming of Concord, MA. He died in 1754, leaving his entire estate to his wife, Helen, who later divided it among their three grown children, John, Ame, and Elizabeth. John graduated from Harvard, became a respected doctor, and earned the honorific "Colonel" for his service on the Committee of Correspondence during the Revolution. Ame and Elizabeth became shopkeepers in Boston, where they refused to abide by the nonimportation agreements. Eventually, they fled to Canada and were charged with treason in absentia. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at family gatherings.

When I was finished in the reading room, I stopped by the Commonwealth Museum, which is really just a timeline of Massachusetts history aimed at students in grades 4-8. The displays are eye-catching and there are several interactive features, but practically no artifacts. What display cases there are are filled with reproductions of documents, playing cards, quill pens, etc.

I wandered through these exhibits for about five minutes before getting bored and making a beeline for the "Treasures Gallery" at the back of the museum. This darkened chamber holds six priceless artifacts:
  • the original copper plate produced by Paul Revere depicting the Boston Massacre
  • the 1629 charter for the Massachusetts Bay colony
  • the re-issued 1691 charter
  • a Goddard broadside of the Declaration of Independence
  • Massachusetts' copy of the Bill of Rights
  • John Adams' copy of the Massachusetts Constitution
Since it is an archive, this is obviously a document-heavy collection, but even I, a lover of material culture, was very impressed. The 1629 charter (pictured above) looks so strangely medieval, and it's always fun to read the original Bill of Rights, in which our First Amendment is really #3.

"A Man of his Word"

This Lamson shop stone from 1723 is unusual for its pithy, personal epitaph. During this period, the Lamson shop carved two general types of epitaphs: a short version consisting of name, date, age, and occasionally a one-line verse such as "Ye Memory of Ye Just is Blessed," and a long version that's more personal and usually dedicated to ministers or other eminent public men. Robert Anyan's stone in Waltham conforms to the short version, but commemorates one of the deceased's admirable qualities, rather than employing a stock phrase.

Here Lyes Buried
the Body of Mr.
Robert Anyan
Who Decd. Decmbr.
ye 12th 1723. Aged
about 68 Years.
A Man of his Word.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thank You, Winterthur!

I'm back from Delaware, where I had the honor of presenting my paper on Pompe Stevens at the Winterthur Museum. I got great feedback and a lot of enthusiastic praise, which was very reassuring. I was nervous about speaking slowly and clearly, but it all went well.

I had never been  to Winterthur before and I was duly impressed. During one of the breaks, I was able to take a tour of the house, which is crammed with 80,000 amazing artifacts — furniture, paintings, china, textiles, silver, architectural features, etc. I enjoyed the Society of the Cincinnati china and the giant punchbowls near the formal staircase. If you like Early American material culture — particularly when it takes the form of high-end decorative arts — this museum is truly a must-see.

Stone Turned Upside Down

Of the many intriguing gravestones currently in the possesion of the John Stevens shop, this little footstone caught my eye. The carver originally intended to letter the other end of the stone, but he broke off a piece of the corner. Instead of wasting the stone, he merely flipped it over and finished the other side. The blemished stone became ballast.

Ironically, the flawed side, which remained buried for two centuries, is in nearly pristine condition, while the new top is pretty battered.

This reminds me of the recycled stone at Copp's Hill.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Little Annie

"Out Little Annie"
Newport Common Burying Ground
Newport, RI

Like the sculpture dedicated to Willie, Mary, and Charlie, this early Victorian child's gravestone characterizes the deceased child as an angelic creature with only one name, rather than as a dependent of earthly parents.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Silva Gardner

This gravestone might not look like much, but it is an extraordinary object for one reason: it appears in the records of the John Stevens shop under the account of its purchaser, Newport Gardner, a.k.a. Occramar Marycoo.
John Stevens' book contains an entry for September 28, 1790 under Newport Gardner's account:
"To Cutting a pair of Grave Stones for your Child Silva . . . 15 shillings"

The footstone does not survive, but Silva Gardner's headstone still stands in God's Little Acre.

Newport Gardner paid for his daughter's gravestone with ten bushels of potatoes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pompey Brenton

Pompey Brenton, 1772
Newport Common Burying Ground
Newport, RI
carved by John Stevens III
This stone was carved right around the time when John Stevens III started carving in a "typographic" style rather than a "lyric" style (this terminology c/o John Benson at the John Stevens shop). The change was, apparently, related to the arrival of Baskerville type in Newport. According to Mr. Benson, the typeface became wildly popular and captured the attention of John Stevens III, who abandoned the letterforms of his youth in favor of the more regular, ruled letterforms of his post-1772 stones.
I'm not entirely sure I can reliably describe the differences — certainly, I cannot approach Mr. Benson's enthusiasm for the subject — but I can provide an example.
In the Samuel Petteface stone (1771), also carved by John Stevens III, the numeral 1 is very different from the typographic 1 on the Pompey Brenton stone. Mr. Benson also assures me that there is a greater harmony of form between the letters and iconography on the Petteface stone than on the Brenton stone, though my eye is not as discerning on this point.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Depated: Not Only in New England

Here's a "depated" stone from Elizabeth, New Jersey:
Photo from the Farber Gravestone Collection. I'd embed it, but I can't figure out how to use their embedding feature.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Public Lives of Things

This weekend, I will be presenting a short paper at the University of Delaware's Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars. The topic of this year's symposium is "The Public Lives of Things" and will feature a diverse array of presentations.

I will be speaking about Pompe Stevens' carvings. As readers of this blog know, I have been working on this project off and on for several months now. It's certainly not done — I'm thinking of taking it in a more literary direction, rather than an art-historical one — but I'm at a point where I'm ready for some feedback.

I'll set some gravestones to auto-post over the weekend for your entertainment. If you happen to find yourself near the Winterthur Estate on Saturday, come by and see me!

Good Names for Generals, Part II

Want to become a Civil War general? It helps if you are named after another famous general or explorer.


Maj. Gen. Christopher Columbus Andrews
Maj. Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte Buford
Brig. Gen. William Wallace Burns
Maj. Gen. Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana
Brig. Gen. George Washington Deitzler
Maj. Gen. Washington Lafayette Elliot
Brig. Gen. Andrew Jackson Hamilton
Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
Maj. Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock
Brig. Gen. Americus Vespucius Rice
Brig. Gen. Gustavus Adolphus Smith


Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner
Brig. Gen. Francis Marion Cockrell
Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott Featherston
Brig. Gen. George Washington Gordon
Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

101 Ways, Part 80: Translation to ye Temple Above

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

Thanks to RJO for the tip on this gravestone in Waltham's Grove Hill Cemetery:
Here Lyes ye Remains of ye
Revnd. Mr. SAMUEL ANGIER. Descen
ded From ye Most Famous Dr. AMES
& Allied to yt Larned President & Divine
Mr. URIAN OAKES by Marring His Only
Daughtr. He was Maney Years ye Deli-
gent Pastor of ye Church of Christ in 
REHOBATH, Removed Thence to ye Pasto
ral Charge Of a Church in WATERTOW
Whare He Faithfully Managed that Trust
Till His Translation to ye Temple Above
Which was Janry. 21st 1718/19 AEtats. 65

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

101 Ways, Part 79: Whose Deaths . . . Were Occasioned by the Explosion of the Powder Mill

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
This stone, in Chelmsford, MA, is dedicated to two brothers who died in an explosion in 1820.

Early on the morning of December 5, 1820, a spark flared at a gunpowder factory owned by Messrs. Hale, Whipple, and Tileston. The subsequent explosion consumed 2,000 pounds of gunpowder and could be heard 30 miles away. According to the History of Chelmsford, the explosion was probably caused "by the friction of the pestle against the mortar."

Four men were killed: Levi Marshall, Nathaniel Marshall, Sherburne Chase, and John Ives.

The epitaph tells the story:
to the memory of
Sons of
Mr. James & Mrs. Joanna Marshall,
whose deaths, together with those of
Sherburne Chase of Litchfield, N.H.
and John Ives of Sudbury
were occasioned by the explosion of
the Powder Mill in Chelmsford,
Dec. 5, 1820.
They were pleasant in their lives,
And in their deaths they were not divided.

My age's hope my youthful boast
My soul's chief blessing and my pride,
In one sad moment all were lost
When Levi and Nathaniel died.
Levi Marshall and John Ives were
instantly killed, Sherburne Chase &
Nathaniel Marshall survived, the
former 44, the latter 24 hours.

Over the next decade, the gunpowder factory exploded again and again. The History of Chelmsford recounts these incidents:
  • June 5, 1821: "Between 6 and 7 in the afternnon the powder mill took fire and exploded. Three persons were killed, Fitzgerald, Howard and Farr."
  • December 11, 1821: "About 4 p.m., the drying house of the powder factory took fire from the oven and exploded. Thomas Sullivan was killed. The other buildings were much injured. Windows and barn doors in the neighborhood were burst open and broken."
  • December 22, 1826: "Whipple's powder mill exploded. One man was hurt."
  • January 4, 1830: "There was another explosion. The building was destroyed and Mr. Robinson was mortally injured."
After that, there are no further accounts of exploding powder mills in Chelmsford — either the technology got more reliable or Mr. Whipple et al. gave up the enterprise. Perhaps they had trouble hiring new employees.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Images for "“To the World The Lettered Stone Shall Tell”: Graveyard Politics and the Siege of Boston, 1775-6"

I'm workshopping a paper on Monday and need somewhere to put the images.

Figure 1:

Lydia Dyar Gravestone, 1776, Billerica, MA
photo by CGDHopkins

Happy Patriots' Day!

 If you live in Massachusetts or Maine, you already know that today is Patriots' Day. I didn't go out to the reenactment, but I did drag Pete over to Cambridge Common on Saturday night to visit the brass horseshoe prints commemorating the ride of William Dawes.

There are several graves in local graveyards dedicated to those killed on April 19, 1775. British Regulars are buried in Lexington, Arlington, and Milk Row Cemetery in Somerville. Minutemen killed during the battle are buried in all over the place — the Jason Russell gravesite in Arlington is one of the most impressive. I find the British soldiers' graves particularly sad. The makeshift marker in Arlington looks so woefully forgotten. In Lexington, some 19th- or 20th-century mourner erected a more permanent memorial, but it's still anonymous and sad:

The "Lexington Alarm" was a defining moment in the lives of many New England men. Years later, it was the most memorable moment of their lives. In Brooklyn, CT, Asa Pike's gravestone marks him as one of the many Connecticut men who marched to Massachusetts in the days following the battle.

Name o' the Day

Today, we honor the man who was born to be a Confederate general,

Born in South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis, States Rights was a member of the illustrious Gist clan who, unsurprisingly, supported secession. His cousin, William Henry Gist, was governor of South Carolina in 1860 and led the secession movement.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Names for Generals

If you want your child to be a general in the US military when he or she grows up, you should plan now and give the little tyke a nice general-ish name. Need some inspiration? Here are some American generals with fun names:

Galusha Pennypacker: fought in the Civil War; youngest person promoted to rank of brigadier general (age 20)

Speed Fry: fought in Mexican-American War, Civil War; famous for killing Confederate general Felix Zollicoffer in 1862, which he may or may not have done

Pleasant Hackleman: fought in Civil War, killed at Corinth, MS in 1862

Green Berry Raum: fought in Civil War; later served as a congressman from Illinois; "Raum" is also the name of a particularly fierce demon

Wager Swayne: fought in Civil War; Medal of Honor recipient for gallantry at Corinth, MS

Zealous B. Tower: fought in Civil War; named after his grandfather, Zealous Bates, who was a Massachusetts soldier during the Revolution

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Name o' the Day

Today, I learned that Gen. John Buford (commander of US cavalry brigades during the Civil War) had a brother named Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, who was also a general.

John "Ahab" Deblois

While I was in Newport yesterday, I stumbled across the grave of Capt. John S. Deblois, commander of the famous Ann Alexandra, a whaling ship that was "stove and sunk by a Sperm Whale in the Pacific Ocean, 1851."

The demise of the Ann Alexandra made headline news all over the United States in 1851. Hundreds of newspapers reprinted the Panama Herald's "thrilling account":
Here's another version if you can't see the New York Times archives.

By coincidence, the first American edition of Melville's Moby Dick hit bookshelves mere days after the story broke. Melville himself commented in awe,
Ye Gods! What a Commentator is this Ann Alexander whale. What he has to say is short & pithy & very much to the point. I wonder if my evil art has raised this monster. 
Maybe he should have turned that "evil art" toward raising an audience — Moby Dick sold about 4,000 copies between its publication in 1851 and Melville's death in 1891.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Visit to the John Stevens Shop

I had a wonderful day today — I passed the afternoon at the John Stevens Shop in Newport. John and Nick Benson were extremely generous — not only did they allow me to look through the unpublished ledgers, they also took the time to walk me through the different carving styles of individual carvers and pointed out the subtleties of letterforms that I, admittedly, had a hard time picking up from Vincent Luti's book.

The ledgers are amazing. Amazing. Some of them are in rough shape, but they are packed with useful and interesting information about commerce in 18th-century Newport. In addition to the records related to gravestone production, there are gems like John Stevens III's "A Memorandum of Hogs, for my own Satesfaction," and accounts of various servants' infractions. John Stevens III actually recorded his children's birthdates (including exact time of birth and weight), marriages, and deaths in the inside cover of his shop ledger as if it were a family Bible.

I found some incredibly useful information about freedmen who commissioned stones for their family members in the 1780s and 1790s.

John also showed me several fallen stones that people have brought to the shop over the years, including two from God's Little Acre. I was especially excited to see this one, which indicates that two slaves owned by Christopher Phillips — Hagar and Lonnon — were siblings:

Silvester Collins

Silvester isn't an unheard of name, but I've never seen it used as a girl's name before. Silvester Collins of Newport, RI was "ye DAVGHTR OF ARNOLD COLLINS & OF SARAH HiS WiFE."

I'm also interested in John Stevens I's spelling of "departed" as "dparted."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

John Wilkes Booth

To mark the 144th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, I'm putting the spotlight on those Americans who hate democracy enough to have named their little sons in honor of one of our nation's most notorious villains.*

I am only listing people who signed themselves "John Wilkes Booth XXX" as adults and parents of infants named John Wilkes Booth. After all, it's not the kid's fault — unless he chooses to sign it on his draft card when he's 44.
  • John Wilkes Booth Green, Burnet Co., TX, b. 17 Dec 1872
  • John Wilkes Booth Shipley, Searcy Co., AR, b. 9 May 1874
  • John Wilkes Booth O'Brien, Gastonia, NC 
  • John Wilkes Booth Franks, Harris Co., TX, d. 17 Jan 1957
  • Wilkes Booth Lacy, Dallas, TX, b. 1894
  • Wilkes Booth Walker, Houston, TX, b. 9 Sept 1941 d. 3 Jul 2008
  • George and Nancy Sharp, parents of John Wilkes Booth Sharp, Carroll Co., GA, b. 1871
  • Richard and Julia Wagoner, parents of John Wilkes Booth Wagoner, Tyler Co., West Virginia, b. 1873
  • Wilkins and Arminda Dewees, parents of J Wilkes Booth Dewees, Hickory Hill, Illinois, b. 1870
  • Benjamin and Missouria Emmons, parents of John Wilkes Booth Emmons, Bethel, Kentucky, b. 1865
  • John and Mary Winston of Milam, Texas, parents of John Wilkes Booth Winston, b. 1865
I'm not really sure what to make of this example: an African American girl born in North Carolina in 1921 named "Wilkes Booth Lincoln March."

This is just a sampling — there are thousands of people in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 census records named John Wilkes Booth X, JWBooth X, J Wilkes Booth X, Wilkes Booth X, Booth X, etc.

*Obviously, there is no shortage of villains in American history. Many people have killed more of their fellow human beings than JWB ever did, and I am not claiming that he is the only baddie out there. I reserve a special level of villainhood for those who assassinate elected officials — their crimes are against the nation and the democratic process, not just against a single person or group of people.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deliverance Greene, Newport, RI

"Deliverance" is one of those virtue names that makes me wonder about nicknames.

It's also unisex virtue name — Deliverance Greene of Newport was a girl, Deliverance Wakefield of Boston was a boy, and I don't know about Deliverance Mesenger of Windsor, CT.

While looking for information on virtue names, I came across this wonderful modern list. If I ever have twins, maybe I'll name them Quintessence and Panache.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Foucault = Porn?


If you've seen any liberal blogs today, you've probably heard about the latest Amazon debacle. Apparently, Amazon has been reclassifying books with gay and lesbian subject matter as "adult" books and has stripped them of their sales ranks. This means that these books will not show up on Amazon's bestseller lists and, in some cases, are removed from searches.

I actually think the purge is a bit broader than people think — several books on the history of sexuality that do not deal primarily with gay themes have also been stripped of their sales ranks.

Here are some books from my general exam lists that have been stripped of their sales rank as of 4/12/09:

The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1
by Michel Foucault

Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699
by Roger Thompson

English Sexualities, 1700-1800
by Tim Hitchcock

by Robert Nye

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World
by George Chauncey

Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History
by Martha Hodes

Common Whores, Vertuous Women, and Loveing Wives: Free Will Christian Women in Colonial Maryland
by Debra Meyers


Heather Has Two Mommies
by Leslea Newman

Daddy's Roomate
by Michael Willhoite

Other children's books, including King and King and The Different Dragon, still have their sales rank, so it seems that the removal may have had something to do with an ill-advised reclassification of any book classified with "human sexuality."

From this evidence, it doesn't seem that Amazon's ill-advised decision to find "adult" books was a malicious/deliberate swipe at gays and lesbians in particular. The net is a bit wider, including many books on human sexuality. Yet, malicious or not, deliberate or not, this epic fail shows an incredible degree of stupidity and insensitivity on Amazon's part. The intention behind the act does not mitigate the effects.

Beyond that, what was their intention? To make certain books harder to find? To imply that anyone writing or reading about issues of gender and sexuality dwells in an underworld of perversion and vice that should be hidden away? Wtf, Amazon?

I would be very surprised if this problem is not corrected first thing Monday morning.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

1960: The Making of a Mildly Amusing Board Game

It's been another raucous night of debauchery here in Cambridge —Pete and I spent the evening playing 1960: The Making of the President. My initial reaction: meh.

In this 2-player game, the opponents vie for electoral votes by deploying event cards based on real factors in the 1960 presidential campaign. For example, the Nixon player might play the "Norman Vincent Peale" card to counteract Kennedy's support among Catholics, while the Kennedy player might play the "Nixon's Knee" card to slow down Nixon's campaigning. Players can also gain support by buying advertising, winning endorsements, and spending "campaign points" to position themselves on the major issues (Defense, Economy, Civil Rights). There's even a mini-game to simulate the debates.

Unfortunately, this was a game that added up to less than the sum of its parts. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the event cards and learning tidbits of information about the campaigns, but that was really the best part. The other parts seemed unbalanced — advertising was a pain to buy and ended up netting the buyer very little, positioning on the issues was similarly irrelevant, and the wide swings in support in key states at the end of the game were neither plausible nor particularly interesting. It was very difficult to keep track of the electoral vote count and I spent much of the game wondering if this simulation wouldn't have been better as a video/computer game rather than a board game with 1,000 tiny cubes.

None of those aspects of the game are necessarily fatal flaws, but in the end, it just was not very much fun. I felt no sense of accomplishment or suspense, and the individual maneuvers, while engaging in the sense that they took brainpower, never left me emotionally invested in the outcome.

Sometimes that happens the first time I play a game — I don't know what I'm doing, so I have no strategy, and just end up going through the motions. Usually, though, by the end, I'm excited and want to try again. This game left me indifferent. I'd be willing to play it again, as it will almost certainly be better the second time, but I'm not sure it will become a favorite like Agricola or Nexus OpsOther people seem to like 1960, so maybe it's just not my cup of tea.

It's easy to joke about it — what? a board game about the 1960 election is not thrilling? shocking! — but I don't necessarily think a game about an election is boring by definition. I, for one, would welcome a Jefferson/Adams boardgame with a mechanic of fearmongering and vicious personal attacks.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Buried in the Parking Lot

Today, I was running errands in Somerville when I came across the Milk Row Cemetery on Somerville Ave. Established in 1804, this graveyard holds the remains of several members of the Tufts family, a British soldier killed in the Battle of Milk Row (19 April 1775), and prominent citizens of Somerville, along with the Somerville Civil War soldiers monument. Many of the headstones seem to be in rough shape, but the city has a plan for preservation.

The Milk Row Cemetery is not exactly in the Market Basket supermarket parking lot, but it is very, very close.
It reminded me of a link I ran across a few months ago — I can't remember whether I posted it back then. Back in October, Wesley Treat's Roadside Resorts posted a collection of photos of cemeteries that have been swallowed up by parking lots. I haven't seen any of these in person, though I might stop by next time I find myself in New Jersey or Long Island. I wonder if there are any in New England.

Are there any cemeteries in your local mall parking lot?

Name o' the Day

Usually, my favorite names come from the colonial era, when Americans had good, upstanding monikers like Godbert Godbertson. Yet, I am willing to expand my usual chronological focus in order to celebrate one

speechwriter for FDR and later governor of Puerto Rico. It's a very masculine, Dick Tracy kind of of a name. I am reminded of a guy I went to college with whose name is Cash McCracken.

I'm reading David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear, and need to keep an eye out for fun things buried in 1,000 pages on the New Deal. To be fair to Kennedy, I've found this book to be very clear and readable so that, even though I really don't care very much about liquidity issues or bank failures, I'm able to follow what's going on.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

500 Posts

I passed the 500 post mark a few days ago. In celebration, Pete made me this lovely word cloud in the colors of my blog:

Walter Standish, Killed at Gettysburg

I usually walk right by the 19th-century monuments in old graveyards, but this one caught my eye.

Corporal Walter Standish of the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, age 23, was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. He died on the third day, probably near the Bliss Barn.

The 14th Connecticut monument at Gettysburg stands on Hancock Avenue between the Angle and the Brian Barn.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Abijah Perkins

Another favorite from Hanover, Connecticut: the Abijah Perkins stone (1782). It is unclear whether Abijah is really buried here or if he died in prison, perhaps on one of the infamous prisoner of war ships in New York and might have been buried elsewhere.
To the worthy Memory 
of Doctr, Abijah Perkins
who after enduring Im-
prisonment Chains Hunger
and ye barbarbous Insults of
cruel Britons, Departed
this Life Augst, 31st, AD 1782
Aged 27: in ye Bloom of
youth a Martyr to his
Country's Cause
Great God forgive our
proud imperious foe,
Whose cruel usage caus'd
his early death
May we be still & trebling [sic]
Learn to know . . .
Hrm, I seem not to have taken a picture that shows the bottom line or two of the epitaph, which is a shame, since it seems to be an original composition. I'll swing by Hanover over Easter and see if I can dig down a bit (not too far!) and read that last bit.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Seduction Novels in the Graveyard

In the new issue of Common-Place, Lisa Gordis writes about the modern audiences that appreciate early American books. At the end of her article, Gordis discusses a visit to the "Charlotte Temple" gravesite in New York's Trinity Churchyard. Of course, Charlotte Temple is a fictional character, so she isn't really buried under the stone that bears her name, but somebody (probably) is. During the 19th century, the gravesite attracted a steady stream of devoted pilgrims.

There is a similar monument in Peabody, MA dedicated to Elizabeth Whitman, whose tragic death inspired Hannah Webster Foster to write The Coquette. As far as I know, it attracts very few visitors.

Another Husband Stone

Yesterday was a lovely day, so I took the camera for a spin. The light in the Harvard Square burying ground is perfect around 3pm this time of year.

Many of the stones in Harvard Square are from the Lamson workshop, including this one, the John Parker stone (1712). I'm not sure which carver is responsible — the lettering looks a little clumsy for the Lamsons, who usually use strong, clear letters and, in the 1700-1720 period, lots of capitals, especially in the deceased's name.
Whoever this carver is, he uses the phrase "Husband of" which is something I've never seen on a Lamson stone before. Unlike Obadiah Wheeler, this carver seems not to have made a habit of identifying men as husbands — at least, I haven't seen other examples before (though I'll be keeping an eye out from now on). In context, the "Husband of" seems to connect John Parker to Nathaniel and Prudence Hancock as much as to Mary Parker.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Robins + Gravestone Expeditions = Spring!

Now was the winter gone, and the snow; and Robin the Redbreast
Boasted on bush and tree it was he and no other
That had covered with leaves the Babes in the Wood, and blithely
All the birds sang with him, and little cared for his boasting,
Or for his Babes in the Wood, or the Cruel Uncle, and only
Sang for the mates they had chosen, and cared for the nests they were building.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Where is the Matthew Perkines Gravestone?

Hanover, Connecticut is a tiny village — so tiny that I only recently learned of its existence, which is extraordinary when you consider that I grew up less than 12 miles away. In my defense, Hanover is not an actual town — it's one of the three villages that make up the town of Sprague, which, with a population of nearly 3,000, clearly needs to be subdivided into more manageable municipalities.

Anyway, my point is that Hanover, CT is very small.

If you ever happen to find yourself at the intersection of Salt Rock Road and the Baltic/Hanover Road, you will see half a dozen unspectacular houses, a horse pasture, an adorable little white church, a playground, and a postage stamp-sized graveyard full of Josiah Manning's granite gravestones.

What you will not see is Matthew Perkines' gravestone:
According to the Farber Gravestone Collection, the Perkines stone should be there, so I dragged Pete way out into the boonies to look for it the last time we visited my parents. There are only about 100 stones in the Hanover graveyard and we could not find this one.

There are several possible explanations for this:
  • we walked right by it without seeing it
  • this stone is in Hanover, but in a tiny private cemetery rather than the public graveyard
  • the stone has been destroyed by the elements/vandalism
  • the stone has been removed by a preservation organization/thieves
I really hope that the answer is #1 or #2, but given the Perkines stone's beautiful and unusual iconography, I fear that #4 may be a possibility.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Another Epiphany

While writing that last post, another thought occurred to me: most people probably have never gone on a vacation for the explicit purpose of viewing as many Civil War generals' horses' stuffed/buried bodies as possible.

Oh sure, anyone can happen across Rienze at the Smithsonian or Little Sorrel at VMI. And if you're at Washington & Lee, of course you will visit Traveller's tomb.

My family went that extra mile, though.

There's a teeny tiny museum in Philadelphia where you can visit the preserved head of Old Baldy. We went to Philadelphia specifically to see it. I don't think we even stopped at Independence Hall that year.

Also, I distinctly remember tramping around some godforsaken point of unmarked land in Maine trying to pinpoint the spot where Charlemagne lay buried.

If you know the current display/grave site for any other famous Civil War horse, please let me know — I don't have kids yet, but it's never too early to start planning vacations.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Most Cats Aren't Named Rienze?

Yesterday, while listening to a radio interview with Michael Schaffer, the author of One Nation Under Dog, I realized that the pets I had as a child had unusual names. Schaffer was talking about how dogs are now named Max, Chloe, and Jackson (popular baby names) instead of Fido and Spot. I nodded along before thinking, hey wait, most of our pets had Civil War names.

Over the years, we had cats named Appomattox, McDowell, Charlemagne, Traveller, Rienze, and a dog named Zouave.

It had honestly never occurred to me that this might not be normal.

picture: my sister with (a very patient) Rienze Faugh, c. 1996

Update (4/12/09): I'm home for Easter and my family has informed me that I forgot a pair of kittens — Faugh and Ballaugh. I had a feeling there were more. Faugh and Ballaugh were named after the motto of the 28th Massachusetts: Faugh a Baullagh or Clear the Way.

“Those Known Parts in that Unknowne Worlde”

Here's my take on the prompt, "1,000 words on the burning of Harvard Hall."

The city of Boston did not appear anywhere in John Speed’s 1627 atlas, A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World. Completed three years before John Winthrop’s fleet sailed for Massachusetts Bay, Speed’s compilation featured a map of “AMERICA with those known parts in that unknowne worlde” that included detailed street plans of Cuzco and Havana, but left most of North America blank. In an attempt to fill the vast emptiness between Hudson Bay and “The Virginian Sea,” Speed covered the land with the names of explorers, perhaps as talismans against the uncharted void. To the north and west, the continent faded vaguely into a coastless abyss.

Less than a century after Speed sent his atlas out into the world, a copy found its way into that unmapped wilderness. In 1723, the fledgling college at Cambridge, Massachusetts listed a copy among the treasures of its growing library.  Though Harvard Hall housed several thousand volumes, few were more alluring to students than Speed’s illustrated folio. If none of the nearly 100 maps caught a particular student’s fancy, the supplementary engravings — bare-breasted personifications of the elements, voluptuous women and gallant courtiers displaying their national costumes, fanged sea monsters prowling the coastlines — surely did. Thomas Hollis, one of Harvard’s great benefactors, complained that “boyish students” enjoyed valuable atlases too much, charging that they “take them to their chambers, and teare out pictures & maps to adorne their walls.”

In the cold cells under Harvard Hall’s leaky roof, generations of the colony’s future leaders drifted off to sleep under Speed’s engravings and dreamed of a world beyond Cambridge. For aspiring merchants, Speed promised splendid Indian kingdoms “aboundant in sundry sorts of spices” and illusive southern continents rich in “either Land, people, or Comodities.” For budding philosophers, the atlas provided maps of the real Cambridge, framed by the colleges’ ancient coats of arms and portraits of richly-robed scholars engaged in learned discourse. Young politicians admired the grandeur of London, prospective ministers traced the contours of the Holy Land, and would-be soldiers searched out the names of famous battlefields. At Harvard, on the fringes of the “unknowne worlde,” Speed’s maps formed a bulwark against the precarious isolation of a still-vulnerable colony.

The most important pages in Speed’s atlas were his detailed maps of England. As the first world atlas published in English, A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World placed the British Isles at the center of the world, rather than relegating them to the periphery. No other atlas in Harvard’s library devoted a hundred pages to detailed maps of the English counties or included historical maps like Speed’s “BRITAIN As it was DEVIDED in the tyme of the Englishe Saxons.” For New Englanders, an intimate knowledge of the streets of Canterbury, the villages of Oxfordshire, and the territories governed by Hengist of Kent strengthened their claim to Englishness. Though most of Harvard’s students had never set foot on fair Albion’s soil, any who studied Speed’s atlas could imagine that he knew the land as well as any man born there. The colonists’ identity as Englishmen informed their understanding of their legal rights, their history, and their relationships with their French Catholic neighbors. Thus, the material trappings of that Englishness — shillings, livestock, linen shirts, and maps of Britannia — had resonance beyond their prosaic utility.  They were signposts of civilization in a world that remained unsubdued.


On the evening of January 24, 1764, the priceless atlas lay quietly on its shelf as the Governor’s Council met in Harvard’s library. An epidemic of small pox had driven the gentlemen out of Boston and the college, empty of students during the winter vacation, seemed the best alternative meeting place. Most members of the General Court and many of the Governor’s Council knew Harvard Hall well; they were once the very students who had exasperated Thomas Hollis with their youthful irreverence. Perhaps one of the councilmen, remembering Speed’s atlas from his student days, sought it out and perused it during a break in the proceedings. If so, he would have been the last to touch it.

In the dark hours after the Council adjourned, a coal continued to smolder in the library fireplace. Outside, a howling snowstorm blew in from the west, but inside, a spark caught and spread, engulfing the dry leaves of five thousand beloved books. The atlas was among those lost, its ink-etched oceans no match for the accidental flames.

By the time a neighbor noticed the smoke and raised an alarm, the fire was unquenchable. Every available man, including Governor Bernard and members of the General Court, worked through the night to save the college, but they succeeded only in containing the blaze. When dawn broke over the harbor, Hollis, Stoughton, and Massachusetts Hall were singed and Harvard Hall was a smoking heap of rubble. Not a single page of Speed’s atlas, either from the folio or from the map-decked walls of the students’ dormitories, escaped the conflagration. As the Massachusetts men, sooty and sweating despite the relentless snow, surrendered their fire buckets, they watched the cloud of smoke drifting eastward, over pox-riddled Boston, over the stormy harbor, and toward an invisible England.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On the Burning of Harvard Hall

Guest post by Pete L'Official. Prompt: 1,000 words on the burning of Harvard Hall.

3 February 1764.

Oh, Father!

Never in his few and humble days has your son and servant been more happy to possess the least among his brethren! You, Father, in your eminent wisdom and bottomless faith, have laboured to instill within this mind and body, the least (aged) among your sons, a certain rigor of spirit and a nigh-heroic asceticism, and it is today, among days, on which I must write in commemoration of your parsonical parsimony.

For it was at your sage insistence that I not only make my way at the College, as have my brothers before me, but to do so with the utmost monastic economy. Fond were you in my youth of the quip, "One ought be gaunt of frame yet not frugal of faith." So often you preached, from your Scarborough pulpit, "Slenderness of pocket and possession breeds no sparing piousness."  And of course, I would be remiss in omitting your favoured parcel of counsel: "Lean and lanky ought be the spirit, rangy and rawboned ought be the soul, meager and modest ought be the purse: in scarcity do we find Salvation." Many, many were your ministerial witticisms! I took copious notes.

You see, Father, on this day and for nearly a fortnight, Harvard-Hall, as our fine and goodly President Holyoke has so described in his own letter published just Yesterday in the Massachusetts Gazette, "the only one of our ancient buildings which still remained and the repository of our most valuable treasures," is burned to the ground. Stay your concern for my Self and the health and humour of my classmates, for the 24th day of January was a time of vacation, and none – neither student nor tutor – were compromised in their person by that evening's flames. Whether it be true as President Holyoke has said that this catastrophe was birthed in a Beam under the Hearth in the great Library, where a fire had been kept for the use of the General Court of Boston is a fact whose validity pales in comparison to the enormity of the loss of Knowledge contained in those 5000 volumes reduced to ash.

But more to the pointe: Father, rejoice and be glad that your loyal son and servant lost naught but his bedstead and cord, a looking glass, and but a third of a barrel of Cyder in the grand conflagration. "What luck!" say some. Nonsense! I, as might you, respond: Such thrift! Such constraint! Such gloriously spare devotion! I can hear your agreement from here.

The evidence of my own steely, unostentatious Virtue, learned of course from your Word and by your Deed, and as represented in the paucity of goods lost by me to the flames, is surely – by your own keen ecclesiastical Logic, Father – of an inversely proportional relation to what must be the scant virtue of my brethren who have lost so much to the fire.

Page upon page of catalogues are currently being filled by the many accounts of my College peers of their losses. You, Father, would scarcely believe the Extravagance of some of my schoolmates. Young Joseph Willard's personal library seems to have been quite well-stocked: lost to it were such volumes as "Bailey's Dictionary," "Hill's Lexicon," "Edwards on the Affections," and doubled "latin Ditto[s]," amongst many others. Yet Young Willard was also quite the clothes hound! Pray tell, what vow of poverty could allow for "Two pair of Wosted Stockings," or a "Banyand" more commonly found in the far-off lands of India? And what need could but one man have for "Six Chairs" and "Thirty Glass Bottles"? And what of the well-appointed room of my good fellow Nicholas Pike (of whose father, the Rev. James Pike of Somersworth, New Hampshire, perhaps you know) who is now without a half dozen Chairs, "Chiney & Earthen Ware," a "Case of Knives and Forks," a "Chest & 2 Double Locks, 2 Tables," and a "Grid Iron, Chafendish, & Snuffers," all of which were among the least of his losses. Quite comfortable, seemed Young Pike's existence, yet what Self-Respeckting young minister should allow himself the seductive play of Chocolate upon the tongue -- and a pound of that sweet, candy Temptress, hoarded, no less!

And God Save the Barnard Brothers! Two of each thing was rightly the province of Noah – and surely to Noah alone! Should not two brothers be able to share one copy of "Clark's Introduction to making Latin?" Such wastefulness there is in keeping "2 Bibles," "2 Greek Testaments," "2 Greek Grammars," "2 Cole's Dictionaries," "2 Virgils," "2 Tulleys," "2 Hebrew Psalters"...indeed, the list goes anon and on. In this student's humble opinion, their personal collection could rival that of the destroyed Hall itself! And what gall to expect even partial repayment on an incomplete cord of wood? A clever and righteous man might ask these brothers-of-plenty to make restitution for providing the hungry fire with even more fuel! And Father, lest I go too far, Manners and Modesty halt me from speculating at the provenance and propriety at this fine Institution of the listed 4 books of a "Gentleman's Magazine." Our prayers, be with them!

These are but a few of the accounts that we plan to submit to the House of Representatives so that the "sufferers" -- as we have so called ourselves -- of this fire may be paid restitution. Yet it is not without a heavy heart that I must now consider why Providence has seen fit to wound my brethren in this way. Is it that your warning words have come to fruition? That my fellow students' acquisitive nature had damned the College to fast retribution from Our Higher Power? This certainly seems in evidence and you will have been proven right, not for the last time. Yet why, if relative to my fellow brothers-in-faith, I was most virtuous by remaining the least possessive, was I not spared any loss whatsoever? Or am I merely asking too much of Our Lord, and indeed have already been spared enough? And what say you of Satan in this matter, or more generally? Alas, there are too many questions. Father, it is for these reasons why I now seek your counsel.

Your faithful son and servant,
John Tompson.

Happy Aprel!

This is a strange and interesting gravestone. It is dedicated to Roger Baster/Baxter, who was one of the first members of the Seventh-Day Sabbatarian Baptist Church in Newport.

As far as I can tell, a literate person with little prior experience carving stone gouged the epitaph as best he could out of a semi-finished slab of local stone. According to Vincent Luti, there was no professional stonecarver working in Newport in the 1680s — the surviving pre-1700 gravestones in Newport were imported from Boston and (perhaps) England. Is this the oldest surviving stone in the Newport Common Burying Ground that was actually produced in Newport?

23 DAY OF APREL 1687