Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Peace Amidst ye Rage of Noise & War

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I found three gravestones with the same, unusual inscription. All date from the Revolutionary War era and look like Lamson shop stones, though I can't be sure. They all start the same way: "In Peace Amidst ye Rage of Noise & War Here Rests the Remains of . . ."

John Hart, Portsmouth, NH, 1777

Jacob Tilton, Portsmouth, NH, 1776

Deborah Parrott, Portsmouth, NH, 1779

I'm very interested in gravestones that recognize public events. The Jason Russell stone is a good example of a stone dedicated to a single person that nonetheless has a lot to say about current events. These three stones aren't quite as overt — no barbarous murders or bloody troops, but they acknowledge the war.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Benjamin Church

I'm finally back from my internetless vacation in Rhode Island — it looks like the autopost mechanism worked just fine.

Some friends and I rented a house in Little Compton, RI and had a lovely week. While there, I visited the Little Compton graveyard, which is in the very center of an adorable little village. If I hadn't spent the last few weeks reading about King Philip's War, I would have been lulled into thinking that this was the most peaceful spot in southern New England.

One of the most prominent graves in the cemetery belongs to Benjamin Church, the military leader whose company eventually killed and beheaded Metacom in 1676. His whole family has expensive tombstones rather than upright headstones — even his very young children.

Friday, May 29, 2009

101 Ways, Part 82: Call'd . . . to His Reward

I apologize for the quality of this picture. I visited Wakefield on a lovely, sunny day, but this stone is deep in the shade of several trees. It should still be legible if you blow it up.
Nathaniel Stow, Wakefield, MA, 1737
carved by Lamson workshop

Here lyes Interr'd ye Body
Call'd to His Office Octo. 4th
& to His Reward Decr. 15th 1737
AEtatis 40.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rev. Jonathan Pierpont of Wakefield

Here's another famous stone — the Rev. Jonathan Pierpont stone from Wakefield. It is best known for the beautiful little preachers on the finials. They hold tiny Bibles, wear tiny clerical collars, and have tiny waistcoat buttons. Ludwig says they are supposed to be portraits, but they are very stylized (unless Rev. Pierpont was a Peanuts character). The rest of the stone is beautiful too, but the little preachers are the real draw.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't Rub the Sandstone

Many Connecticut gravestones are carved from native red sandstone. Unfortunately, this material is not particularly durable — it is vulnerable to spalling when moisture infiltrates the tiny cracks and then expands by freezing. In its most fragile state, sandstone can crumble at the lightest touch. Whole sections can slough off at a time. Graveyard visitors shouldn't really take rubbings of any stone, especially red sandstone.

Here is what happens to red sandstone over time:

Stage One: Minimal Damage

 Stage Two: Largely Illegible

Stage Three: Disintegration

Stage Four: Collapse

Monday, May 25, 2009

What's Her Name Again?

Eighteenth-century epitaphs dedicated to women, children, and slaves often speak of the layers of dependency that bound the deceased to their husbands, parents, and masters. Adult, free, white men are very rarely identified by their relationships to others, but women are nearly always called "wife of . . ." or "daughter of . . ."

This Norwich, CT stone takes this idea to an unusual extreme — the names of "Simeon Warterman's Wife & Child" are not specified.
Here is Buried Mr Simeon
Wartermans Wife & Child
Who Died May 30th 1764 in
ye 21st year of her age,
Altho Death Desolved ye uni
on Betwen them nipt him in
the Topmost Bow, in the heigh[t]
of his Filisity, yet Comfort Re
mains in ye foloing Epitaph
Silent She lies Here in this Place
And so to Rest Till CHRIST Shall
Come To Raise her Dust & Crown
that Grace; Which in her
Life so Nobly Shone
J Manning

The spelling of "Warterman" is also a nice little indicator of how 18th-c Connecticutians may have pronounced "water."

Mrs. Waterman and her baby aren't the only nameless subordinates commemorated on Connecticut gravestones — this 19th-century stone from Hanover, Connecticut is dedicated to "A Niece of Benjamin Franklin." Charming.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

101 Ways, Part 81: Resigned His Mortal Life . . .

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

This one is similar to #22 and #73, but use of the phrase "Future World" sets it apart.
Here Lyes Inter'd ye Body
of ye Much Respected Doctr
Benjamin Wheate Son to
Doctr, Samuel Wheate of
Cambridge New England,
Who after a Laborious Life
Spent to Sarve Mankind
Resigned his Mortal Life
In ye full hope & Expecta-
tion of a better in ye Future
World; Dyed Janr, 27th
1758 in ye 49th year
of his Age.
Benjamin Wheate, Norwichtown, CT, 1758
carved by Josiah Manning

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, is buried in Norwichtown Cemetery, Norwich, Connecticut.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Lend, Lend Your Wings"

Zipporah Hughes of Norwich, Connecticut has an epitaph composed by Alexander Pope. Ok, not composed specifically for her, but still. Hughes' epitaph is from Pope's "The Dying Christian to His Soul"(1712). The poem was set to music and sung in many Christian churches during the 19th century, but I don't know whether it was a hymn in the late 18th century. The final two lines are quite popular for New England epitaphs, but the four-verse quotation is rarer.
Sacred to the memory
of Mrs. Zipporah
Hughes, consort of
Capt, John Hughes, she
departed this life Janr.
3d 1799. in ye 75th
year of her age.
Lend, lend your wings!
I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O death! where is thy sting?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Question: Which animal has the funniest skeleton?

Answer: the toucan

The Graveyard Rabbit

Thanks to commenter VJESCI for pointing me toward this poem.

by Frank Lebby Stanton
In the white moonlight, where the willow waves,
He halfway gallops among the graves—
A tiny ghost in the gloom and gleam,
Content to dwell where the dead men dream,

But wary still!        
For they plot him ill;
For the graveyard rabbit hath a charm
(May God defend us!) to shield from harm.

Over the shimmering slabs he goes—
Every grave in the dark he knows;        
But his nest is hidden from human eye
Where headstones broken on old graves lie.

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;
For the graveyard rabbit, though sceptics scoff,        
Charmeth the witch and the wizard off!

The black man creeps, when the night is dim,
Fearful, still, on the track of him;
Or fleetly follows the way he runs,
For he heals the hurts of the conjured ones.        

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;
The soul’s bewitched that would find release,—
To the graveyard rabbit go for peace!

He holds their secret—he brings a boon        
Where winds moan wild in the dark o’ the moon;
And gold shall glitter and love smile sweet
To whoever shall sever his furry feet!

Wary still!
For they plot him ill;        
For the graveyard rabbit hath a charm
(May God defend us!) to shield from harm. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Should President Obama Honor Confederate Soldiers?

Apparently, several historians have written a letter to President Obama asking him to discontinue the nearly century-old tradition of placing a wreath at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington on Memorial Day. Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin argues that the letter strikes the wrong tone and should be ignored.

I would be perfectly happy to see Obama's staff "forget" to order the wreath for this particular bit of Lost Cause nostalgia, but that's not really his style. It seems much more likely that President Obama could be persuaded to add an extra stop on that Memorial Day wreath-laying tour — I suggest a trip to the African American Civil War Memorial before the Arlington excursion.

Anyone can start a tradition. If Obama lays a wreath for secessionists, which I assume he will, let him also lay one for the freemen who fought for Union and liberty. Hopefully, his successors will continue to do so for the next century.

more photos via

Great Names Under the Sea

While exploring some of Harvard's online collections, I came across a group of 19th-century watercolors of fish. Many of them have intriguing common names. My current favorite is the "Flaming Shamefaced Crab" (pictured above).

Unfortunately, the "Demon Eartheater" is much less imposing than its name.

See more at the MCZ Ernst Mayr Library Artwork Collection.

Five Pieces of Junk

From Cracked: Five Pieces of Junk That Turned Out to be Invaluable Artifacts

Norwichtown Cemetery

The old graveyard in Norwichtown, Connecticut is a little tricky to find. It's tucked in behind the main roads and is not readily visible from the street, so you have to know where it is in order to find it.

Norwichtown is the old section of Norwich, Connecticut, notable for historic sites such as the Leffingwell House Museum and the grave of Samuel Huntington. Most people who recognize Huntington's name at all know him as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but there are a few dogged Norwich residents who insist on calling him the first president of the United States.

The old burying ground is located behind Town Street, at the end of Old Cemetery Lane:
"Old Cemetery Lane" is a tiny alley with a dead end sign. It's easier to find the graveyard by looking for the McDonald's. There's a bank across the street from the McDonald's — you can park in the bank parking lot and go (carefully) over the stone wall into the graveyard. If you do find Old Cemetery Lane, there is a parking area and a wooden box with walking tour brochures just outside the gate.

Notable people buried in this graveyard:
There are also oodles of other Huntingtons, as well as Backuses, Lathrops, and other prominent Norwich families.

If you decide to visit the Norwichtown graveyard, bring water and insect repellent. Most of the graves are in a hollow near a stream, and it is both muggy and buggy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Norwich Ovoid Carver

(John Post, Norwichtown, CT, 1710)

No one knows the identity of the Norwich Ovoid Carver, who was responsible for some of the oldest extant gravestones in eastern Connecticut. The round shape is unusual and a bit rough, but the letter forms are confident, even if they are a bit wonky. I don't know why the carver separated some words with little crosses.

Here are some more examples of the Norwich Ovoid Carver's work:
(Simon Huntington, Norwichtown, CT, 1706)

(Stephen Gifford, Norwichtown, CT, 1724)

(Nathanael Backus, Windham Center, CT 1720)

Monday, May 18, 2009

For Those of You Keeping Track . . .

. . . my birthday is just a little over five months away.

Acrostic Epitaph

Another remarkable John Stevens I epitaph is this acrostic dedicated to Sarah Mitchell (1713).

Shall we lement for you our frind
And mother in Israel
Reciue her Lord into thy hand,
And then it will be well.
Honour her memory I will.

Make her to be at thy right hand.
In tryumph and true command
To the[e] o Lord her we resigne
Christ and she for to Combine
Her o Christ to you we giue
Euermore with you to liue
Lord do thou let her possess
Life and everlasting blessedness.
Sarah Mitchell, Newport, RI, 1713
carved by John Stevens I

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Night Etarnal Seals His Eyes"

This Newport gravestone has a verse from Catullus, translated by Joseph Addison. Whoever requested it may have encountered the verse in the works of Samuel Johnson.
In Memory of
John, Son of Will
iam & Susanna
Bourk died July
ye 29th. 1777 aged
14 Months.
When once the short
Liv'd Mortal dies,
A Night Etarnal 
Seals his Eyes.

John Bourk, Newport, RI, 1777

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Turkeys Pay Their Respects

I often encounter wildlife in graveyards. Burying grounds are usually quiet and green, making them excellent refuges.

Today, in Franklin, Connecticut, I startled a small flock of wild turkeys. They were very skittish, so I couldn't get close before they fled into a nearby cornfield.

"Happie are the Youth"

This John Stevens I stone has a verse that appears to be an original. At least, I can't find another example of the poem (or any part of it) on the internet. The awkward grammar and smug rhyme support the idea that it may have been composed for the occasion.
SEPTEMR Ye 26th 1720
JUNE Ye 21 1721
Happie are the youth
That dy in ye truth
And establishes righteousness

Another interesting thing about this stone is that the two people commemorated are not obviously related. Jane Cutler and William Hall are not called siblings and they are buried in the white section of the Newport Common Burying Ground, so it is unlikely that they were spouses in an unrecognized marriage. Were they cousins? Neighbors? The verse suggests that the deceased were children, and I've seen one or two stones where young friends or cousins are buried together, but it's very unusual.

Jane Cutler and William Hall
Newport, RI, 1721
carved by John Stevens I

Friday, May 15, 2009

Adieu, Vain World

I'm always interested to learn what Americans were reading in the 17th and 18th centuries. This Stevens Shop stone in Newport displays a verse from Lady Mary Chudleigh's 1703 collection of poems, Poems on Several Occasions:

Adieu, Vain World, Vain World Adieu
I come, Ye Blest, I come to you.
This stone is dated 1728, indicating that someone in Newport was reading feminist poetry that had been published (relatively) recently. Not just reading it — embracing it enthusiastically enough to put it on a gravestone.

I wonder who decided on this verse. Was it from a poem beloved by Abigail Clarke? By her family? Did John Stevens enjoy Lady Mary Chudleigh's work? I'll be on the lookout for other examples of her work in the Newport Common Burying Ground.

Abigail Clarke, Newport, RI, 1728

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Richard Kettell

Richard Kettell, Charlestown, MA, 1680

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lydia Wood

Lydia Wood, Charlestown, MA, 1712