Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Thomas Kendel
Wakefield, Ma
c. 1680

Name of the Day

Reverend Mr. Supply Clap
d. 1747
buried in Burlington, MA

Friday, October 30, 2009

Slate on "Gravers"

Yesterday, Slate published an article on people who visit graveyards for fun. Most of the article is devoted to people who volunteer for Find A Grave, who apparently call themselves "gravers."

It's sort of a strange article. The author repeatedly supports his interview subject in the belief that visiting graveyards is something to be embarrassed about. "It's not surprising that Cara feels she needs to make excuses for hanging around a cemetery," writes Adrian Chen, though he never really digs into the cultural assumptions that might make him think that's an obvious conclusion. He has a paragraph or two about Mount Auburn and the rural cemetery movement, but is not very reflective about the place of cemeteries in 21st-century America. Chen maintains an air of good-natured bewilderment throughout and ends by implying that "gravers" should find something better to do with their time.

It's all very silly. Chen is a humor writer and I suppose that this article has some appeal from a "look at these whackos" point of view. Plus, Halloween. Still, it's weak as a humorous piece because Chen discovers that the gravers are actually pretty normal. It's weak as a news piece because it is unreflective and doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Why do people do this? Why do you think it's a weird thing to do? What does that tell you about our society?

In all, harmless, but I might turn the final question back on Chen: "You don't have anything better to do than this?"

Dramatis Personae +1

Let us add

Captain Ponsonby Molesworth

to our dramatis personae.

Read more about Captain Molesworth over at Boston 1775.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

1775 or 1794?

In my recent post about the Daniel Malcom gravestone, I argued that I could conclusively date the stone to the autumn of 1769 based on a description that appeared in the Essex Gazette in November of that year. The implication was that other stones bearing pro-Whig sentiments may also have been erected shortly after the honorees' deaths. If so, stones dedicated to people who died in 1775 would have stood as public monuments throughout the war years.

I have since discovered a gravestone that might challenge this dating: the Charles Pratt Marston stone in Burlington.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enemies to Their Country*

As dusk fell on October 28, 1769, Misses Ame and Betsy Cuming hurried to lock their modest house against the gathering darkness, hoping that doors and shutters would keep them safe until morning. Alone in their flimsy fortress, the sisters huddled together, “trimbling lick Co[wa]rds,” straining to hear beyond the ordinary sounds of night. They did not wait long. The click of hobnails on cobblestones, the rattle of a cart, and groans of agony announced the arrival of unwelcome visitors. Peering through a darkened window, Betsy beheld a ghastly tableau: a sea of twinkling candles illuminated a moaning man who lay on her doorstep “in a Gore of Blood,” surrounded by a thousand men and boys. As Betsy watched, the crowd “aranged themselves befor [her] door” and positioned the broken body under her window, where they doused it with steaming tar and a flurry of feathers. Betsy did not recognize the sufferer, but feared for her friends and their families. As the armed men melted back into the night, they called “to all the inhabitance to put Candles in their Windows” to show their support for the mob. Betsy watched, helpless, as her neighbors’ windows flashed with blazing assent.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Consort of Temperance Atwood

A while back, I highlighted the epitaphs carved by Obadiah Wheeler in which he identifies men as husbands to their wives.

This example from Plymouth, MA is not quite the same thing, but it is similar: William Atwood is identified as the "Consort of Temperance Atwood."

Since it is so rare to see an adult, white man identified in terms of his relationship with another person, I wonder whether this may say something about the position of women in maritime communities. Historians have long recognized that port towns tend to have a disproportionate number of female-headed households due to the long and frequent absences of male mariners. Is it possible that whoever commissioned this epitaph was accustomed to treating Temperance Atwood as the head of the Atwood household?

Also, I would name a hypothetical child "Temperance" if Pete would let me. It's a good twin name for "Patience."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Names of the Day

Zabdiel and Ruth Sampson of Plymouth, MA were admirers of 17th-century republican philosophy. I know this because they named their sons

Milton Sampson


Algernon Sidney Sampson.

This gravestone may no longer exist — it was in bad shape when Benjamin Drew recorded its epitaph in the 1880s.

Dissertation Procrastination

What do I do when I'm not in a graveyard? Lately, I've been playing a lot of board games with Pete and my Am Civ friends. One of our recent favorites is Pandemic, a cooperative game in which players race to eradicate four deadly diseases. On each turn, you turn over cards to find out how the diseases have spread, then you rush all over the map trying to prevent outbreaks and contain the epidemics long enough to find a cure.

Each player in the games has a role that gives him/her special powers:
  • Dispatcher: moves pawns around
  • Operations Expert: builds research stations
  • Scientist: can cure disease at a 1-card discount
  • Medic: cures more people
  • Researcher: can exchange cards with others

It rained today, so Pete and I stayed in and played a few rounds. I always forget what my role is and don't use it to the best advantage (especially if I'm the Dispatcher, which is of limited usefulness in a 2-player game). Part of the problem is that the pawns are not very evocative of the role they signify. To remedy this, I made my own little meeples:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Name of the Day

If you visit the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, you will find the grave of Waitstill Trott in the vicinity of the John Hancock memorial.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Name of the Day

For my novel:

Mr. Quintin Crymble

via Benjamin Drew's Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts

see also:
Miss Fanny Forward
Captain William Wanton

"Safe From British Bullets"

Many of Boston's revolutionary-era Whigs —John Hancock, Sam Adams, John Adams — are household names today. Others, like Joseph Warren and James Otis, Jr., are not national heroes, but are still well-known. Then, there is a third tier of patriots who were famous in the 1760s, but are largely forgotten by non-specialists today: William Molineux, Ebenezer Macintosh, etc.

One of those who has seen his fame diminish over time is Captain Daniel Malcom/Malcolm. In the 1760s, Malcolm was known as a rabble-rousing merchant who repeatedly defied customs officials.

In September of 1766, two officials, William Sheafe and Benjamin Hallowell, got an anonymous tip that Malcom had several casks of smuggled alcohol hidden in his cellar in Boston's North End. When Sheafe and Hallowell arrived to search the premises and confiscate the liquor, Malcom refused to unlock the cellar, saying that "if any Man attempted it, he would blow his Brains out." The customs officials retreated. When they came back with a search warrant, their access was blocked by several hundred of Malcom's closest friends. Read a more complete account of the incident here.   

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Much to my surprise, I have found Benjamin Drew's transcriptions of the Plymouth epitaphs to be delightful reading. Besides the epitaphs themselves, Drew adds his own snarky little comments here and there. Here is one of my favorites:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Desiah Harlow

I've been reading Benjamin Drew's transcriptions of the epitaphs from Burial Hill in Plymouth, MA. This one caught my eye:

Clearly, this person's name is "Desire Harlow." Yet, on her husband's stone, the carver spelled it Desiah. I'll check this out next time I'm in Plymouth.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Traditional" Americans?

I suppose you could argue that America has a long history of paranoid white populism, so, in that sense, perhaps "traditional" makes sense here.

I don't think that's what Pat "White Folks Built This Country" Buchanan means, though.

You can read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan takes Buchanan to task for his historical amnesia here.

Lost at Sea

It occurs to me that we don't typically use the word "lost" to describe people who die on land. A quick search of 101 Ways to Say Died turns up "Lost at Sea," "Lost on Look-Out Shoals," and "Lost His Life By a Fall From a Tree." Two are sea-related deaths and the third does not say that the person was lost, just that he lost his life. This is useful for me in thinking about the New England imagination of travel, death, and the sea.

Monday, October 19, 2009

First Person Gravestone

No, I don't mean that the epitaph speaks in the voice of the deceased. In this case, the gravestone itself speaks in the first person:

Rachel Cotton
d. 1808
Plymouth, MA

am erected
Josiah Cotton Esqr
in remembrance
of Rachel
his pious and Virtuous
who died Januy 17th 1808
aged 50 years.

In belief of Christianity I lived,
In hope of a glorious Resurrection I died.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

By Strangers Honored and By Strangers Mourned

In her book, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust argues that 19th-cntury Americans spent a lot of time worrying about the disruption of the "good death" during the Civil War. One of their principal concerns was that men regularly died far from home, away from the (often female) family members who should have witnessed their last words, observed the evidence of their salvation, and performed proper mortuary rituals. In many cases, nurses, doctors, and local civilians stood in for absent family members, performing the duties that mothers, wives, and sisters could not.

This same concern occupied the minds of maritime families in earlier decades. When men died at sea or in foreign ports, their family members hoped that they had been attended in their last moments and sometimes imagined attendants into being.

A good example of this concern can be found on a cenotaph in Plymouth, MA. Isaac Wethrell was 19 years old when he died in "Martinico" in January of 1803; his brother William was 22 when he died in St. Thomas two months later. The Wethrell brothers' parents commissioned a single cenotaph for their sons, choosing to honor them with a quotation from Alexander Pope:
By foreign hands, thy dying eyes were closd
By foreign hands, thy decent limbs composd
By foreign hands, they humble grave adornd
By strangers honoured, and by strangers mournd

to perpetuate the memory
of two sons
of Thomas & Sarah Wethrell
who died in the West Indies.

William Wethrell
Decd at St Thomas
March 23d 1803
Aged 22 years.

Isaac Wethrell
Decd at Martinico
January 23d 1803
Aged 19 years.

By foreign hands, thy dying eyes were closd
By foreign hands, thy decent limbs composd
By foreign hands, they humble grave adornd
By strangers honoured, and by strangers mournd

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Field Trip!

Today, Professor Lepore and I took the undergrads into Boston to spend the day exploring the 18th-century city. They are beginning to write their papers for our American Revolution seminar, so it was important for them to kickstart their historical imaginations. It was a beautiful day and a very successful trip.

We started the morning on the Common, talking about the occupation and Bostonians' reactions to the presence of the soldiers. Then, it was on to the Granary Burying Ground and Kings Chapel, where Prof. Lepore generously allowed me to say a few words about gravestones and memorialization. In King's Chapel, I had a chance to sit in Ame and Elizabeth Cuming's pew (#36), which was a real treat. They had a window seat just a few boxes back from Governor Hutchinson.

Friday, October 16, 2009

John Brown

My parents are collectors. Every inch of wall and shelf space in their house is covered with knick knacks, paintings, framed textiles, antique tools, interesting bits of pottery, children's drawings, postcards, and every other type of object you could imagine.

Prominent among their decorations is their collection of Civil War antiques and memorabilia. They have several modern prints (mostly of the 28th Massachusetts), but the bulk of their collection is made up of antiques: cases of framed GAR medals, souvenirs from the 50th anniversary encampment at Gettysburg, a framed newspaper from the day after the Lincoln assassination, old tins and placards using Civil War images to sell whiskey and soap, framed covers of Harper's Weekly from the war years, and on and on. There are also books, movies, and music, but it's the walls that you notice first.

One of the objects that always drew my eye — and still does — is a black and white print of Thomas Hovenden's The Last Moments of John Brown (1884) that hangs in the living room.

I have probably spent a full week of my life contemplating this image over the years, but I still don't know what I think of John Brown. If I accept that the Civil War was ultimately righteous because of what it accomplished, how can I condemn Brown for his savagery? On the other hand, if I believe that domestic terrorism is repugnant, how can I celebrate him?

Autumn Flowers

Marshfield, MA

This has been a test of the new "X-Large" picture setting on Blogger.

Good Deed For the Day

A few years ago, I found a box of 100-150 WWII-era letters at a flea market. Most of the letters were from a woman in Maine to her son, Private Robert Cameron, who was away in the army. Along with the letters, there were several photographs, newspaper clippings, schoolwork, etc.

I always wondered about Robert Cameron's family and whether he had any descendants. Often, family papers end up in flea markets when someone dies without children or grandchildren, so I wasn't optimistic about finding anyone who would want these letters back.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was on and, on a whim, looked for Robert Cameron — and found him! I emailed the person who had him in her family tree, who turned out to be his granddaughter. She was very excited to hear about these letters and told me that her grandmother is still alive and would love to have these back. I boxed up the letters and sent them off to her today.

And that is my good deed of the day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To Act Thy Childhood O'er Again

I have only seen three gravestones that did not bear an individual's name (or identifying information). One is in Malden, MA, one is in the collection of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI, and one is at Copp's Hill in Boston.
The Copp's Hill stone is pictured above. The Farber Collection also has an excellent photo of this stone, taken before it sustained damage to the face and the right finial. Unfortunately, the carver remains unidentified.

I think it's the same carver. Like the Malden stone, the epitaph begins with a lowercase letter, the inscription is mostly lowercase, and the tall letters have little flourishes on the tops. In addition, the carver uses the antiquated "yt" for "that."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mehetabel Blanchard and the Aeneid

Could the mystery gravestone in Malden be a footstone?

Footstones usually bear the deceased person's initials or name and, rarely, the year. Some footstones are a bit wordier.

Mehetable Blanchard, d. 1742, Malden, MA

According to the internet, that inscription is lines 606-610 of Book 1 the Aeneid.

In Latin:
In freta dum fluvii current, dum montibus umbrae
lustrabunt convexa, polus dum sidera pascet,
semper honos nomenque tuum laudesque manebunt,
quae me cumque vocant terrae.

In English:
While rivers run to ocean, while on the mountains shadows move over slopes, while heaven feeds the stars, ever shall your honour, your name, and your praises abide, whatever be the lands that summon me!

Joshua Blanchard, Mehetabel's husband, appears to have been a carpenter and, perhaps, a lover of Virgil.

Do You Haunt Graveyards?

CNN wants to know.

She That's Here Interred Needs No Versifying

On Saturday's outing to Bell Rock Cemetery in Malden, Pete found this extraordinary stone. I had completely overlooked it. At Bell Rock, nearly all of the stones face South, so I had previously passed over this humble, North-facing stone, which has never been illuminated during one of my visits.

There is so much to say about this gravestone.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bell Rock Field Trip

Yesterday, I led an excursion to Bell Rock Cemetery in Malden, MA. Several of my friends had expressed interest in visiting a graveyard with me and I figured that Bell Rock, with its high concentration of pre-1750 stones and its accessibility, would be a good choice. Unlike some of the other big 17th-century cemeteries (Granary, Copp's Hill, Phipp's Street), which are very closely groomed and well documented, Bell Rock feels a bit mysterious — a flea market rather than an auction.

I devised a scavenger hunt that would get everyone looking closely at the iconography and epitaphs. They tried to find,

•    a gravestone dated before 1680
•    a gravestone dedicated to three or more people
•    a gravestone with no iconography (letters only)
•    death imps carrying a coffin
•    a Masonic square and compass
•    a carving of a weeping willow bent over an urn
•    a winged hourglass
•    a mustache
•    a pair of breasts
•    a cross*
•    an epitaph entirely in Latin
•    an epitaph that uses the letter v rather than the letter u
•    an epitaph with an Old Style/New Style date (ex: 1691/2 or 1742/3)
•    an epitaph that gives the deceased’s age in years, months, and days
•    an epitaph that refers to a woman as the “relict” of a man
•    an epitaph that identifies the deceased’s profession (other than minister!)
•    the grave of Rev. Eliakim Willis (aka “Fish Lips”)
•    the grave of Rev. Michael Wigglesworth, poet
•    the grave of Lt. Phineas Upham, who died in King Philip’s War

One of the best things about visiting a graveyard with a group of enthusiastic friends is that fresh eyes see new things. More on that later . . .

*We managed to find two crosses (out of about 400 stones), both on 19th-century stones. No cross-shaped stones, though.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lazy Scholar

Do you enjoy doing archival research . . . from your couch? If so, you will doubtless find The Lazy Scholar invaluable reading.

Squiggly 1

Deborah Barker
d. 1738
Men of Kent Cemetery
Scituate, MA

ye. 11. 1738. AGED
20 YEERS & 26

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Shoemaker and the Tea Party

The undergrads in my research seminar are reading Alfred F. Young's The Shoemaker and the Teaparty: Memory and the American Revolution.

I could go on an on about how this is a lovely little book for introducing the subject of historical memory to undergraduates. I could tell you that Young's skillful blending of biography and argument in the first half is a great model for writers embarking on their first research projects. I could rhapsodize at length about the usefulness of this book for exploring the process of nation-making between 1790 and 1830.

Instead, I will chuckle and observe that the titular shoemaker, George Robert Twelves Hewes, had fifteen children. He named the 11th "Eleven Hewes" and the 15th "George Robert Twelves Fifteen Hewes" (called "Fifteen" in everyday situations).

Also, this book, at 207 pages plus an 11-page preface, earns a VPI Grad Student Seal of Approval.

Save Like It's 1492!

I got an email from Staples this morning. The subject was, "Save Like It's 1492! Discover a World of Savings!"

It took me a moment to realize that it's Columbus Day weekend (ever since living in California, I'm always surprised that some states still celebrate Columbus Day). Until I remembered this crucial bit of information, I was very, very confused.

And Gravestones!

Kfrancher's comment that my post on Scalia concerns "some obscure matter" caused me a moment's pause. This is, after all, a blog (primarily) about gravestones, so I thought that it should be obvious that all gravestone-related matters, while obscure elsewhere, are right at home here.

Then, I thought that this would be obvious to long-time readers, but that anyone who followed a link and saw just one post might not know what the blog is about.

In light of that realization, I have changed my little sub-heading to read, "History, grad school, and gravestones!" That way, there will be no confusion.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scalia on Grave Markers

It's not every day that a Supreme Court Justice comments on grave markers. Today, Justice Scalia held forth on the subject and, once again, demonstrated the The History of the United States According to Antonin Scalia is made-up bullshit.

In the course of arguing that a giant cross erected in the Mojave Desert in 1934 cannot be regarded as a specifically Christian symbol, Scalia told the court that, "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead."

Actually, that's not all he said:
JUSTICE SCALIA: It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the -- the cross is the -- is the most common symbol of -- of -- of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me -- what would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?
I'm no legal scholar, but I know a thing or two about gravestones. And Scalia is talking out of his ass on this one.

Vast Public Indifference: The Book

Yesterday, Pete presented me with an early birthday gift: the first six months of Vast Public Indifference in book form.

Blogger has partnered with Blog2Print, a company that publishes hard copies of blog posts. The first six months of my blog translates to about 200 pages of text and pictures.

I'm enjoying this book on several levels. First, it's been a lot of fun browsing through posts that I'd forgotten about long ago. It's also interesting to see how the blog developed in its early months — I spent much more time writing about the books I was reading. I feel like I should get back to that a bit.

On top of that, I think this book is a fascinating object — a book made from online content about books. Of course, the book can never be what the blog is. The most glaring difference is the lack of links. It's really a stark illustration of how writing is genre- and context-specific.

If there is a blogger in your life, particularly if he/she is also a lover of books or a skeptic about the permanence of online content, a Blog2Print book would make an excellent gift.

There is one major caveat: the formatting is not great. For posts made in the old Blogger editor, Blog2Print cannot reproduce italics, bold, or block quotes. The printed version is not a reproduction of the blog, but an interpretation of it. I've heard that books made from posts that were created in the new editor are somewhat better.

Monday, October 5, 2009

101 Ways, Part 104: Left to Go and Be with Christ

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

I thought I had posted this picture before, but now I can't find it, so perhaps I did not.

This beautiful gravestone was carved by Solomon Brewer and can be found in Hadley, MA. Like many stones from the Connecticut River Valley, Sarah Hopkins' is made from red sandstone, but it is a finer, firmer sandstone than you sometimes see in Connecticut. It's in amazing shape — no major flakes are missing.

I'm not sure I've ever seen curly brackets on an 18th-century gravestone before.

Here rests SARAH, wife of ye
Revd; S. HOPKINS, & Relict of ye
Revd; C. WILLIAMS; an Exem-
plary Christian, pleasant &
lovely in her Life, & lament-
ed in her Death. She left {to
go & be with CHRIST,} A sorrow-
ful Husband & 14 Children
Febr, 5th AD 1774 AE 48.
Favour is deceitful, & Beauty is
vain: but A Woman that feareth
the Lord, she shall be praised.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Here's another creative spelling of Patience.

Pachence Stevens
d. 1750
Marshfield, MA

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Herd of Majestic Giraffes!

Thanks to Stephen V. for recommending that I take a look at the Emergence of Advertising collection at Duke. This digital collection includes several thousand scanned images of advertisements from the 19th and 20th centuries, including colorful cartoons, broadsides, and Kodakiana.

One of my favorites is this pamphlet advertising the Sells Brothers' Circus.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Spelling of the Day

It's a little unfair to call this a "Name of the Day" — there are plenty of people named Patience.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Tutor Hopkins: Today, we will practice using material objects as historical sources. When you are approaching an object, the first thing you should do is take some time to look at it carefully. Try to rid your mind of preconceptions and just make concrete observations about the object. Anything goes — just tell everyone what you see.

Undergrad #1: It's made of stone.

Tutor Hopkins: Ok, good. Does anyone know what kind of stone?

Undergrad #2: Slate?

Tutor Hopkins: You're right — it's a nice, fine-grained slate. What else?

Undergrad #3: There's a skull with wings.

Undergrad #4: And some Latin on the top.

Tutor Hopkins: Great. We're looking at the material, the iconography, and the language. Who here speaks Latin and can translate for us?

Undergrad #5: Remember Death? Time is fleeting?

Tutor Hopkins: Yep. Time flies. What else do you see?

Undergrad #6: There's an ornate floral design on the bottom.

Undergrad #7: And the top is bumpy.

Tutor Hopkins: Is this the same design aesthetic as the Georgian buildings Prof. X showed you?

Undergrad #8: No — it's sort of symmetrical, but not really geometric like the buildings.

Tutor Hopkins: Keep looking. Anything else jumping out at you?

— silence —

Tutor Hopkins: Anything surprising or unexpected?

— silence —

Tutor Hopkins: Anybody?

Undergrad #1: It's kind of . . . small.

Tutor Hopkins: I suppose. I'm a little surprised that no one has noticed the GIANT BREASTS on the borders. There are eight of them.

Undergrads #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: Oh! I saw those, but I didn't think they could really be . . . you know.

Tutor Hopkins: Were you expecting to see GIANT BREASTS on a gravestone from 1710?

Undergrads: No. (nervous giggling)

Tutor Hopkins: The first lesson of using objects as sources: make concrete observations without hampering yourself with expectations. You may find some strange and unexpected things.

(Very attentive undergrads go on to spend a lovely hour noticing things in the graveyard.)

Name(s) of the Day

Patriot minister Jonathan Mayhew's parents were named Experience and Remember.