Friday, January 30, 2009


English-language poets in the Federal Census!

Lord Byron Bradford, Lauderdale, TN, b. 1879

Shakespeare Wigginton, Hawkins, TN, b. 1858

Edgar A. Poe Ballard, Springfield, CO, b. 1916

Longfellow Birdsong, De Armanville, AL, b. 1900

Wordsworth Wisenburn, Springfield, MA, b. 1908

William Blake Cunningham, Bradford, VT, b. 1857

Robert Burns Schollmeyer, Kenton Co., Kentucky, b. 1917

Sir Walter Scott McDowell, Albany, NY, b. 1877

Tennyson Price (and Tennyson Jr.!), Chicago, IL, b. 1906

Walter Whitman Rich, Kennewick, WA, b. 1896
(note: younger brother named Theodore Roosevelt Rich)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

African-American Stonecarvers of Newport

Yesterday, I argued that Pompe Stevens and Zingo Stevens were two different men.

Today, I will examine claims that Zingo Stevens was a master stonecarver and that he carved the gravestones dedicated to his three wives. At this point in my investigation, I believe that it is very likely that Stevens did some stonecarving or, at the very least, assisted in the production of gravestones by shaping, smoothing, transporting, or erecting gravestones. His will identifies Stevens as a "bricklayer" and his involvement in a 1779 suit with Gabriel Allen, the Providence-based stonecutter, indicates that he was almost certainly involved in the business in some capacity. Still, I have not seen evidence that suggests that Zingo Stevens was an accomplished master carver who carved many stones for Newport's Africans and African Americans.

The uncritical attribution of several African-American gravestones to the conflated Pompe/Zingo carver is the result of researchers’ unfamiliarity with gravestones and the methodology of carver attribution. After concluding (erroneously) that Pompe and Zingo were one and the same, thus establishing that Zingo was a stonecarver who worked “under the name ‘Pompe Stevens’,” many have supposed that Zingo Stevens must have carved the headstones dedicated to his three wives, Phyllis (d. 1773), Elizabeth (d. 1779), and Violet (d. 1803). If he carved those stones, they conjecture, he must have carved many others.

The problem is that these authors ignore material evidence and provide no documentary evidence to bolster their claims. The stones attributed to Zingo Stevens are clear examples of John Stevens III's work — many are even signed by him! I am perfectly willing to believe that Zingo Stevens' work as a stonecutter has gone unrecognized and is part of the body of work commonly attributed to John Stevens III, but anyone making that argument will have to present compelling evidence that contradicts or complicates the JSIII signatures and the ledger records that identify John, not Zingo, as the carver of specific stones.

Many researchers, including Akeia Benard, Keith Stokes, and Theresa Guzman Stokes, believe that Zingo Stevens was a prolific master stonecarver. At Colonial Slave Cemetery, the Phillis Stevens stone is specifically attributed to Zingo Stevens:
This detailed marker is carved by Zingo Stevens, the African stone carver in Colonial Newport. He wold survive three wife's [sic] and personally carve each of their stones along with several of their children.
Although Stokes and Guzman Stokes do not provide any citations for this claim, many others have repeated it and expanded upon it. We know that Zingo Stevens belonged to John Stevens and that John Stevens carved gravestones, and can infer that Zingo probably helped John in the shop in some way. It's a big leap from that evidence to concluding that "the Lyndon family commissioned a stone from Zingo . . . Phyllis's [sic] image is carved on the stone dressed in traditional African dress." Yet, many have made the leap and kept on running.

After consulting with Ron Potvin, special collections librarian for the Newport Historical Society, Karen Lee Ziner wrote an article for the Providence Journal-Bulletin (available through Lexis-Nexis) in which she confidently claims that “many African-Americans became master stonecutters through apprenticeships at [the John Stevens] shop . . . Zingo Stevens, in fact, became the official gravestone cutter and engraver for African-Americans who were buried in [the NCBG].” Evidence?

One amateur taphophile has gone so far as to attribute the Dinah Wigneron stone (1772) to Zingo Stevens, despite the fact that the words, “Cut by John Stevens junr” are clearly visible at the bottom of the epitaph. Evidence?

Unfortunately, I have seen no documentary evidence to support these claims, and the material evidence flatly contradicts them.

No extant gravestone bears Zingo Stevens' signature, though there are at least 32 stones in God’s Little Acre signed by other carvers (29 by John Stevens III, 2 by Pompe Stevens, 1 by Henry Bull). The absence of signed gravestones does not prove that Zingo Stevens was not a carver, but several authors have claimed that he did indeed sign gravestones. These are the same people who claim that Pompe and Zingo Stevens were the same man, so all stones signed by Pompe are credited to Zingo.

Furthermore, the gravestones most often attributed to Zingo Stevens — those belonging to his three wives — are entirely consistent with the work of John Stevens III, the talented son of Zingo’s owner, whose signed and unsigned work is abundantly present in this section of the graveyard. The Phyllis [Lyndon] Stevens stone is a three-quarter effigy of mother and child, carved in John Stevens III’s signature style of lightly-inscribed, detailed portraiture. The Elizabeth Lyndon stone is a good example of his “Phoebe” style, and the lettering is consistent with his signed work.  By all current standards of carver attribution derived from formal analysis, both of these stones are almost certainly the work of John Stevens III.

Compare the Phyllis Stevens stone (1772) to the Pompe Brenton stone (1772), which is signed by John Stevens III:

Phyllis Stevens (1772) (note: This stone is made of poor quality slate and is badly deteriorated):

Pompey Brenton (1772):

Note the similarities: the clouds, the 3/4 portraits, the eye shapes, the light inscision, etc. For other examples of John Stevens III's work, see Alan Ludwig's Graven Images, pgs. 327-8.

Claims that Zingo Stevens carved the stones in God's Little Acre are often accompanied by claims that his carvings exhibited African survivals. Some interpret Phillis' image as wearing "traditional African dress." Others see kente cloth and pectoral necklaces. Others claim that Zingo Stevens was responsible for the "distinctly African features" of some of the portrait stones. Yet, I am not convinced that Zingo Stevens carved any of these stones, especially those specifically signed by John Stevens III. If these motifs are present (some clearly are, others are debatable), what does it mean that John Stevens incorporated them into his work? Remember, he and his Christian colleagues are also responsible for those Hebrew epitaphs in the Touro cemetery.

Compare the Violet Hammond stone (1772)from God's Little Acre to the Sarah Rogers stone (1776) from the white section of the NCBG:
The letter forms are consistent (if more deeply gouged in the latter case), the soul effigies are similar, they both have the same four-petaled flower motif, and, most importantly, both are signed by John Stevens III. Since we know that JSIII was an active carver in this time period, it would take a strong argument with good documentation to overturn the assumption that he was primarily responsible for the carving of these stones. So why do some attribute the Hammond stone to Zingo Stevens?

Of course, a good argument might be made that Zingo Stevens’ unacknowledged work is so integral to the work commonly attributed to his owner’s son that any attribution to John III implicates Zingo, but no one has bothered to do the tedious formal analysis necessary to disentangle “the age-old dilemma of what to attribute to the master when a helper might be at work with him.”  The only attempt at formal analysis has come from Tashjian and Tashjian, who noted in passing that the Phyllis [Lyndon] Stevens effigy seems “stiff and even awkward” in comparison with John III’s other work, indicating that it “may have been carved by someone other than John Stevens III,” though any lack of grace could also be attributed to the unusually poor quality of the slate used for this stone.

Any historian is free to argue that Pompe Stevens and Zingo Stevens are the same man, just as anyone may argue that Zingo Stevens carved the gravestones of his wives and others in God’s Little Acre. Indeed, it is quite possible that he did carve some stones or parts of stones, or that he assisted in shaping, finishing, or erecting the finished products.  However, anyone wishing to make these claims must argue them, rather than presenting them to the unwary reader as established fact. The impulse toward celebrating a reclamation of African identity is understandable, as is the allure of imagining Zingo Stevens as the sole artist behind the most graceful and expensive gravestones dedicated to African Americans in Newport. Yet, in embracing these suppositions uncritically, those who make these two errors substitute a simple, triumphant story of resistance and African survivals for the more problematic tale of collaboration and uneasy intimacy that emerges from the available evidence. Worst of all, by focusing their attention on Zingo and the misattributed stones, they overlook the very real, identifiable, and important work of Pompe Stevens.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Will the Real Pompe Stevens Please Stand Up?

A few months ago, I wrote a short post about Zingo Stevens, a slave belonging to the famous Newport stonecarver, John Stevens. At the time, I believed that "Zingo Stevens" was an alias of Pompe Stevens, a carver who is known to have signed at least two gravestones in Newport's Common Burying Ground. The readily available information indicated that such was the case, but after further investigation, I can present a solid case against this conflation of Zingo and Pompe.

Furthermore, I wish to make a strong statement against unsubstantiated claims that Zingo Stevens was a master carver who carved the gravestones dedicated to his three wives. In both cases, an admirable desire to celebrate African survivals and African-American agency has led researchers to make exhuberant conclusions that are not based in reliable evidence and, what is worse, to abandon a complex story of simultaneous domination and cooperation in favor of a simpler story of uncomplicated resistance.

Part I: Conflation, or, Are Pompe and Zingo Stevens the Same Man?

The first problem — the conflation of Pompe Stevens with Zingo Stevens — may have begun as a simple misunderstanding. In her 1927 book, Gravestones of Early New England and the Men who Made Them, 1653-1800, Harriette Merrifield Forbes tentatively hypothesized that Zingo was owned by famed stonecarver John Stevens III and “perhaps . . . helped him in his work.”  Though this speculation was both limited and reasonable, subsequent attributions have been less restrained. Keith W. Stokes and Theresa Guzman Stokes of Colonial Slave Cemetery, who have led preservation efforts for God’s Little Acre since 1984, run a website with photographs from the graveyard in which they say of the Pompey Lyndon stone,
This is a very historically significant marker because it is signed by Pompey Stevens at the bottom. Stevens was a slave and later free African stone cutter and when free, reverted back to his African name of Zingo. Today, he is recognized as America’s first African (American) artist.
This claim was repeated by Richard Youngken, a colleague of the Stokes’, in his 1995 pamphlet, African Americans in Newport, and became the basis of a Providence Journal-Bulletin article by Karen Lee Ziner in 1996.  The assertion that Pompe Stevens, “no longer a slave, . . . embraced his African name, Zingo,” was repeated in a 2006 article by Providence Journal staff writer Paul Davis, and again on the official website of the John Stevens Shop, which claims that Zingo Stevens not only carved gravestones, but signed them.  Because these unsubstantiated claims are readily available on the internet, they have quickly become received wisdom, even appearing in a 2008 dissertation by Akeia Benard of the University of Connecticut. 

The basis for this conflation seems to be that both men had the same last name and their lives may have overlapped chronologically. While it is true that other enslaved Newporters went by more than one name (ex: Occramar Mirycoo was also known as Newport Gardner), I have found no evidence that this is the case with Zingo and Pompe Stevens. I got in touch with Prof. Benard, but she based her conclusion on inference and a misunderstanding of the material evidence available in the form of gravestones (which I will explain in part II).

I have seen no evidence to support the claim that Pompe and Zingo Stevens were the same man. What is worse, there is abundant evidence that they were not. If Pompe did indeed “revert to his African name,” we could expect to see either a clear chronological demarcation between the two or evidence that one man was called “Zingo” in the black community and “Pompe” by local whites or some combination of these possibilities.  Instead, we find that records of their lives are imbricated chronologically and logically preclude conflation.

Zingo Stevens:

The first mention of Zingo Stevens appears in the journal of Cesar Lyndon, a fellow slave, who reports that he and a group of friends including Zingo Stevens and his first wife, Phyllis Lyndon, “took a pleasant ride out to Portsmouth” for a picnic on Tuesday, August 12, 1766. Zingo and Phyllis were formally married by the Revd. Samuel Hopkins on July 20, 1767, and had at least four children: Sarah (b. 1769), Pompey (birthdate uncertain), Charles (b. 1771), and Prince (b. 1773).  Zingo and his two older children, Sarah and Pompey, were baptized on March 4, 1770 into the Revd. Ezra Stiles’ church. In 1773, Stiles mentioned Zingo in his journal:
This day died Phylis a Negro Sister of our Church: I hope she had chosen the better part. Her Husband Brother Zingo, upon becoming religious and joining my Chruch, has an earnest Concern for his Wife and Children, and labored greatly to bring her into a saving Acquaintance with her Redeemer; and I doubt not his Endeavours and prayers were blessed to her saving Conversion.
After Phyllis’ death, Zingo married Elizabeth (d. 1779) and then Violet (d. 1803). He was named as “my Negro man Zingo” in the 1774 will of his owner, John Stevens II (not John Stevens III, as most attributions assume), which specified that he would be set “free and at Liberty” in 1785.  Over the next four decades, Zingo Stevens bought property, sued a Providence stonecarver for wages owed him, took an active role in the Free African Union Society, and left a will at his death in 1817.  In short, his life from 1766 to 1817 is incredibly well-documented.

Pompe Stevens:

We know much less about Pompe Stevens, but what is known does not fit Zingo’s life story. The first time Pompe’s name appears is on the gravestone of a one-year-old boy named Princ[e], the “Son of / Pompe Stevens / & Silva Gould,” who died on July 4, 1759. Six years later, a carver identifying himself as “P.S.” executed a gravestone for two-year-old Pompey Lyndon, and in 1768, he emblazoned his name on Cuffe Gibbs’ epitaph. (Note: The only other known Newport carver with the initials "P.S." was Phillip Stevens, who was murdered in 1736.)  Though there is no record of Pompe Stevens after 1768, and he was probably dead or absent by 1783, the year in which Silva Gould married Cudjo Vernon. 

Furthermore, Vincent Luti, who has done extensive formal analysis of the gravestones produced by all 18th-century Newport stonecarvers, has identified Pompe Stevens’ carving style as belonging to the William Stevens shop, rather than to the John Stevens shop, and argues that Pompe Stevens was almost certainly one of the four slaves owned by William, while Zingo was the lone slave listed as John’s dependent in 1774 and mentioned in his will.

Are Pompey and Zingo the Same Man?

We have evidence that at least two white men (John Stevens and Ezra Stiles) knew Zingo Stevens as “Zingo” many years before his emancipation, while Pompe Stevens referred to himself as “Pompe” when he had the greatest freedom to do so — on the gravestone he carved for his brother. Why would Ceasar Lyndon call this man "Zingo" in 1766 if he called himself "Pompey" in 1768? This evidence indicates that it is unlikely that Pompe "embraced his African name" after emancipation. It is much more likely that we are talking about two different men.

Furthermore, the timing of their marriages and the births of their children seem to indicate that Pompe and Zingo Stevens were not one and the same. It is certainly true that the marriages of slaves were unstable because of their legal relationships with their owners, but I have a hard time believing that Ezra Stiles would have married Zingo and Phyllis if Zingo had a marriage-like relationship with Silva Gould, a woman who bore Pompe Stevens' child in 1759 and was still alive in 1783.

Although I disagree with Luti’s assertion that the two men were separated by a generation and with his overwrought proclamation that “this conflation of Pompe with Zingo is the worst distortion in print,” I agree with his conclusion: Pompe Stevens and Zingo Stevens were two different people.

This post will be continued tomorrow with Part II: Zingo Stevens, Master Carver?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Presidents! (Part VII)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Gerald Ford Burton, Nevada

Jimmy Carter Weaver, Los Angeles, CA, b. 1982

Ronald Reagan Ryason, Texas, b. 1996

George Bush Osebreh, Fresno Co., CA, b. 1989

Clinton Bill Vo, Santa Clara Co., CA, b. 1992

Bush George Le, Harris Co., TX, b. 1995

The babies named after Barack Obama are not old enough to be included in's databases, but they are turning up in the news.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Little-Known Facts

Most people don't know that General Philippe RĂ©gis de Trobriand was a yeti. These people have not yet played Yetisburg.

In other news, Titanic Games has produced one of the only modern Gettysburg-related products that is not under the thumb of the Shaara-Turner complex. The six Confederate generals included are standard fare (Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Hill, Ewell, Stuart), but the Union generals are not the standard Killer Angels characters: Meade, Hancock, Reynolds, Meredith (of the Iron Brigade), Wadsworth (commanded 1st Division, 1st Corps, comprising Cutler's Brigade and the Iron Brigade), and Col. de Trobriand (brigade commander in 1st Division, Third Corps). Nary a Chamberlain nor Buford in sight.

Either the game designers are in love with the First Corps, they picked the names randomly, or they are weary of the whole Killer Angels bit. Regardless, I was surprised.

I think William Barksdale would have made a good yeti.

Presidents! (Part VI)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Hughes, New Bern, NC, b. 1933

Harry S Truman Turner, Nevada

Dwight D. Eisenhower Gretkowski, Cross Creek, NC, b. 1953

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Hatcher, Winston-Salem, NC, b. 1967

Lyndon Baines Johnson Bridgewater, TX, b. 1979

Richard Nixon Stevenson, Nevada

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Presidents! (Part V)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Theodore Roosevelt Perkins, Ironton, NC, b. 1903
(bonus: brother named William Taft Perkins)

William Howard Taft Fuhrman, Ramsey, NJ, b. 1908:

Woodrow Wilson Hughes, Little Rock, AR, b. 1917
(bonus: has a twin named . . . Woodrow)

Warren G. Harding Flippo, Paint Rock, AL, b. 1923

Calvin Coolidge Cape, Salinas, CA, b. 1926
(note: I really like this one. Lun Lung Cape and Wong Shee Cape came to California from China with their son, Lun Yuen Hien Cape, and named their next child Calvin Coolidge Cape. How's that for proclaiming yourself an American?)

Herbert Hoover Murphy, Cincinnati, OH, b. 1930
(bonus: older brother named Calvin Coolidge Murphy)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Presidents! (Part IV)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Rutherford B. Hayes Radford, Lynchburg, VA, b. 1878

James A. Garfield Van Riper, Fayette, NY, b. 1879

Chester A. Arthur Hotaling, New Baltimore, NY, b. 1896:

Grover Cleveland . . . Cleveland, Charlotte Harbor, FL, b. 1896
(note: There are about 250 men and boys named "Grover Cleveland X" in the 1900 Census, and that isn't counting those listed as "Grover C. X".)

Benjamin Harrison Winterstteins, Philadelphia, PA, b. 1892

William McKinley Jones, Colerain, NC, b. 1897
(bonus: brothers named Theodore Roosevelt Jones and William Taft Jones)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Presidents! (Part III)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Millard Fillmore Marsh, Mentz, NY, b. 1848
(bonus: older brothers named Napoleon and Wellington, twin brother named Henry Clay)

Franklin Pierce Wise, Ephrata, PA, b. 1866
(bonus: brother named Abraham L. Wise)

James Buchanan Henson, Washington, IA, b. 1859
(bonus: father named Benjamin F. Henson, brother named George W. Henson)

Abraham Lincoln Ladd, Williamstown, MA, b. 1862
(bonus: In 1880, Abraham Lincoln Ladd went to work as a farm hand for the Hickox family in Williamstown, MA. The family included a 14-year-old boy named Lincoln Hickox.)

Andrew Johnson Meekins, Cumberland, VA, b. 1867
(bonus: brother named Jeff Davis and Robert Lee. What inspires a black mother to name her sons Jeff Davis, Robert Lee, and Andrew Johnson in the Civil War-era South? And if she didn't choose those names, why still use them in 1870?)

Ulysses S. Grant Gettys, Moore Creek, ID, b. 1864
(note: Ulysses S. Grant Gettys may be the single greatest Civil War name ever.)

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

One year ago today, I fired up the blogging engine here at VPI. Since that time, I've had 9,768 visitors from 98 different countries. Here's some interesting information I gleaned from Google Analytics:

Most Popular Post: Pixar's Gender Problem

Most Fruitful Linking Site: Civil War Memory

Strangest Google Search Leading to VPI: "carmine galante disneyland"

Thanks for visiting, everyone, and special thanks to commenters RJO and Lori Stokes for contributing!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Presidents! (Part II)

For a brief introduction to the "Presidential Names" series, click here.

Andrew Jackson Quigley, Washington, CA, b. 1828
(bonus: Quigley's sons have the middle names Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. This is especially remarkable because the kids were born in 1857, 1860, and 1866.)

Martin Van Buren Sharp, Washington, NJ, b. 1857
(bonus: mother's name is Cinderrella)

William Henry Harrison Nichols, South Kingstown, RI, b. 1841:

John Tyler Hall, Big Creek, AR, b. 1844
(bonus: brothers are William H. Hall, James M. Hall, Andrew Jackson Hall, and George Washington Hall)

James K. Polk Williamson, Davidson Co., TN, b. 1849
(bonus: has a brother named Chris Columbus Williamson and sisters named Moxy and Monroa Williamson)

Zachary Taylor Ellis, Morgan, IN, b. 1847
(bonus: has brothers named Wm. H. H. Ellis, Geo. W. Ellis, and Winfield Scott Ellis)