Monday, August 16, 2010

Gravestone Identification Challenge

Here's a little challenge from reader RJO:
The gravestone fragment shown here was recently found in the South Street Cemetery in Fitchburg, MA. South Street is Fitchburg's first cemetery, and the earliest stone dates to 1766. This fragment may have been buried under the leaves somewhere, or been tossed over the fence and returned by a neighbor who came across it. In any event, it has not
been recorded before.

Whose stone is it?

I can tell you this fragment is 72 cm tall and the family name is Thurlo, and what's left of the stone reads:

]d the

]. Age


First of all, what can you deduce just from this fragment alone?

Going further, using only Google and the information above, I think I've figured out who the stone belonged to, or at least have narrowed it to two possibilities, but I could be wrong. See if you can track it down yourself. (If you're like me, the first track you take will be a side track, rather than the main route.)
Anyone up for the challenge? I've done a little poking and have some leads, but am not as confident as RJO! Leave thoughts in the comments.


Anonymous said...

My best guess:

It's a 4-year-old boy named Moses Thurlo(w), son of Moses and Sarah (Jewett) Thurlo(w).

Born Oct. 1, 1763. Died April 17, 1768.

-Peter Fisk

Robert J. said...

Peter is a much faster researcher than I was! Care to tell us the route you took to this answer?

What can be inferred from the stone alone, without any other resources?

Anyone care to guess the carver?

And would anyone like to make a conjectural reconstruction of the entire text?


Anonymous said...

This was my thought process:

"-hurlo" = Thurlo, which is often spelled Thurlow

"-arah" = Sarah

So I looked for a man named Thurlo or Thurlow who had a wife named Sarah and lived in Fitchburg at a time consistent with the style of stone and dates that the cemetery was used.

The only name I found that fit those parameters was Moses Thurlow, who married Sarah Jewett:

Moses and Sarah did not live in Fitchburg long. They had come from Rowley and moved on to New Hampshire within a few years. So it's unlikely this is a grave of either of them.

Also, the fact that Sarah's name is on the stone makes it unlikely this is the grave of Moses Sr. -- stones would often ID a woman as "wife/relict of John Doe," but a man would not be ID'd as "husband of Jane Doe."

So, this could possibly be Sarah's stone, or a SHARED stone of Moses Sr. and Sarah.

However, the scant records of this family strongly suggest that neither parent would have been buried in Fitchburg, so that suggests that it is the grave of a child.

Next clue: "-ths" ends the line after the line that ends in "age." I take this almost certainly to be the end of the word "months." Only a young child would be identified as being aged "X months" or "X years and Y months."

Since Moses Jr. is the sole child of this family I could find on record as having died in Fitchburg, and everything else seems to fit, I concluded it was probably Moses Jr.

Also, the fact that Moses Jr.'s family moved away and he was the apparently only family member buried at that cemetery is consistent with a stone that was neglected, as there would have been fewer visits to the grave over the years than if he had been from a family that continued to live in Fitchburg.

Not definitive of course, but the evidence seems reasonably compelling.

My tentative guess at a reconstruction of the wording would be some variation on:

Here lies buried the
body of Moses Thurlo,
Child of
Moses and Sarah
Thurlo, who departed
this life at the age
of 4 years and 6 months

I'll leave the carver guess to others.

-Peter Fisk

Anonymous said...

... Moses Sr.'s brother William Thurlo(w) also removed to Fitchburg, and he actually died there, and he had a daughter named Sarah, but I can't come up with a scenario that connects him or anyone in his immediate family to the fragments of wording on the broken stone.

Peter Fisk

Robert J. said...

One good approach to identifying carvers is to look up other examples of stones carved in the same year in the Farber collection.

If we are correct that this stone dates to 1768, then we can find an example like this, which is a very close match: 1768 Hannah Wright in Acton. That stone is a product of William Park's Groton workshop.

And the stylistic match strengthens the view that this stone indeed dates from about 1768.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Bob. Thanks for that lesson on carver identification.

That Hannah Wright stone also seems to give a better idea of what the missing text on our Thurlo stone originally said. (I forgot to include the death date in my text guess, of course.)

-Peter Fisk
(who really should set up a real Google account)

Unknown said...


Are you by any chance the same RJO who keeps this genealogy site? If so, I owe you thanks for that as well, as I have relied on that site in the past in researching my own genealogy.

Robert J. said...

Yes, that's me. I'm glad you found some of the pages there of use.

Here's my complete interpretation of the gravestone fragment above. This was all written before Caitlin kindly posted the challenge, so the fact that you came to the same conclusion is very gratifying and gives me confidence that it's correct. The only addition in my (overly detailed) text below addresses the question, How is it that we know Moses Thurlow's death date? I suggest we know it because Ezra Stearns got it from this very stone more than 100 years ago.


On stylistic grounds this stone was certainly a product of the Park workshop in Groton. For close matches compare the 1768 Hannah Fessenden stone in Lexington (Farber #1088), the 1768 Jonathan Fox stone in Littleton (Farber #5790), and the 1768 Hannah Wright stone in Acton (Farber #4896).

Whose grave did this stone mark? The stone's relatively small size and the likely use of the word "[mon]ths" in the epitaph suggest that it was made for a child. If we assume the inscription was in the customary format, giving first the child's name, and then its parentage, and then its date of death and age, it is likely that Sarah Thurlo is the mother's name. The only married woman named Sarah Thurlo in Fitchburg in the late 1700s was Sarah (Jewet or Jewett) Thurlo, daughter of Samuel and Jemima (Chute) Jewett, born 18 July 1736 in the district of Rowley known as Byfield Parish (Davis, 1899.2: 220; Stearns, 1906.2: 679-680; Jewett, 1908.2: 963). Sarah had married 5 August 1756 in Newbury, Moses Thurlo, born 12 July 1735 in Newbury, the son of George and Elisabeth (Hale) Thurlow (Jewett, 1908.2: 963; Newbury VR, 1911.2: 481, 511; Rowley VR, 1928.1: 330). (In Essex County the name is spelled with exceptional variety as Tharley, Tharly, Thirla, Thirlo, Thorla, Thurla, Thurlo, Thurloe, and Thurlow.) Moses was the older brother of 1784.2 WILLIAM THURLO, and with his family Moses removed from Byfield Parish to Fitchburg in 1765 (Stearns, 1906.2: 679-680).

Moses and Sarah (Jewett) Thurlo had five children, the first four born in Byfield Parish, and the fifth, their "ſecond ſun" Moses, born 5 December 1769 in Fitchburg (Davis, 1899.2: 220; Stearns, 1906.2: 679-680; Newbury VR, 1911.1: 510-511, 514). By 1782 the family had removed again, this time to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where the elder Moses lived the remainder of his life (Stearns, 1906.2: 679-680).

If this stone represents one of the five children of Moses and Sarah (Jewett) Thurlo, as suggested by the appearance of Sarah's name -- a child who died between their arrival in Fitchburg in 1765 and their removal to New Hampshire in 1782 -- which child is it? According to Stearns' profile of the family (1906.2: 679-680), their daughter Elizabeth (born 11 August 1757) lived to adulthood and married, as did their daughter Polly (born 15 April 1765), and the "ſecond ſun" Moses, born 5 December 1769 in Fitchburg, died 15 November 1788 in Londonderry, New Hampshire. That leaves Sarah, born 4 November 1759 in Byfield Parish, and an earlier Moses, born 1 October 1763, also in Byfield Parish, and said by Stearns to have died 17 April 1768 at Fitchburg.

The somewhat unusual ending of this fragment, "in | [... Fi]tchburg," could perhaps have read "Born in Rowley and died in Fitchburg," reflecting the family's migration. Precedents for such a reading may be found on the 1767.1 SARAH WOOD stone which notes that she was "Bor in Littleton and died | in Fitchburg," and on the 1778.2 JOSEPH ADAMS stone which tells us "He was Born in Newbury." But such a reading could conceivably apply to either the Rowley-born Sarah of 1759, or the Rowley-born Moses of 1763, and so does not help us choose between the two.


Robert J. said...

There appears to be no further record of the Rowley-born Sarah of 1759, suggesting that she may have died early. Nor does there appear to be any further record of the Rowley-born Moses of 1763 *apart from* Stearns' statement that he died 17 April 1768 in Fitchburg. The birth of a second son named Moses on 5 December 1769 in Fitchburg (Davis, 1899.2: 220) is entirely consistent with the death of an earlier Moses during the previous year, but the supposed death of that first Moses Thurlo on 17 April 1768 does not appear in the Fitchburg town records, and I have not been able to find it documented other than in Stearns' volume. Where did Stearns get that piece of information?

Perhaps from this stone itself.

Ezra Scollay Stearns (1838-1915), a native of Rindge, New Hampshire, was a prolific regional historian and genealogist who produced work of consistently high quality. His histories of Rindge and Plymouth in New Hampshire (Stearns, 1875, 1906), and Ashburnham and Dunstable in Massachusetts (Stearns, 1887, 1911) remain standard references on those towns. He served for several terms as a Representative and a Senator in the New Hampshire legislature, and also as New Hampshire's Secretary of State from 1891-1899. And he resided for many years just south of Rindge, in Fitchburg, where he was the editor of the Fitchburg Daily Chronicle newspaper. He was a descendant of the John Fitch for whom Fitchburg was named, and he published the definitive genealogy of the Massachusetts Fitch family as well as a number of papers on the early history of the town (Stearns, 1901-1902, 1908a, 1908b, 1914). He certainly would have known the South Street Cemetery and its occupants well, including three members of the Stearns family, so it's not unreasonable to think that the very specific date and place of death he assigned to little Moses Thurlo in his History of Plymouth, New Hampshire -- "d. Fitchburg, Mass., April 17, 1768" -- a work written while he was living in Fitchburg, might have come directly from observation of Moses Thurlo's intact gravestone, of which only this narrow fragment remains.

Given these facts, and given the close stylistic match between this stone and other Park-workshop stones of 1768, I suggest that this headstone fragment belonged to the Moses Thurlo who was born 1 October 1763 in Byfield Parish, and who died 17 April 1768 in Fitchburg, and that Stearns saw the stone intact at some point around 1900. Thus a full conjectural reading would be: [Here lies burie]d the | [body of Moses T]hurlo, | [son of Mr. Moses] | [Thurlo and Mrs. S]arah | [his wife, who depart]ed | [this life April 17th 1768]. Age | [4 years, 6 mo]nths | [and 16 days.] | [He was born] in | [Rowley and died in Fi]tchburg.