Friday, April 30, 2010

John Winthrop: Mountaineer

My copy of John Winthrop's journal just arrived from Amazon. I realize that the publisher probably did not have to pay a lot for this photo, but I'm not sure that that should be the only criterion for cover art. The only possible connection I can make is "City Upon a Hill," but that is a big stretch. There wasn't a generic ocean picture available?

Gravestone of the Day: Elizabeth Barnard

Elizabeth Barnard, 1772, Amesbury, MA
Here lies Buried the Body
Wife of Mr. TIMOTHY
who died Sepr. 20th, 1772.
Aged 29. Years.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Abigail Smith

Abigail Smith, 1769, Providence, RI
In Memory of
Abigail Daughter of
John Smith and
Eliphall his Wife,
who died March
the 3, 1769. Aged
8 Months, and
19 Days.

Eliphall is an interesting name. A simple Google search reveals that several New England women were named Eliphall. It is not a female name in the Bible, though there is a man named Eliphal (1 Chr. 11:35) and men named Eliphalet, Eliphaz, and Elipheleh. I wonder how it became a name for New England women.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Apparently, This Was a Thing

My brother just sent me a link to Oddly Specific, which recently featured the following notice:

Readers of this blog may remember a similar notice posted here in 2008:
Apparently, this was a thing that people did in Jacksonian America.

Gravestone of the Day: Elizabeth Fernald

Elizabeth Fernald, 1804, Copp's Hill, Boston, MA
Sacred to the Memory of
amiable Wife of
(Also in Memory of
her Husband and Children)
who died Febt. 27th. 1804
in the 34th. Year of her age.
O. my Friends remember that the Lord giveth
& taketh away, & blessed be the name of the 
Lord. O my Husband & Children, [dry up 
your tears, & remember that you must all follow 
me sooner or later, where we must all lie till Christ 
our Saviour bids us arise; for thy will must be done. Amen.]

I haven't been able to find much information on Elizabeth Fernald or her family. I found one family tree that listed an Abraham Fernald who died at sea in 1804 whose wife, Elizabeth Mills, also died in 1804. That might explain why the stone was "also in memory of her husband," but I haven't found any children for the couple. Perhaps they died as infants? If her husband and children were already dead, the verse, "O my Husband and Children, dry up your tears . . ." doesn't make much sense.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Anna Perkins

Anna Perkins, 1762, Newburyport, MA
Deposited the Remains
Wife of 
who Departed this Life
Augst. 28th. 1762 In the
36th year of her Age.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is There Somebody Buried in My Front Yard?

Paul at Homeowner's Blog asks, "Is There Somebody Buried In My Front Yard?" The photographic evidence suggests that there might be.

This reminds me of the story of the Philadelphia construction workers who uncovered the bodies of 16 children during a 2004 home renovation. The house had been built on top of the old almshouse burial ground.

Pownall Family Hat

Ramona and Edna Pownall, Rochester, NY, c. 1922
This is Pete's great-aunt, Edna B. Miller Pownall, who married his great-grandfather's brother, Raymond Pownall, right after WWI. The scowling little girl in the squishy hat is Pete's first cousin twice removed, Ramona Pownall.

Gravestone of the Day: Marcy Brown

Marcy Brown, North Burial Ground, Providence, RI
In Memory of
Marcy Brown
DAUGHTR. of Phinehs bRoWN &
Phebe his Wife
Died the 10 Day of
november AD 17--

Speaking of errors of the eye, it looks like the carver was working from a written epitaph and his eye skipped a line.

Next time I'm in Providence, I'll have to clear away the debris and read the rest of this stone.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lowell's Abandoned Cemeteries

The Lowell Sun ran a substantial article on cemetery preservation yesterday, highlighting the abandoned Hunt-Clark Cemetery. No one has been buried there since 1942 and no one is really sure who is supposed to be in charge of this. The city of Lowell does not want to take on responsibility for it, so private citizens are hoping to create a non-profit foundation to restore and preserve the gravestones.

This is actually not an uncommon occurrence — many small New England cemeteries that were once owned by families or towns have an ambiguous legal status because their most recent trustees died in the 19th century. In some towns, the municipal government takes over, while others are cared for by the local historical society, but many are left to chance. The fact that some stones in these abandoned cemetery is due to custom and watchful neighbors, rather than to legal protections or oversight.

Good luck to Kim Zunino and the other volunteers, and thanks to bob for pointing me toward this article.

Gravestone of the Day: Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons, Little Compton, RI
Here lyeth ye Body
of Sarah ye daughter
of William & Abigail
Simons aged 3 months

And her two Brothers
one on ye Right hand
ye other on the left

Although this stone is undated, it is similar in style to other stones carved by John Stevens in the 1710s and 1720s.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Republican Governors Love Guy Fawkes?

Apparently, the Republican Governors Association has launched a website called On the site, they have posted a disturbing video that, as far as I can tell, advocates the assassination of President Obama and the bombing of the Capitol, Guy Fawkes-style.

You can watch the video here without actually going to

I know that V for Vendetta was hugely popular, but I don't understand this. The fact that the current Republican-populist movement is trying to wear the mantles of Sam Adams and Guy Fawkes simultaneously makes my head spin.

ETA: The more I read about this, the more confused I become. Some commentators are claiming that the video/website has nothing at all to do with Guy Fawkes and that the RGA chose "Remember November" mostly because it rhymes.

While the rhyme and the fact that elections are held in November certainly add depth to this catchy phrase, I think that the Guy Fawkes reference will not be lost on very many people. V for Vendetta was enormously popular in both its comic book and movie forms. Even though the old rhyme, "Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot" is an anti-Fawkes ditty, most 21st-century Americans know it from the movie, in which V himself repeats the lines as he rings in the 5th of November. It seems clear to me that he is reclaiming the words and "remembering" the 5th of November by reenacting it, i.e. implementing a terrorist plot to kill as many government officials as possible.

The argument that there is no allusion to Fawkes because the video does not mention him by name is downright silly. Between the URL, the pledge on the top of the page (I, xxx, pledge with [x number of people] to remember November), the splashes of black, white, and red in the video, and the fact that the letter V is scrawled in red in the official logo (see below), it is clear that this is supposed to remind people of V. I suppose that not everyone will immediately think of the real Guy Fawkes, but I don't know if you need to go all the way back to the original plot to make this video scary.

Google Books Fingers

I found another one!

Gravestone of the Day: Joseph Lincolne

Joseph Lincolne, 1716, Hingham, MA
18th 1716

Friday, April 23, 2010

Around the Internet

Gravestone of the Day: Moll

Moll, 1723, Newport, RI
Here lieth Moll
ye wife of Peter
Servant to Robert
Barker, died Octo
ye 14th 1723

A note on names: I do not like to refer to slaves by their owners' last names unless the gravestones specifically call them by both first and last name. I do not know whether Moll went by "Moll Barker" in life or whether she claimed another surname. I feel that it would be inappropriate to reproduce the patriarchal fiction that incorporated slaves into their masters' families while robbing them of their own names and the names they chose for themselves through marriage. This can lead to some awkward naming patterns (see Pegge Scott-Robinson), but I think its safer to leave the surname off when the primary source is not specific.

This stone appears to have been lettered by William Stevens, but the hourglass was obviously carved by a less experienced hand. For more discussion of the Stevens shop and its carvers, see Vincent Luti's exhaustive study, Mallet and Chisel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: A British Soldier

A British Soldier, 1775, Lexington, MA
APRIL 22, 1775.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Things That Are Preventing Me From Writing My Dissertation Today

I have spent the past half hour debating whether enough of my prospectus readers will know the difference between the terms "eschatological" and "scatological" to make using the former worth the risk.

Gravestone of the Day: Mary Brackett

Mary Brackett, 1679, Granary Burying Ground, Boston, MA
--ER ye 1 1679

Under these clods a pretious gemm ly hear,
Belov’d of God, & of her husband dear;
Pius and prudent, helpful to neighbors all;
By day and night, whenever they did call.
Pelican like she freely spilt her blood,
To feed her chickens, and to do them good.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deep Thoughts from Student Papers

"Sometimes there is a deeper meaning to everything, and in this case, there was."

Gravestone of the Day: The Saddest Grave in Menotomy

Originally posted on July 14, 2008

The Old Menotomy Burying Ground in Arlington, MA is not my favorite graveyard around here. It is very well maintained and manicured, which is fine, but it's not as much fun as going into the overgrown, neglected burying grounds. It's the difference between going into a junk shop and going into an antique store where everything is labeled and locked away in cases. You'll see some great stuff in the glass cases, but it's more fun to go into the junk shop and there's a better chance you'll find a great deal. That said, Menotomy isn't a bad little graveyard.

I try not to get too caught up in the tragedies behind gravestones, preferring to focus on their value as material objects and concrete expressions of cultural values. Each stone represents a terrible loss for someone, so there isn't much point in ascribing special value to some over others because they are especially tragic. Still, every once in a while, a stone tells such a sad story that I can't help but be drawn to it, even if it isn't stylistically or linguistically interesting.

Which brings me to the saddest grave in Menotomy. Along the back wall of the burying ground, there is a small British flag stuck into the ground, marking the approximate gravesite of some of the 40 British Regulars who were killed at the Battle of Menotomy. A small, laminated card on the front reads,
In Memory
of the British Soldiers
who gave their lives
in the service of
their King and Country
April 19, 1775
and seldom remembered,
they have lain here over 230 years.
Rest in Peace.
I don't know who put up this little memorial, but I found it very touching. It stands very near the grand obelisk dedicated to the slain Minute Men and the juxtaposition is stark. There's a little stone dedicated to an unnamed Regular in the Lexington graveyard that didn't strike me as too sad, so I think that maybe the lack of a stone is what makes this ephemeral tribute particularly pathetic and poignant.

I'll join Lori in remembering the American dead, but would humbly ask that we also include a thought for these unnamed dead.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"They Fought Their Way to Washington Like Yankee Volunteers"

I'm sure that many people will comment on the anniversary of Lexington and Concord today. I will defer to them in that matter and use my space here to point to another event of April 19th: the Baltimore Riot of 1861.

On the 86th anniversary of Lexington and Concord, the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry arrived in Baltimore, en route to Washington as the first fully equipped regiment to answer Abraham Lincoln's call for troops to put down the rebellion (see James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, pg. 285).*

Since there was no direct rail connection between Boston and Washington, trains that had to make the journey had to switch lines in Baltimore. Usually, the cars were drawn by horses along a special track through the streets, but pro-secession saboteurs pulled up the rails to impede the progress of Union troops, forcing several companies of the 6th Massachusetts to get out and march across the city.

As they marched, the soldiers were assaulted with bricks, clubs, and gunshots by an angry crowd that grew and pressed in against them. Several companies returned fire.

The regiment fought its way through the city, killing 12 civilians and losing 4 men killed and several others wounded in the process. You can read a detailed account from the perspective of the 6th MVI here and book-length treatment here. The soldiers killed in Baltimore are often considered to be the first Union casualties of the Civil War.

The fact that all of this happened on the anniversary of Lexington and Concord escaped no one. In the words of the 6th MVI's regimental historian,
If it had been in the power of the government, for dramatic and patriotic effect, to arrange the programme in the best possible manner, could any other day have been so propitious for treason to strike down its first victims, as the anniversary of the day on which was "Fired that shot — heard round the world" — at Lexington, April 19, 1775? And is it not remarkable, taht some of the descendants of the very men who then shed their blood in the beginning of the first great war for independence, should have been the first to fall in the last, and that, too, on the same immortal day? The nineteenth of April will, hereafter, unite Lexington and Baltimore on the page of American history; for each begun a long and bloody war, and Middlesex county was represented in both conflicts.
The "dramatic and patriotic effect" of the Baltimore Riots was felt throughout the North. Lithographs, broadsides, and songs recounting the incident were valuable recruiting tools. My favorite is "The New York Volunteer":

(video with music by Bobby Horton)

'Twas in the days of seventy-six
When freemen young and old
All fought for Independence then
Each hero brave and bold!
'Twas then the noble Stars and Stripes
In triumph did appear
And defended by brave patriots
The Yankee Volunteers

'Tis my delight to march and fight
Like a New York Volunteer!

Now, there's our City Regiments
Just see what they have done:
The first to offer to the State
To go to Washington
To protect the Federal Capital
And the flag they love so dear!
And they've done their duty nobly,
Like New York Volunteers!

'Tis my delight to march and fight
Like a New York Volunteer!

The Rebels out in Maryland
They madly raved and swore,
They'd let none of our Union troops
Pass through Baltimore
But the Massachusetts Regiment
No traitors did they fear
But fought their way to Washington
Like Yankee Volunteers!

'Tis my delight to march and fight
Like a New York Volunteer!

*A side note: If you would like to read a vehemently anti-Confederate account of the war's first days, look no further than the regimental history of the 6th MVI. Under the heading, "the First Blow Struck," you will find this succinct account:
The latent treason that had been ripening its poison for forty years in the southern portion of the Republic, on the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States proceeded to overt rebellion. It was confined to resolutions and words, until April 12, 1861, when it assaulted the flag of the country.

Spreading the News Hat

8 November 1921

via the Library of Congress

Gravestone of the Day: Happy Patriots' Day

Lexington, MA
Near this spot
The eight Minute Men
killed April 19th 1775
were first buried.
Their remains
were removed to the
Battle Green
April 20th 1835

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Samuel Tarbell

Samuel Tarbell, 1776, Groton, MA
In Memory of
Capt: Samuel Tarbell
who departed this Life
May, 23d: at 3 a clock after
noon 1776 Aged 78 Years
4 months and 14 days
Halt passenger as you go past
Remember time it runneth fast
My dust in narrow bounds do ly
Remember man that thou must die
This dust revive it shall again
And in a grave no more remain
When trumpet sounds I shall be rais'd
For this God's holy word hath said

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Samuel Sewall in the Graveyard

I spend a pretty deal of time in the burying place to see to the Graver of the Tombstone: Push Catterpillars off the Apple-trees; goe to the Meeting at Mistress Averyes; read out of Dr. Sibs about submitting to God's Providence, Sing the 110. Psalm.
- Diary of Samuel Sewall, May 4, 1687

From this entry, we learn that the elusive Boston stone carver (or one of his colleagues) sometimes met with clients in the graveyard itself. Since Sewall usually uses the word "tomb" to mean a family tomb and "stone" to mean a gravestone, I suspect that he was overseeing carving on the Sewall family tomb in the Granary Burying Ground on May 4, 1687.

Gravestone of the Day: Daniel and William Packer

Daniel and William Packer, Haverhill, MA

This is a footstone. I was not able to find a corresponding headstone in the immediate vicinity.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More From Samuel Sewall

Saw the stone of my Aunt Rider's Grave. She died March 21 1687/8. Lies at Baddesly burying place.
- Diary of Samuel Sewall, February 20, 1688/9

On a journey to England, Samuel Sewall took some time to visit his relatives. On the trip, he mentions observing his aunt's gravestone about 11 months after she died. This does not tell us how much time elapsed between her death and the erection of a monument, but it was definitely less than a year.

Grave Offerings at Arlington

My least favorite investigative reporter, Mark Benjamin, has published another frantic article about Arlington National Cemetery over at Salon. As ever, the shrillness of his writing and the shallowness of his inquiry sets my teeth on edge, but I suppose I must keep reading him if I hope to stay current on the cemetery news.

As far as I can tell, Benjamin's purpose in this new article is to whine about not receiving enough credit from the AP for his role in changing Arlington's policies on grave offerings. Last summer, Benjamin wrote a thoughtless piece about mementos left on graves being "trashed" by callous staff members. Though Arlington's policy clearly stated that items left on graves would be removed after a few days, Benjamin implied that anything less than the perpetual preservation of all grave offerings was an affront to the dignity of the soldiers buried at Arlington and a slap in the face to their grieving family members. The article was long on outrage and short on consideration of the purpose of grave offerings, public vs. private meaning, or the cycle of decay as a legitimate part of death and dying. My full critique of that article is here, though I will reprint an excerpt below the fold.

Now, the Army has embarked on a new program to preserve the mementos left on graves in section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where many of the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. Benjamin's new article is not really about the policy change — it is about the fact that the AP did not give him credit for spurring the change. Benjamin spends the article calling editors and cemetery officials, "wondering why the AP had omitted Salon's earlier reporting in its feature on Arlington's new Section 60 policy." 

Benjamin's articles make much more sense to me now that I have read Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death. Like Mr. August Chelini, the man who sued an embalmer when he found that his mother's body had decayed a year and a half after her death, Benjamin believes that preservation of the ephemeral is both possible and desirable. According to Mitford, it is a peculiarly American way of approaching death and its trappings. It makes me think of the sadness I felt as a child when my siblings and I would buy glo-sticks at fireworks shows. We would put them in the freezer to last just a bit longer, but the knowledge that they would die made it difficult for me to enjoy them while they lasted.

Gravestone of the Day: Lydia Teuxbury

Lydia Teuxbury, 1822, Amesbury, MA
In memory of Mrs.
wife of Moses Tuxbury, who
died Oct. 26, 1822, in the 58
year of her age
Down in this grave my body lies,
My name ingraven stands;
Ye living ones, prepare to die,
King Jesus is at hand.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Samuel Sewall's "Connecticut Stone Post"

I'm reading more of Samuel Sewall's diary today and came across this intriguing entry:
This day, [September] 16 [1721] I set up my Connecticut stone post in Elm pasture, in Remembrance of my loving Wife Mrs. Hannah Sewall.
I don't know what a "Connecticut stone post" is, but since it seems to be a material object dedicated to the memory of the dead, I am interested in finding out.

Gravestone of the Day: Frank

Frank, 1771, Granary Burying Ground, Boston, MA
Servant to
lied interr'd here
who died 23d Jan

I do not know of many African Americans who are buried in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. The city's free black community was centered in the North End, so many of the known graves are in Copp's Hill. One of the few exceptions is Frank, a slave belonging to John Hancock, who is buried at the foot of Hancock's monument, near the Hancock family tomb on the southwest side of the graveyard.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Little Bits of Evidence

Mrs. Mary Winchcomb was buried in the old burying place, in the 67th year of her age, as her Relations tell me; though the Stone bear 69.: died suddenly.
- Diary of Samuel Sewall, August 22, 1717

I have not been able to find out exactly when Mary Winchcomb (Winchcombe? Whitcomb? Wincom? Winchon?) died, but if she was buried in August, I do not imagine that much time elapsed between burial and death. There seems to have been a carved gravestone present at her funeral. I only have a transcription of Sewall's diary, so I cannot tell if the part about the stone was added in later, but it seems to be integrated into the rest of the entry, so I would venture a guess that it really was written on August 22, 1717.

The American Way of Death Revisited

I have been reading Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited, which is an amusing investigation of the American funeral industry. It was originally published in 1963 and underwent a minor revision/updating in 1995.

Mitford's main point is that 20th-century American funeral homes and cemeteries are run by often unscrupulous businessmen who are always looking for new ways to make Americans pay more for their services. These tactics include insisting upon embalming, upselling grieving families on elaborate caskets, and misrepresenting the laws, religious requirements, and traditions related to the disposal of corpses. She argues that "a new mythology, essential to the twentieth-century American funeral rite, has grown up — or rather has been built up step by step — to justify the peculiar customs surrounding the disposal of the dead" (16). The purpose of this new mythology is to convince families that a "decent" funeral is an expensive funeral, even when the deceased has expressed his or her preference for simplicity and thrift.

In general, I found this to be an entertaining read, though a bit scattered. I'm not sure if the original was smoother, but the revised edition has bits tacked on in strange places that make the organization haphazard. Still, it is an enlightening tour through the American funeral industry that manages to be quite funny in places. Mitford covers everything from the setup of casket showrooms to the embalming process to the tactic of "pre-need" selling of cemetery plots. I particularly enjoyed her chapter on "Fashions in Funerals" and will be recommending it as a reading for the undergraduate course I am currently working on.

In a few places, I was struck by Mitford's tendency to contrast modern corruption with a golden age of funerals past. She looks fondly back to an age of "simplicity to the point of starkness, the plain pine box" that were the "hallmarks of the traditional American funeral until the end of the nineteenth century" and hopes that "the American public is becoming sickened by ever more ornate and costly funerals" (16, 19). I chuckled a bit when I read that because it reminded me so forcefully of Cotton Mather, who decried the "Expence of Funerals, which often proves the Ruine of Family's" way back in 1713. That's not to say that Mitford doesn't have a valid point about the expense of modern funerals, but Americans have been anxious over funerary opulence and its consequences for some time. Mather was chiefly concerned that the mourners use the funeral to reflect on their own mortality, but he also worried about costs.

Gravestone of the Day: Molley Ussel

Molley Ussel, 1756, Duxbury
DECd FEBry ye 22d
1756: O.S. AGED
18 Years & 1 MONTH

Here is an interesting bit of carving. This stone was carved by a member of the Soule family using mostly capital letters. The surname is rendered as UFFEL, with two capital Fs. Yet, Duxbury vital statistics indicate that the deceased's name was actually Molly Ussel. It would not be unusual to render Ussel using the long s in writing with lower-case letters, but I have never seen a double long s transcribed as two capital Fs on any other stone.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: John Marsh

John Marsh, 1734, Haverhill, MA
NOUEMr ye 24 1734 &

I am not sure how to transcribe Mullicken's letters. He makes two versions of the letter A, but both are as tall as capital letters. Are the Ts lowercase?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Copley Family Hat

by John Singleton Copley

John Singleton Copley is in the back, with brushes. He stands behind his father-in-law, Richard Clarke, who holds baby Jonathan. Susanna Copley sits on the sofa, holding John Copley, while Mary Copley leans over her arm. The little girl in front is Elizabeth Copley. If you look closely, you can see that the doll on the floor on the far left is dressed just like Elizabeth, from her striped skirt to her adorable turban.

Gravestone of the Day: Mehuman Hinsdell

Mehuman Hinsdell, 1736, Deerfield, MA
DECd. MAY ye 9th 1736.

Math. 5.7. Blessed are the mercifull
for they shall obtain mercy.

In February of 1704, 31-year-old Mehuman Hinsdell (or Hinsdale) lived in Deerfield, MA with his wife, Mary, their 16-month-old son, Samuel, and Mehuman's younger cousin, Josiah Rising. He held a special place in the history of the settlement — as the first white male born in Deerfield, he was a symbol of town's ability to reproduce itself (a fact which would have meant different things to the major players in the region).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Abraham Geal

Abraham Geal, 1718, Waltham, MA
Here Lyes ye Body
of AbraHam geaL
WHO died Septembr
the 5th 1718
in ye 76th year of
His Age

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Russel Brown

Russell Brown, 1795, Norwich, CT

In memory of Mr.
Russel Brown son
of Mr. Jesse Brown
& Mrs. Anne his wife
who died sept. 24th
1795, in ye 22nd
Year of his age.

Carved by the Manning Family.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Abel Harvey or Whatever

Abel Harvey, 1773, Windham Ctr., CT
Someone seems to have been a bit shaky on the details here. I wonder if the family objected to the carver's first go and made him cut out mistakes and try again.

Here Lies ye Body of
Mr Abel Harvey
he Departed this Life
Marc ye 22nd 1773 in ye
39th year of his Age

The Memory of ye
Just is Blessed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Stephen Larrabee

Stephen Larrabee, 1718, Portland, ME
ye 1st 17178

This stone may offer a clue about the interval between burial and the erection of a monument. Whoever bought this stone for Stephen Larrabee of Portland, Maine had to send away to Boston for the stone, which contains an error in the date. It could just be that the carver slipped and carved 1717 instead of 1718, but that error is much easier to make if you are carving in 1720 than in 1718.

Then again, this stone looks very much like others with dates in the 1710s, so who knows (also, Farber says that these stones were carved by John Foster before 1719). I am compiling a dossier of evidence on this question and this is just one minor bit of data.
Edward Sprague, 1715, Malden, MA

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hey, Let's All Just Use the 1790 Census Form

No problem!

Gravestone of the Day: Ruth Johnson

Ruth Johnson, 1708, Haverhill, MA
29 1708 & IN ye
----------- HAND TO DY 

Edited to add:
Many thanks to RJO for looking into this one and finding a rich story:

"Ruth Johnson in her girlhood had been a captive among the Indians, who, March 15 1696-7, murdered her father and mother and her two sisters. Twelve years afterwards, Aug. 20. 1708, when she herself was slain, she held in her arms her only child, Lydia, aged six years and six months, born in the second year of her marriage. Strange to say, the child escaped the tomahawk of the Indians, and grew up to womanhood, and in her twenty-fifth year married Ebenezer Gile, whom she long survived, dying in Enfield, N.H., at the age of seventy-four, leaving issue. Her mother lies buried in Haverhill, Mass., in the old cemetery called Pentucket."

The final lines are said to be:

Once wt ye Indians
In Captivity
After twas her lot
In their hands to dy

Much contained in those few missing words.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gravestone of the Day: Pegge Scott-Robinson

Pegge Scott-Robinson, 1757, Newport, RI
Pegge Daught'r
Pompe Scott
& Vilot Rob
inson died
April 19th. 1757
Aged 6 Years

This is one of several stones in the Newport Common Burying Ground that I suspect may have been carved by Pompe Stevens. The lettering is similar to work by William Stevens, but un-ruled and not as confident as William Stevens' letters. It is not signed, so it will probably never be definitively attributed, but I think there is a strong case to be made on stylistic evidence. Compare the Pegge Scott-Robinson stone to the Cuffe Gibbs stone (signed by Pompe Stevens) and the Hart Dunbar stone (typical of William Stevens' work):
Cuffe Gibbs, 1768, Newport, RI
Hart Dunbar, 1762, Newport, RI
Of course, the variation may be due to the obvious difference in stone quality between gravestones carved for white and black Newporters. Still, I don't think that William Stevens would start carving crooked letters after 30 years on the job just because the stone was not perfect.

Monday, April 5, 2010

First Communion Hats

It's spring! Since spring is the season of first communions, I bring you a number of communion veils/headbands from my family.

Dorothy Champagne, c. 1930, Waterbury, CT
Meg Galante, c. 1962, Waterbury, CT
Michelle Galante, c. 1965, Waterbury, CT
Caitlin DeAngelis (on left), c. 1991, Mansfield, CT
Brighid DeAngelis, c. 2002, Willimantic, CT

Gravestone of the Day: Mintus Brenton

Mintus Brenton, 1774, Newport Common Burying Ground, RI
In Memory of
TON; he departed
this Life Augst. 4th
A.D. 1774, aged
about 52 Years

Until recently, the Mintus Brenton* stone was one of the most beautiful stones in the "God's Little Acre" section of the Newport Common Burying Ground. The carver, John Stevens III, made an exquisite portrait stone with identifiably African features such as tightly-curled hair. As late as the 1970s, Ann and Dickran Tashjian featured the undamaged stone in their writings on the African-American burying ground.

I don't know what happened to the stone between 1974 and 2008, when this photograph was taken. It does not look like a typical lawnmower incident — the damage is too high and is not linear. It is possible that a tree branch may have fallen and crushed the portrait section of the stone. It is also possible that this is an example of willful, targeted vandalism against a beautiful and important American artifact.

The Farber Collection has a picture of the Mintus Brenton stone taken when it was whole:

*In Bodies Politic, John Wood Sweet calls Mintus Brenton "a professional funeral director" and says that he was an active member of the Free African Union Society. Yet, Brenton died in 1774 and the Free African Union Society was not founded until 1780. It is possible that there was another Mintus Brenton, but I have not been able to find one. It is also possible that Brenton was indeed in charge of organizing funerals before the formal incorporation of the FAUS as a burial society. It makes sense that John Stevens III would have carved a particularly lovely stone for Brenton if they were acquainted (and perhaps even friendly?) through their common work in the mortuary industry.