Winged Death's Heads (spanning the entire period of 1683-1760):
Cape Cod gravestones show a variety of early winged death's heads, representative of the carving styles of William Mumford (active ca. 1680 to early 1700s; d. 1718), Joseph Lamson (1658-1722), Nathaniel Lamson (1693-1755), Ebenezer Soule and family (active in eighteenth century), Nathaniel Fuller (active from 1730s to 1750s), three generations of James Fosters (eighteenth century), and others. A slide set (see Classroom Activities) includes representative carving styles of death's heads. Two interesting types of death's heads requiring further study are those that occur on curved or bowed slates (see Anthony Thacher stone of Yarmouth, d. 1711) and those that I refer to as "misshapen skulls" (see Lieut. Edmond Freeman stone of Eastham (d. 1718/19) and Shearjashub Bourn Esqr. stone of Sandwich (d. 1718/9).
Winged Soul Effigies (1711-1718/19):
There are only seven examples of winged soul effigies on Cape Cod gravestones from the period 1711-1718/19. Three examples comprise some of the finest carved gravestones on Cape Cod. They are the Marcy Freeman stone (1711), with a beautifully carved heart and floral patterns surrounding the heart in addition to the soul effigy, the Joshua Doane stone (1716), and the Mary Doane stone (1716), both of Wellfleet's Chequessett Neck Cemetery ("Indian Cemetery"). I rank the two Doane stones (husband and wife) in the top half dozen of all Cape stones for quality of craftsmanship. Inexplicably, George and Nelson did not include this small but important cemetery in their field guide. The Doane and Freeman stones bear a strong resemblance to gravestones attributed to Nathaniel Lamson (1692-1755) of Boston. They may have been carved by his father, Joseph Lamson (1658-?). The Honourable John Thacher Esqr. Stone of Yarmouth (d. 1714) is unique to the Cape in that it has a soul effigy carved from yellow sandstone. It has deteriorated badly in recent years. The Thomas Lewes stone of Eastham (d. 1718) has an almost lion-like soul effigy as its central image. The Deacon Samuel Freeman footstone (d. 1712) is the only Cape footstone with a winged soul effigy, and it can be grouped with a small number of footstones with winged death's heads. Ludwig writes, "Lamson's sons, Caleb and Nathaniel, quietly slipped back into formula carving without once having realized what their talented father had accomplished."14 I agree with George and Nelson that Caleb and Nathaniel Lamson deserve more credit for their carving skills than Ludwig gives them.
Crossbones and Crosses (1703-1728):
Ludwig lists gravestones having crosses from the period 1760-1780, and also some earlier stones with crosses, dated from 1710 to 1721. He writes,
"The symbol of the cross could appear emblazoned across the face of a stone, hidden away in the corners, obscured by a circular band, cut in the shape of a Maltese cross, or like a rosette; but whatever the way the New Englander chose to have his cross carved, there is no longer any question that it was a far more popular symbol than any historian of 18th century New England has hitherto supposed."15
I have identified ten pre-1720 gravestones and three footstones in Cape Cod cemeteries that bear crossbones, and in some instances it is apparent that the crossbones were used as crosses. Crossbones were carved on gravestones during the period 1703-1718/19, and also from a later period beginning in the late 1720s. The first grouping of gravestones exhibiting similar carving styles includes the Abigail Otis stone16 (d. 1712), the Jonathan Freeman stone (d. 1714), the Mary Doane stone (1716), the Joshua Doane stone (d. 1716), the Hezekiah Purinton stone (1717/8), and the Shearjashub Bourn stone (1718/9). Each of these stones has an intricately carved set of crossbones positioned above or alongside the winged skull. Each is a superbly carved stone also using elaborately carved scrollwork surrounding the skull. In all likelihood the stones were produced by the same stone carver, and I suspect that it was a Lamson.
The second grouping of stones consists of those of John Sunderlin (1703), Tamsen Sunderlin (1709), the Marcy Freeman footstone (1711), the Bethshua Bourn footstone (1714), and the Elizabeth Pope footstone (1715). The Freeman footstone has a pair of crossbones, arranged in an X pattern, in the top portion of an otherwise plain pilaster. The two Sunderlin stones have similar crossbones positioned in an obscure circle at the bottom center of the headstone, but they are arranged vertically, that is, in the form of a cross. The Bethshua Bourn and Elizabeth Pope footstones have similar cross-like crossbones at the pilaster tops, appearing here inside two concentric circles. In each of these examples, the cross is hidden in a very obscure part of the headstone or footstone. The third example of a cross appearing on an early gravestone is that of the Thomas Lewes footstone (d. 1718/19). A close examination of the pilaster tops of the footstone reveals two unmistakable crosses – not crossbones. Ludwig writes, "It still remains to be seen for whom these crosses were carved and why."17
Ludwig states, "Stonecarvers simply followed an emblematic tradition when they linked together Death and Time [. . .]" and "the hourglass, an attribute of Time, could be given over to Death or connected with him by juxtaposition."18 He refers to stones with hourglasses from the late seventeenth century and from the 1730s and 1740s, and indicates that "hourglasses are often seen in simple symbolic conjunction with the winged death's head"19. Hourglasses appear on twelve Cape Cod gravestones and one associated footstone during the period 1697/8-1717/8. The Mrs. Joanna Cotton stone of Sandwich (d. 1702), the Capt. Jonathan Sprrow stone of Eastham (d. 1706/7), the Mrs. Anna Lewes stone of Barnstable (d. 1715), the Jonathan Hopkins stone of Brewster (d. 1716[/]7), and the Deacon Hezekiah Purinton headstone and footstone of North Truro (d. 1717/8) are representative examples. On several of these stones (Elisha Bourne, Jonathan Hopkins, Hezekiah Purinton), sand grains are represented in the bottom portion of the hourglass, signifying that time has run out. As Ludwig writes, "the hourglasses symbolize the corruption and decay of the flesh"20
Paired Gourds/Breasts and Pumpkins (1683-1719/20):
"The gourd was a very popular symbol in the 17th and early 18th centuries in and around greater Boston and seemed to have been taken as a symbol of both life and death [. . .] The gourd, then, seems to have symbolized the coming to be and the passing away of earthly things."21
"The gourds on the [Rebecca] Bunker stone [of Cambridge, Massachusetts, d. 1709] could also be interpreted as breasts, and it would be foolish to believe that the Puritans were too prudish to see the similarities."21
"In literature, breasts could symbolize the Scriptures, the Church, the ministry, or the divine milk needed to nourish the soul [. . .] it is possible to interpret the pendantlike forms on the Bunker stone as either gourds or breasts. Certainly it can no longer be argued that the Puritan mind was too "Victorian" to indulge in such imagery."21
There are 36 Cape Cod gravestones from the period 1683-1717 that have gourds, pumpkins, or both as prominent symbols on the pilasters. The Dorothy Rawson stone of Barnstable (d. 1683), the Capt. Peter Adolph stone of Sandwich (d. 1702/3), the Margery Joyce stone of Yarmouth (d. 1705), the Jeremiah Hows stone in Howes Family Cemetery, Dennis, the Jonathan Freeman stone in Brewster (d. 1714), and the Josiah Miller stone in Yarmouth (d. 1717) are representative examples. The Adolph stone bears a striking resemblance to the Mr. Israell Chauncy stone of Stratford, Connecticut (d. 1702/3), where Lamson stones are known to be located. A branch of the Lamson family lived in Stratford. The pilasters on the Adolph and Chauncy stones are stylistically identical, and the two stones share some features in their lettering. The Margery Joyce and Jeremiah Hows stones differ from each other in various respects, but probably were carved by a Lamson. The Jonathan Freeman stone is the most remarkable one on Cape Cod bearing gourds or breasts as they appear not only on the pilasters, but also on the bottom border of the headstone. With a beautifully carved winged death's head, an hourglass and crossbones, the twelve paired gourds, and intricate foliar carving, the Freeman gravestone is one of the finest. The Josiah Miller stone is a cradle-end stone with single, large gourds on the pilasters. It is near-identical to several Lamson cradle-end stones in the old burying ground in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
Gadrooned Urns and/or Tulips (1703-1714):
Ludwig identifies the carver known only as "J.N." as the first to use the symbol of the gadrooned urn or goblet on colonial gravestones.22 The cinerary urn contains, at least figuratively, the ashes of the deceased. Examples of J.N.'s (and perhaps other carvers') urns date to the 1680s and 1690s. The most expertly carved of these urns is that of Edward Tompson of Chelmsford, Massachusetts (d. 1705), which has a composite flower emerging upright from the urn's opening and two thistle-like flowers wilting over to either side. This tympanum has intricately carved scrollwork left and right of the urn. Ludwig states that J.N. used "highly sophisticated engravings rather than rough woodcuts" as the basis for his designs.22
Cape Cod has five gravestones depicting the gadrooned urn with flowers, or flowers without an urn, as the central image. Four are from the period 1710-1714. The Hannah Hall stone of Hall family Cemetery, Dennis (d. 1710) is a fairly lightly inscribed stone with a simple urn containing a composite and two wilted tulips, surrounded by two perkier looking tulips with basal leaves framing the inside border of the tympanum. The Bethier Lothrop stone of Barnstable (d. 1714) is somewhat more deeply inscribed, but it is still a fairly plain statement of the imagery. In contrast, the Mrs. Bethshua Bourn stone of Sandwich (d. 1714) is one of the most intricately and expertly carved gravestones in any Cape Cod cemetery. It is a sizeable stone with a gracefully handled, layered and fluted urn, and with five composite flowers and two wilted tulips emerging from the urn, linked by foliar scrollwork. Expert scrollwork also fills the pilasters and the bottom border. This stone was almost totally obscured by lichen growth when I first viewed it in 1974. Cleaning the stone revealed one of the treasures of Cape cemeteries.
The two remaining stones with tulips but no urns are the Ruth Chipman footstone in Sandwich (d. 1713), pictured in George and Nelson23, and the Walley Crocker stone in Barnstable (d. 1703). The intricately carved Chipman headstone is carved in slate, but the footstone is carved from a yellow sandstone. The Crocker stone has a simple arrangement consisting of a composite flower growing from an apparent earthen mound, surrounded by two wilting tulips. This is the earliest example of the dying tulip/urn genre occurring on the Cape.
Ludwig writes of
"[. . .] The geometric heart symbol being an emblem of the soul's love of God and of the soul itself."24
"We know that in England and Europe the emblem of the heart could have a variety of meanings, but in New England it appears to have been associated most closely with symbols of the soul in bliss and always in symbolic opposition to the imagery of death."24
The only early Cape Cod stone with a heart motif is the Marcy Freeman stone of Eastham (d. 1711), which shows the highest quality of craftsmanship in carving. An hourglass and beautifully carved central soul effigy appear above the heart, the heart carries the text about the deceased, and the space around the heart is filled with intricately carved scrollwork. This headstone is well described by George and Nelson.25 The Freeman stone is very similar to the Mrs. Hannah Bartlet stone of Plymouth, Massachusetts (d. 1710), except that the Bartlet heart has a less pleasing, squat shape, and above the heart is an hourglass and a winged death's head, rather than the hourglass with soul effigy seen on the Marcy Freeman stone.
Soul Doves (1698):
"[Cotton] Mather calls the soul a bird and refers to the body as a shell keeping it captive. The equating the soul with the image of a bird was a common European metaphor in the 17th century and it is not surprising that the New Englander brought it to the new world with him.26
The Mary Green stone, 1715, Newport, Rhode Island shows two birds flanking a bowl in which spheroid objects are pyramided. I know of only one other gravestone that uses this symbolism, Cape Cod's Batha Hall stone, 1698 (Hall Burying Ground, Dennis), which is probably not late seventeenth century but rather was carved at about the same time as the Mary Green stone. In the Batha Hall stone, the spheroid objects appear to be grapes or cherries, with the largest fruit, perhaps an apple, suspended over the bowl. The leaves associated with this fruit are certainly not grape leaves but are consistent in shape with cherry or apple tree leaves. (See the extensive discussion in George and Nelson.27)
Deliberately Mutilated Gravestones (1684(?)):
Ludwig cites three gravestones that show deliberate damage to the central soul effigy ("identical excisions of the anthropomorphic soul image") done not by vandals but by the stone carvers, perhaps under pressure from the families or the community. Of the John Hurley stone of Haverhill, Massachusetts (d. 1729), the Miriam Walton of Providence, Rhode Island (d. 1732, according to Providence Vital Records – the date of death on this stone also is excised), and the Martha Fuller stone of Hebron, Connecticut (d. 1785), Ludwig writes, "The mutilated stones of New England testify to the fact that all Puritans did not accept the new imagery with enthusiasm," and he continues, "thus far no such carefully mutilated stones have been found in the 17th century, but 17th century imagery did not revolve around the picturing of a central soul image [. . .]"28
Stannard (1977) adds to Ludwig's comments,
"Not until the eighteenth century is there any evidence that stones were mutilated, but even in these cases the image invariably attacked was that of a soul in heaven – a representation at last too popish to bear – and the care with which such excisions were carried out suggests that it was not the work of community iconoclasts, but was done prior to the stone's erection by families or stonecarvers who had second thoughts about the symbolic ground being trodden."29
There is an important 17th century gravestone in the Sandwich Old Burying Ground that shows deliberate mutilation. It is the Thomas Clark stone, 1684(?), previously described as one of the few early Cape Cod gravestones lacking iconography. Regardless of the absence of imagery, all the text describing the life of this young child was excised from the stone, letter by letter. It still can be read with close examination. I have not yet located reference to Thomas Clark's birth or early death in Sandwich vital records, but it is interesting to note that Sandwich was the site of the first Quaker population in New England. The careful excision of text referring to this deceased child may have some relation to the Quakers' initial abhorrence for the use of "graven images."
Stones Signed by the Stone Carver (1711):
I have located one signed gravestone in Cape Cod cemeteries. It is the James Paine stone in Lothrop Hill Cemetery, Barnstable (d. 1711), and it is signed with the initials NL (for Nathaniel Lamson) above the winged skull. The right vertical of the letter "N" and the upright of the letter "L" are shared as one carved line. I made this discovery in 1996 upon cleaning the stone of its heavy growth of lichens. Based on this signed Nathaniel Lamson stone, a number of Cape stones now can be attributed to Nathaniel Lamson. The James Paine stone has a simply carved winged skull, paired gourds, and a beautifully carved floral bottom border.
Gravestones Bearing Old Style/New Style Dates (1697/8-1749/50):
Many Cape Cod gravestones dating to the late 1600s and the first half-century of the 1700s that were erected for those who died between the calendar dates of January 1 and March 24 show two years for the date of death. The use of two years reflects the official use of the Old Style (Julian) Calendar by England and her American colonies prior to 1752, and the anticipated acceptance of the New Style (Gregorian) Calendar. England's refusal to adopt the Gregorian Calendar dated to the split between King Henry VIII and the Church of Rome when the king found himself unable to be granted a divorce by the Pope. Not to be outdone by the leader of the Church of Rome, Henry had Parliament pass the Act in Restraint of Appeals in March 1533 declaring England independent of all foreign authorities, papal or governmental. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy completed the split with Rome by declaring the king the supreme leader of England.
The Gregorian Calendar is named for Pope Gregory XIII (formerly Ugo Buoncompagni, reigning from 1572 to1585), a supporter of science who commissioned his best astronomers to devise a new calendar, implemented in 1582. The revised calendar corrected the small but significant inaccuracy of the Julian Calendar, which made the year 11 minutes, 14 seconds longer than the true solar year. This resulted in an error of 10 days in 1500 years, and thus a misreading of the solstice and equinox positions of Earth and the sun. Upon implementation of the new calendar, Gregory declared that October 4, 1582 be followed immediately by October 15 so as to reset the following year's spring equinox to astronomical accuracy. Many but not all Cape (and other New England) gravestones record two years for these deaths occurring between January 1 New Style new year and March 25 Old Style new year.
The Book of Common-Prayer (1660) housed at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book
& Manuscript Library offers further explanation of this interesting calendrics story. The introductory pages of the Anglican Bible state,
"Note also that the year of our Lord beginneth the 25 day of March, the Same day supposed to be the first day upon which the world was created, and the day when Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary."
Beinecke's later, 1682 edition of The Book of Common-Prayer adds,
"Note, that the Supputation of the year of our Lord in the Church of England, beginneth the 25 day of March. March 25 is the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin."30
As further evidence of our appropriate recognition of March 25 as New Year's Day, I point out to my students that March is the first month of the year, September is the seventh (septem), October the eighth (octem), November the ninth (novem), December the tenth (decem), and February the twelfth. And, of course, the nine month span from March 25 to December 25, the traditional day for the birth of Jesus, is the approximate duration of a human pregnancy. Given this complicated situation, the carver of the Melethiah Lothrop stone in Barnstable (d. February 5, 1711/10/12) must have been uniquely confused about the Old Style and New Style dates, as he added a third year to the gravestone to be safe.
Gravestones with Biographical Information, Biblical Quotes, or Latin Text (Selected Examples):
From Sandwich Old Burying Ground, the Shearjashub Bourn Esqr. Stone (d. 1718/9):
HERE LYETH YE BOD
OF SHEARJASHUB BOURN
ESQR WHO DEPARTED THIS
LIFE MARCH YE 7TH 1718/9
IN THE 76 YEAR OF HIS AGE
HE WAS A VERTIOUS RIGHTEOUS & MERCIFUL MAN
AND A GREAT FRIEND TO YE INDIANS
PRECIOUS IN YE SIGHT OF YE LORD IS YE DEATH OF HIS SAINTS
From Lothrop Hill Cemetery, Barnstable, the Mrs. Anna Russel Stone (d. 1729/30), Pictured in George and Nelson31:
HERE LYES INTERRED YE BODY OF MRS
ANNA RUSSEL CONSORT TO MR JOSEPH
RUSSEL WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE FEBRY
YE 5 1729/30 IN YE 23D YEAR OF HER AGE
AND IN HER ARM THEIR SON LEONARD
DIED YE SAME DAY AETATIS 17 DAYES
Beneath this Marble Stone doth Lye
Two Subjects of Death's Tyranny
The Mother who in this Close Tomb
Sleeps with the Issue of her womb
Here Death deals Cruely you see
Who with the Fruit cuts down the Tree
Yet is his Malice all in vain
For Tree and Fruit shall Spring again.
From Cove Burying Ground, Eastham, the Rev. Samuel Treat Stone (d. 1716/17):
HERE LYES INTERRED YE BODY OF YE
LATE LEARNED AND REVD. MR. SAMUEL TREAT,
YE PIOUS AND FAITHFUL PASTOR OF THIS CHURCH,
WHO AFTER A VERY ZEALOUS DISCHARGE OF HIS
MINISTRY FOR YE SPACE OF 45 YEARS, & A
LABORIOUS TRAVEL FOR YE SOULS OF YE
INDIAN NATIVS, FELL ASLEEP IN CHRIST,
MARCH YE 18, 1716/17, IN YE 69 YEAR
OF HIS AGE. [the line breaks are my own]
An eighteenth century marble replacement marker stands in the cemetery today commemorating Rev. Samuel Treat, along with the original slate footstone, inscribed "Mr. Samuel Treat." According to Kenelm Collins of the Eastham Historical Society, the original slate stone was "removed from Cove Burying Ground prior to 1905 and kept at Snow Library in Orleans until its destruction by fire in 1952."32 Mr. Collins has reconstructed the fire-damaged gravestone from many broken parts, but I have not yet had opportunity to view this marker. John Warner Barber (1841) records the inscription on the original Treat headstone33. It is perhaps the most remarkable biographical statement written on any Cape stone of this early period. Rev. Mr. Treat, originally of Milford, Connecticut, apparently was held in the highest esteem at the time of his death. Barber writes that he was,
"The first minister in this town, [. . .] distinguished for his evangelical zeal and labors, not only among his own people, but also among the Indians in this vicinity; and he was the instrument of converting many of them to the Christian faith."33
I suspect that the original headstone was carved by a Lamson and resembled the Shearjashub Bourn Esqr. stone of Sandwich (d. 1718/9) in size and quality of carving. This remains to be learned.
From the Back of the Walley Crocker Stone of Barnstable (d. 1703):
Mark ye 10 & 14 Suffer
Ye Little children to
Come unto Me & Forbid
Them Not For of Such
Is Ye Kingdom of God.
This gravestone is found in Lothrop Hill Cemetery with other stones dating from 1694 to 1715. Curiously, the stone is positioned in the ground backwards with the respect to the surrounding stones. The Biblical quote thus faces forward, and the front portion of the headstone, bearing Walley Crocker's name and date of death, faces away from the viewer. George and Nelson write of this stone,
"Next to the [Elizabeth] Lathrop stone  (near the middle of the ground) is an even smaller monument whose very anonymity is moving. Undecorated, like the Hope Chipman stone, and without motif or date or even name, it probably dates from the 17th century."; "the children of an early Barnstable family may be buried beneath it, but we shall never know whose."34
George and Nelson's estimation of a seventeenth century date for the Walley Crocker stone is a very good estimation, but a more careful examination of this stone would have eliminated its anonymity.
Fieldstone gravestones (1713-1736):
As noted above, there are a number of fieldstone grave markers in Cape Cod cemeteries that do not offer many clues as to ownership or date of death. Some of these very likely were installed in the early burying grounds in the latter portion of the seventeenth century, and if so they are the oldest extant European gravestones on the Cape. Chequessett Neck Cemetery ("Indian Cemetery") in Wellfleet is purported to contain some Indian gravestones, one or more bearing the 'Indian marks" of those they memorialize in European fashion. George and Nelson write of "one small, mute, unreadable fieldstone in the southwest sector [of Cove Burying Ground, Eastham], which we have irresponsibly named the Monument of the Unknown Pilgrim."35 I believe I know the fieldstone to which they refer, and they may be right in their attribution. This cemetery does, after all, contain the remains of three of the original Mayflower passengers. However, it is worth pointing out that there are some early eighteenth century fieldstone markers in this cemetery not far from the "Unknown Pilgrim" that do carry inscriptions, if one looks at them at the right time of day with sharply angled rays of sunlight. They are:
PAINE 1713 and DYED MAY YE 30
(with an uninscribed footstone) 1716 AGED 45
The above-mentioned gravestones from Cape Cod burying grounds suggest some of the wealth of information that is obtainable from a detailed study of these dated markers. The following activities are designed to involve my students in original research using the gravestones and other primary and secondary sources.