Activity I. Introduction to Cape Cod, Massachusetts
(Unit Objective #1. Involve students in a program of research on life (and death) in colonial New England, which will contribute to our understanding of the New England Puritan's worldview and relation with death.) Slide presentation on the geology, natural history, and colonial architecture of Cape Cod. The slides (not listed here) are drawn from my collection of Cape Cod scenes.
Activity II. Introduction to Colonial Gravestones and Gravestone Symbolism
(Unit Objective #3. Use such primary sources as colonial American burying grounds and gravestones in gaining insights into everyday life in colonial America.) Slide presentation on the gravestones of colonial New England, including a focus on Boston, Plymouth, and Newport style centers and the diffusion of these gravestones to Cape Cod burying grounds. The slides are drawn from the author's collection.
This classroom activity makes use of a worksheet that has students record information as the various slides are viewed, including the name and age of the deceased, the date of death, any biographical information presented on the gravestone, the symbolism appearing on the stone, and its iconographic significance.
Activity III. Gravestone Symbolism
(Unit Objective #3, continued.) Students are presented with a portfolio of photographs of Cape Cod gravestones from the colonial period (1683-1770). The portfolio consists of 8"x10" black-and-white and color prints of numerous gravestones (including headstones and footstones) found in the early burial grounds of Cape Cod. They are asked to sort the gravestones into stacks based on the occurrence of different symbols, keeping in mind that use of these symbols is directly correlated with the time periods in which the gravestones were carved. They are then given reference materials (including Allan Ludwig's
) and asked to determine the proposed cultural and religious significance of each symbol identified. This activity has the advantage of giving students an opportunity to examine a number of different gravestones found in separate Cape Cod cemeteries and make direct comparisons among them, looking for similar carving styles and perhaps identifying gravestones produced by the same stone carvers. It also enables students to see how the use of particular symbols underwent evolutionary change. In the process, students learn about the importance of symbolism to colonial culture.
Activity IV. Visit to Grove Street Cemetery and the Center Church Crypt
(Unit Objectives #1 & 3, continued.) Grove Street Cemetery is an extremely historical cemetery established in New Haven in the latest 1700s and early 1800s. The gravestones that originally were positioned on the New Haven Green (which continues to be a cemetery, although not recognized as such by most visitors to the Green) were removed in the early 1800s and repositioned alphabetically along the west and north boundary walls of Grove Street. This cleared the Green of gravestones and opened up its public space. Grove Street Cemetery has its own historical significance, well described in materials available at the recent bicentennial celebration of its establishment. In the cemetery, one can move from stone to stone and see the representative carving styles and uses of symbolism of early Connecticut Valley gravestones for the period 1677 through the 1770s. The activity is intended to give students an opportunity to explore an early cemetery and make discoveries, just as they would in a museum. This will be the first visit that many students have ever made to an early graveyard. Visiting burying grounds was a far more routine part of everyday life in the colonial period than it is today.
The Center Church Crypt preserves dozens of early gravestones from this same time period, in their original locations below the main sanctuary of the church. When the crypt had an earthen floor, the gravestones were well protected from damage. With the installation of a cement floor some years ago, subsequent flooding of the crypt caused irreparable damage to some brownstone (New Haven arkosic sandstone) markers trapped below the flood water line. Still, a good range of carving styles and stone materials can be viewed here. Of particular interest for the Revolutionary Period is the gravestone of the wife of Benedict Arnold, a marble slab against the wall near the entry area.
Activity V. Demographic Study of Cape Cod Gravestones, 1683-1760
(Unit Objective #2. Study human population dynamics of the colonial period, including such demographic factors as birth and death rates, survivorship and life expectancy, and age structure, including ages of greatest vulnerability to dying.) Of the 500 Cape Cod gravestones entered into my database, I have recorded the age at death for 366 individuals. I plan future visits to the Cape cemeteries to record age at time of death for a higher percentage of the 500 stones. In this activity, students treat the "population" of gravestones as a single population of individuals to develop an age structure diagram for Cape Cod colonists. This is admittedly an artificial construct, spanning as it does an eighty-year time period rather than one moment in time, but much useful information can be gained through this exercise. In my preliminary work with the 366 gravestone records for which I have age at time of death, I find that 57 gravestones (15.6% of total) were erected for those who died from birth to age 4 years, and that this is the single largest five year age category of the deceased. Other large age groups at time of death are the 30 stones for those who died in the age range of 20-24 years (8.2%) and the 30 who died at 60-64 years (8.2%). Interestingly, nearly 20% of individuals lived to age 70 and above, based just on gravestone records.
Clearly, there are some specific biases concerning the use of gravestones to determine population structure. It is far more likely that an individual who lived into adulthood would merit a gravestone than would a child who did not survive infancy. It has been estimated that no more than 5% of all colonists have extant gravestones today, and that a substantial percentage of newborns and infants never received gravestones at the time of their early deaths. My students have the responsibility of interpreting these data and trying to determine if, for example, women of the childbearing years (ca. 20-35) were more prone to death than were men of the same age range. By working with the gravestone evidence and integrating this information with vital records of Cape towns (the activity described next), my students will be contributing to our understanding of population demographics in colonial New England.
Activity VI. Extensive Study of Vital Records for Cape Cod Towns
(Unit Objective #2, continued.) In this prolonged study, groups of students are assigned pages from the various vital records of Cape towns (see Student Reading List) to extract information on births and deaths from the earliest years of record-keeping to the end of the colonial period. As they read a birth or death record from the vital records, they enter the information into a database, all information ultimately to be merged into one large database. The potential tedium of this activity is mitigated by several dozen students sharing the workload and conducting it from time to time over a period of weeks, and by their ability to appreciate the power of databases in sorting information attributes such as births, deaths, chronology of mortalities, and surname. Brewster and Truro are to be used as a trial effort, to see how best to work with the vital records.
Let me illustrate how this study might be conducted. According to the published vital records for the town of Truro, Deacon Hezekiah Purinton and his wife Mary had the following children36:
Mary, borne in Truroe October 20, 1706
Jemima, borne in Truroe October 31, 1708
Sarah, borne Truroe October 6, 1709
Mercy, borne in Truroe November 10, 1711
Elisabeth, borne in Truroe October 23, 1713
Hezekiah, borne in Truroe September 26, 1715
Abiel, borne in Truroe February 23, 1717/18
A student-conducted review of vital records, including the death notices for Truro would, with hope, indicate how long each of these children lived. An examination of cemetery records extending into the 1800s would indicate if any of these children were buried in Truro. It is possible that they moved away from their birthplace. Also, some children could have died in infancy and not received a gravestone. A comparison of the cemetery records and the vital statistics records could well shed light on the relation between the two sources of information. These vital records for the Purinton children indicate a common pattern among women of the colonial period. It was common in this age for women to give birth, nurse, and care for infants in reproductive cycles lasting two years. In the second year, mothers also would be starting a new pregnancy. In the case of the Purinton family, infant Jemima had less than one year before her mother's attentions were directed to the third daughter to arrive, Sarah. One wonders if Jemima died in childbirth or infancy. My students will try to find out. (Stannard presents an interesting discussion on the "underestimation of infant mortality"37 as most infant deaths went unrecorded, and draws on writings of historians Kenneth A. Lockridge and John Demos.)
Activity VII. Use of Primary Sources to Learn about Everyday Life in Colonial New England
(Unit Objective #2. Investigate such primary sources as sermons and diaries of seventeenth and eighteenth century New England.) A further component of the student research project is the examination of such primary documents as the sermons of Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards. I have begun assembling photocopies of sermons given by these prominent ministers during the late seventeenth and early to mid-eighteenth centuries, and I find that they are fascinating in the view that they give of the colonial mind, or at least the thinking of the moral and spiritual leadership of Puritan New England. Students will have several of these sermons as reading assignments, and they will write brief summaries of the subject matter of the sermons and draw inferences about the worldviews or belief systems of the Puritans.
Cotton Mather's 1711 sermon, "A voice, from the place of silence, or, Seasonable Thoughts upon Mortality: a sermon occasioned by the raging of a mortal sickness in the colony of Connecticut, and the many deaths of our brethren there," is a remarkable example of how this primary source material can be used in teaching about worldviews. As this unit is expanded to include a consideration of epidemic disease in colonial New England, Mather's sermon will have additional use for teaching, as well. Mather wrote38,
"There has been this winter, and since our snow began to fall, such a cry, raised by the King of Terrors, walking his dismal rounds, thro' the Colony of Connecticut, that for us to be deaf unto the cry, would be a stupidity uncapable of an apology." And for me now to take a proper notice of it, will be, but to do the part of a stewart in the House of our Glorious Lord."
With these words delivered in a 1711 sermon in Boston, the Reverend Cotton Mather "perform[ed] the duty of a faithful messenger" and offered his "Seasonable Thoughts upon Mortality" to his Christian brethren concerning the great loss of life in the Colony of Connecticut from an outbreak of measles. He promised that "some very useful, and awful truths, are going to be set before you." He continued,
"The admonitions of mortality cannot be too frequently, or too fervently, at any time inculcated; especially at a time, when at no great distance from us we see the Arrows of Death doing formidable executions [. . .] There is no subject of more consequence to be handled by a preacher. The lively thoughts of death, will have a singular tendancy to make us Lively Saints; they tend exceedingly to keep alive all serious and practical religion. And how many objects have we on every side continually advising of us, that our death will quickly be upon us!"
In addition to the 1711 Cotton Mather sermon, my students will be working with Increase Mather's
Pray for the Rising Generation
(Boston, 1678), Cotton Mather's
The Thoughts of a Dying Man
(Boston, 1697), and Cotton Mather's
Awakening Thoughts on the Sleep of Death
(Boston, 1712). As this is a student research project involving the collection of useful documents, my students will come to more far more about these sermons than do I at present.