New England Gravestones and the Iconography of Death

Ancestral New England gravestones tell a visual story of changing cultural beliefs over the course of two hundred and twenty five years.

Using gravestones and memorial markers from my Colonial New England ancestors, regional differences and changes in iconography emerge over the course of time. These changes can often be directly related to historic events. Issues surrounding status, representation, and cultural values also emerge as a themes.

1675-06-24 00:00:00

King Philips War

Relative to the size of the population, this conflict between the New England colonists and the Mohegans, Naragansetts, Nipmucks, Podunks, and Wampanoags was the deadliest in American history.

1677-11-01 00:00:00

First map of New England

John Foster, of Boston, makes a map of New England (the first to be printed in North America) as a geographical guide to William Hubbard's history of King Philip's War.

1681-06-17 04:29:47

Edward Jackson

Jackson's original winged skull stone was carved by the "Old Stone Cutter". The stone must have suffered damage as it was repaired / recast in 1825 by some of his descendants. The stone has been adapted to include information about the repair and the family's lineage. Farber notes that the stone was recarved.

1685-04-02 00:00:00

Grace Jackson

Farber notes that this stone had multiple carvers (possibly The Old Stone Cutter, Lamson or Mumford). It features a Winged Skull, Hourglass, & Grapevines.

1689-05-30 00:00:00

Lt. William Hescy (Hasey)

This stone was carved by Joseph Lamson, this stone features a winged skull, crossed bones, an hourglass, pinwheel and ornamental grapevines.

1689-11-01 00:00:00

King William's War

Hostilities in Europe between the French and English spill over to the colonies.

1692-03-01 00:00:00

Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Scare begins when a group of young girls claims that they have been bewitched. When Massachusetts Governor William Phips halted the trials in October, 19 people had been hanged, one man had been crushed to death, and two people had died in prison.

1693-08-03 00:00:00

Elizabeth (Henchman) Hildreth

This stone features a winged skull, hourglass, crossed bones, with spirals and tulip motifs on the pilasters. Elizabeth and her husband, Richard have matching stones, although he is buried in Chemsford. (His stone is encased in concrete to protect it.)

1694-03-16 00:00:00

Capt. Thomas Bradbury

This stone is an early example of Merrimack Valley gravestone carving style. It features rosettes and a primitive face. note: It is possible that this stone is backdated.

1695-06-17 00:00:00

William Hasey, Jr

This stone features a death's carved within the tympanum with spiral and tulip motifs on the shoulders.

1700-05-13 00:00:00

Samuel Wheelwright

Carved by N.,J. (John Noyes?), the stone features a winged soul effigy with a wigged, human-like face. Stylized fruit and leaf patterns decorate the pilasters. It is recorded as appearing to be the oldest stone extant in Ocean View Cemetery. The iconography suggests that is was carved at a date later than 1700.

1702-05-04 00:00:00

Queen Anne's War

Queen Anne's War, the second French and Indian War, begins. It lasts until 1713.

1705-08-17 00:00:00

Capt. Moses Bradstreet

Carved by John Hartshorn. It is probable that this stone was carved in 1705 and backdated to 1690. It is of the Merrimack Valley style, featuring a primitive face, pinwheels, rosettes, and abstracted tulip forms. It is the oldest stone in the Old Burying Ground, Rowley

1707-06-28 00:00:00

Lieut. Joseph Hasey

This stone features a winged skull and highly ornamented pilasters with impish faces and naturalistic motifs. Farber notes that the gravestone is carved by Cornish's unidentified Charlestown carver. The iconography and carving is similar to that on Elizabeth Hasey's stone, carved by Lamson.

1708-07-25 00:00:00

Elizabeth Hasey

Carved by Joseph Lamson, this stone features a winged skull, coffins; crossed bones; Imps, hourglass. Revere, Mass

1714-04-30 00:00:00

John Wright

Death's head in tympanum. Crossed bones. Memento Mori, Tempus Fugit. Fruit and leaves on the shoulders.

1714-11-27 00:00:00

Haselelponi (Willix) Wood

This stone is carved by and features a primative face surrounded by and naturalistic motifs.

1715-12-08 00:00:00

Nathaniel Adams

This stone is in the Merrimack Valley style. Features of the stone include a primitive face, rosettes, floral and wavelike patterns on the pilasters.

1717-05-22 00:00:00

Deacon James Trowbridge

Death's head.

1718-03-07 00:00:00

Sherjashub Bourn(e), Esq.

This stone features an indented winged skull with full wings, crossed bones and a good tympanum border most likely carved by Nathaniel Emmes of Boston.

1720-04-06 00:00:00

Lydia (Jennison) Wheat

Death's head with decorative elements crowing the skull and along shoulder.

1724-05-24 00:00:00

John Bradstreet

This stone is carved in the Merrimack Valley style with rosettes and a primitive face.

1726-01-12 00:00:00

Lydia (Jackson) Fuller

This stone is elegantly and stylistically carved with a death's head and abstracted whorls and fruit forms. Includes a footstone which reads: Mrs. Lydia Fuller

1726-04-06 00:00:00

Abigail (Warren) Wright

This stone features a winged skull crowned with a decorative element resembling lace. It also includes pinwheels and stylized naturalistic forms.

1727-01-28 00:00:00

Abiah Whitman

The stone has suffered great loss due to an act of nature or vandalism. It features a death's head with decorative borders. It is dated 1727/28.

1731-06-20 08:43:22

Sarah (Sawyer) Brown

This highly stylized stone featured a primitive face and crosses within an arch. Leaf motifs and rosettes are carved into the shoulders.

1734-10-01 00:00:00

Elizabeth (Trowbridge) Mirick

A stylized death's head on it's way to becoming a winged effigy.

1734-11-01 00:00:00

Great Awakening begins in New England

The Great Awakening was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion.

1735-11-17 00:00:00

Throat Distemper (Diptheria) Epidemic

The great epidemic of "throat distemper" falls upon New England, killing 5,000 of its 200,000 inhabitants in the next five years. The distemper is probably a rash of diphtheria cases, which may be exacerbated by eighteenth-century doctors' inability to distinguish between diphtheria and scarlet fever. Most of the casualties are children. Interestingly, the religious revival known as the Great Awakening begins almost simultaneously with this medical disaster.

1736-02-16 00:00:00

William Eustis

A death''s head adorns the tympanum of this stone. Decorative carving embellishes the remaining space and pilasters.

1737-01-03 00:00:00

Breget Bradstreet

Although carved in typical Merrimack Valley style, this stone also features strange abstracted shapes (coffins?) within the shoulders.

1740-01-05 00:00:00

Capt. Joseph Fuller

Captain Fuller's stone is quite similar to that of his wife's and features. Note the use of 1739/40 calendering.

1740-06-01 00:00:00

Herculaneum and Pompeii Archaeological Excavations

A neoclassical vocabulary infused the decorative arts in Europe following the excavation of archaeological sites at Herculaneum and Pompeii during the 1740s.

1741-05-02 00:00:00

Deacon Caleb Moody

Carved by Joseph Mullicken in the Merrimack Valley style, the stone features a winged lightbulb shaped skull with rosettes and wave-like patterns on the pilasters.

1744-11-01 00:00:00

King George's War

King George's War, the third French and Indian war, begins. It lasts until 1748.

1745-08-13 00:00:00

Col. John Wheelwright

Carved by Nathaniel Emmes and/or Henry Emmes, the stone features a 1/2 figure portrait and scrollwork. Note the Iron fencing in background visible in the photograph by Farber.

1748-10-01 00:00:00

Ruth (Morse) Moody

This stone features a carved winged death's head with bared teeth, carved by Mullicken. I consider it to be the most terrifying of all the ancestral stones I have discovered. Footstone also

1752-10-29 00:00:00

Thomas Eustis

Winged Skull.

1754-11-01 00:00:00

French Indian War

Known as the Seven Years' War in Europe, the fourth and final conflict of its kind, pits the English against the French and their Indian allies.

1759-08-04 00:00:00

Sgt. Thomas Dutton

Sgt. Dutton's stone features a death's head under an array of decorative floral motifs, which also adorn the shoulder. Memento Mori, writtten in lower case, crowns the skull. The stone is notable due to it's lengthy inscription.

1761-11-25 00:00:00

Jacob & Abigail (Adams) Wright

This is the first dual stone I have discovered in my ancestry. It features side by side stylized winged soul effigies. Memento Mori is written in italics at the crown of the tympanum.

1764-12-01 00:00:00

Capt. Jonathan and Sarah (Mirick) Fuller

Dual stone featuring a soul effigy. The footstone is also a dual stone.

1770-03-01 00:00:00

Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street by the British, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British Army soldiers killed five civilian men and injured six others.

1770-03-01 00:00:00

Boston Tea Party

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773.

1770-08-09 00:00:00

Dr. Samuel Wheat

Dr. Wheat's stone is sparsely carved with a winged soul effigy featuring a very human-like face. The tablet has taken over the shoulder area and just two small half moon shapes remain of the pilasters.

1770-11-01 00:00:00

Moses, Jonathan & John Wheat

This winged face stone is carved by Ebenezer Howard and/or Associates, for Moses, Johnathan & John Wheat - all sons of Dr. Samuel Wheat and his wife, Hannah.

1771-04-13 00:00:00

Deacon Henry Wright

This stone has rather unusual architectural iconography. A representation of lifelike person is framed by an arch, with two gazebo/temple like structures on either side. The phrase "Memento Mori" crowns the typanum. Vines and floral motifs.

1772-06-10 00:00:00

Burning of Gaspee

Colonists near Providence, R.I., burn the British customs schooner Gaspee after it runs aground.

1774-08-28 00:00:00

Mary (Ball Shores) Nasson

Carved by Lamson, this unique stone features a portrait of Mary Nasson, hair piled high, wearing a low-cut, flowing dress. A footstone and full length body stone are a part of this burial. Old York Burying Ground.

1775-04-19 00:00:00

American Revolution

The American Revolution was a political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America.

New England Gravestones and the Iconography of Death

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