New England Graveyards

(I may spin this off into a separate blog eventually.)

I am a historian and, even while I am not using my degrees professionally, I still have an abiding interest in the subject. Since moving to New England, I have been working on a personal bit of research, visiting and documenting the various graveyards I have visited.

Here is a google map showing many (though probably not all) of the graveyards and cemeteries to which I have been.

Of particular interest to me are the oldest burial places of Worcester County (where I used to live), specifically ‘graveyards’. Academic students of burial places (yes, they exist) demarcate those sites begun before 1800 to be ‘graveyards’, those afterwards being ‘cemeteries’. I have created another map specifically for these sites:

As you can see, I still have about 15 sites left to visit (or in a few cases, find). I have photographed most of the graveyards I have visited, though certainly not up to professional standards; perhaps I’ll post those someday.

I’m also (slowly) creating graveyard maps for Massachusetts other counties.

Middlesex (Complete)

Norfolk (Complete)

Hampden (Complete)

Suffolk (Complete)

Franklin (Complete)

And even charting out where the stones of select carvers remain:

William Young (aka ‘The Tatnuck Thistle Carver’)

Felton Family Carvers

Resources:

Books

A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (2nd Ed) by David Allen Lambert.

A comprehensive list of burial sites in Massachusetts; Lambert is based out of the Boston area and, especially for points outside of route 128, errors persist in the list. Most often these are duplications, such as when a cemetery has had multiple names. There are a few omissions (such as Boxborough’s Old North Cemetery) and factual errors (stating that the Brigham Street Burial Ground in Northborough has been removed) unfortunately.

Gravestones of Early New England and the men who made them, 1653-1800 by Harriette Merrifield Forbes.

The first comprehensive look at gravestone carvings as social documents, Forbes’ book is a great starting point to learn more about gravestones, their carvers, and the society that produced both. Also of interest is her discussion of how she went about identifying the many, mostly forgotten carvers, including my personal favorite William Young (aka the ‘Tatnuck Thistle Carver’). She’d make a great NPC in a Lovecraft country game, as she wandered New England photographing old gravestones and haunting dusty archives.

Epitaph and Icon: A Field Guide to the Old Burying Grounds of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket by Diana Hume George and Malcolm A. Nelson

A site by site survey of the graveyards of the Cape and the Islands. I picked this up in a used bookstore soon after moving to Massachusetts and found it a fascinating read. It inspired my adventures and research into the graveyards of Worcester County.

Memorials for Children of Change: The Art of Early New England Stonecarving by Dikran and Ann Tashjian.

Useful but not essential. Includes a more thorough discussion of motifs and symbols.

Also helpful is a good county atlas- find one that identifies cemeteries! The DeLorme Gazetteers do not.

Online and elsewhere

Having a GPS is also helpful but only to a point- sometimes Lambert (and other sources) list only a street or even a general location (“west of town center” or “on the old Bartlett farm”). Likewise Google maps is not free of errors, usually omitting a cemetery, but sometimes locating them incorrectly- “Legge Cemetery” in Oakdale is a parking lot while the actual ‘Leg’ cemetery up the road is unmarked. Ditto its placement of South Hopedale Cemetery and Village Cemetery in Dudley… sorry if I startled you creeping about in your misidentified back yard.

The Faber Gravestone Collection is available online and is truly amazing. A little practice with the various filters on the left tab (for location, carver, design element, etc.) will let you dig deep into the collection and let you explore hundreds of old cemeteries from the comfort of your couch.

The Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System; a database of all the sites registered by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, including many (but not all graveyards). Not all the records have been scanned into the db but many have, including some that posses details I’ve found nowhere else for locating obscure sites.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreations websites also have a wealth of so-called “town reports” and “reconnaissance surveys”. They documents, while more focused on buildings often including interesting details about the growth and development of various settlements, including the graveyards. It takes a little digging- the MHC block you from using the directories – but these pdf reports are great for finding forgotten spots. Here are links to the reports for Athol, Lancaster, and Uxbridge. Here is an MDC report on cemetery preservation.

You might also look into the Association for Gravestone Studies… I keep forgetting to join though.

10 comments on “New England Graveyards

  1. […] my header imageLovecraft Country for Call of CthulhuLovecraftian RPG releases, 2012New England GraveyardsWhat I Have Wrought Bookmark the […]

  2. RAFIV says:

    Puritan Gravestone art is truly a beautiful, abundant and under-appreciated folk art and I stand in awe of your dedication to explore it so deeply. If you don’t already have a copy, I would suggest Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815 by Allen Ludwig. I have found it an invaluable guide.

    • Thanks! I fortunately have that one, picked up from a used bookstore. I need to update my helpful reading list… But, yes, I agree. Part of the fun, of course, is tracking down some of the smaller yards, unearthing a forgotten place in some old town history or a little corner of the web. I’ll try and get to the helpful resources when I have a chance.

  3. […] my header imageLovecraft Country for Call of CthulhuLovecraftian RPG releases, 2012New England GraveyardsWhat I Have Wrought Bookmark the […]

  4. Libby Doak says:

    It’s great to find others interested in the art and history of old graveyards. I beg you, though, to be careful of the term “New England”. For instance, both Faber and Deetz say the death’s head motif was extinct by 1800 in New England. I live in central Maine and within 10 miles of my home I can show you numerous examples dating after that as late as 1848. And I haven’t photographed even a tenth of what’s in that radius. Perhaps we’re just peculiar but up here we consider that a complimemt.

    • Looking at the Faber image archive, there are Death’s Heads in Maine as late at 1796 (http://luna.davidrumsey.com:8280/luna/servlet/view/all/where/Maine?sort=Name,Dates) but, I suspect their coverage of the state was rather poor. I’ve certainly seen older carving styles in more remote locations in Worcester County. The Willow and Urn was a classical mourning motif borrowed from the Romans; it is certainly possible a carver followed older styles. I assume all your ‘peculiar’ stones are from the same carver or shop?

      • libby doak says:

        Thank you for replying. I can’t get anyone too interested in my peculiar stones around here. This wasn’t the wilderness in the1800’s. Hallowell was the busiest port this side of Boston in the 1800’s. The stones are not all from the same carver or workshop. There are significant differences in style, borders and lettering as well as materials. And as I said the Urn or urn and willow didn’t take over completely until after 1848. I have willow pre1800 and soul effigies long after. I admit I’m comfused. I’m trying to trace lines and religious affiliation to see if that may account for some of it. And I have only documented less than a quarter of the stones so far. It’s a daunting job but I’m hooked. If you’re interested I’ll be happy to share my research when it’s in any shape to share.
        Thanks again

      • While I’ve not read every issue, I’m sure evidence that commonly held assumptions about gravestone art are, at least regionally, flawed, would be of interest to scholarly publications like the Association for Gravestone Studies’ “Markers” would take great interest, particularly if you can identify the carver or carvers involved. At least here in MA the 1800 cut-off from Soul Effigies (aka Winged Heads) to Willow and Urn is very consistent and distinct. There are definitely regional styles – compare Connecticut stones with those of MA, for example – so I have not doubt what you describe is possible… and very interesting. Have you checked out their digital archive? http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/umarmot/?p=991

  5. libby doak says:

    Thanks for the suggestions I have checked out their website and will again. I have an artist who is grouping the stones stylistically as I document them . Then I’ll hit the probate records and hope. The local museum has the day books of the biggest merchant of the late1700’s early 1800’s and I’ve been given access to them, If my eyes hold up I may find some clues there. Thank you for listening, most people think I’m a little odd in my choice of hobbies.

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