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Boston in Suffolk County, Massachusetts — The American Northeast (New England)
Gravestone Carving
 
Gravestone Carving Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Bill Coughlin, April 14, 2009
1. Gravestone Carving Marker
 
Inscription. In early Boston when someone died, their family or friends indicated their burial site with a marker for remembrance. Often the deceased had already ordered their gravestone before their death. Gravestones were carved by masons, stonecutters, painters, and other craftsmen with artistic skills. As you walk through the burying ground you can see particular styles that indicate the same carver at work. Only a few carvers signed their work with their initials.

The first and cheapest grave markers were made of wood, which did not survive in the damp seaside climate of New England. In the 17th century, early stone markers had simply initials and dates. The gravestone of Thomas Plats (d. 1685), a Boston butcher, is made of red stone and has only letters and numbers, no carved symbols. Soon carvers started engraving symbols and messages on the stones:

“Deathís head,” a non-religious symbol, is a skull often with wings and/or crossed bones. It is the earliest symbol employed in this graveyard. Other decorative motifs accompanying the deathís head were the hourglass (and even a winged hourglass – symbolizing the concept “time flies”), coffins, elaborately carved side panels with florets, finials, foliage, fruit, and imaginary figures. The majority of gravestone carvings in Granary is deathís
 
Marker in Granary Burying Ground Photo, Click for full size
By Bill Coughlin, April 14, 2009
2. Marker in Granary Burying Ground
 
heads. See the nearby gravestones of Hugh Mackgill (d. 1724) and Paul Revereís first wife, Sarah (Orne) Revere (d.1773). Ruth (Wiswall) Mountfort Carterís (1656-1698) is more elaborate, with two standing skeletons carved around its epitaph.

“Winged cherub” or a soul effigy, is characterized by a fleshy face, life-like eyes, and an upwards-turned mouth. Cherubs started appearing in the late 17th century and are common in the 18th century. The gravestones of David Gleason (d. 1768), an infant, and Mary Devens (d. 1778) have winged cherubs.

The “willow and urn” symbols are seen most often after the American Revolution. The willow was an ancient mourning symbol. The urn was an Imperial Roman device used to contain ashes. Usage of these motifs was part of a larger trend toward sentimentality in mourning art. There are very few “willow and urn” motifs at this burying ground. Look for the gravestone of William Claghorn (Sign #8).

Some bereaved relatives commissioned special symbols for gravestones. Lt. Jabez Smith, Jr. (1751-1780) was a young lieutenant of the Marines aboard the Continental ship Trumbull. A replica of the ship is carved into his stone. Other families chose to display a coat of arms, including Peter Faneuil (Sign #7) and Robert and
 
Example of Deathís Head Motif Photo, Click for full size
By Bill Coughlin, April 14, 2009
3. Example of Deathís Head Motif
Two types of Deathís Head motif are seen on these gravestones: the winged skull (left) and the skull with crossed bones.
 
Elizabeth Freake (Sign #5). Prominent politicians and officials are memorialized by monuments such as obelisks, including Benjamin Franklinís family (Sign #4), John Hancock (Sign #7), and Increase Sumner (Sign #5).

Early English Arrivals
When Jacob Eliot (1632-1693), yeoman and deacon of South Church died, Samuel Sewall wrote: “Tis a sudden and sore blow to the South Church, a loss hardly repaired . . . . He was one of the most serviceable men in Boston . . . . one of the first that was born in Boston.” Eliotís gravestone is surrounded by those of his wife and children.

Bartholomew Green (1666-1732) was the son of printer Samuel Green, who arrived in 1630. In 1704 Bartholomew started to print the Boston Newsletter, the first American newspaper. The paper remained with the family through his daughter, Deborah (Green) Draper, and grandson, Richard Draper (Sign #4).

The Fighting Armstrongs
Tomb 192 holds the remains of the Armstrong family. In 1776 the patriarch, Colonel John Armstrong (d. 1776), marched to Long Island with his two sons, Captain John Armstrong and Major Samuel Armstrong (1754-1810), where their troops engaged the British Army. Colonel Armstrong was killed on the battle field while his sons were wounded and barely escaped. His
 
Example of Willow and Urn Motif Photo, Click for full size
By Bill Coughlin, April 14, 2009
4. Example of Willow and Urn Motif
 
grandson, Samuel Turrell Armstrong (1784-1850), was a publisher, banker, and statesman who held a number of political offices, including mayor and acting governor. The inscription was placed by descendant Lieutenant George Washington Armstrong (1792-1866), who served in the War of 1812.
 
Location. 42° 21.452′ N, 71° 3.685′ W. Marker is in Boston, Massachusetts, in Suffolk County. Marker can be reached from Tremont Street, on the left when traveling north. Click for map. Marker is along the walking trail in Granary Burying Ground. . Marker is in this post office area: Boston MA 02108, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Josiah and Abiah Franklin (a few steps from this marker); Family Memorials (a few steps from this marker); Victims of the Boston Massacre (a few steps from this marker); Samuel Adams (a few steps from this marker); A Riot, the Massacre, and the Tea Party (within shouting distance of this marker); Welcome to Granary Burying Ground (within shouting distance of this marker); Granary Burying Ground (within shouting distance of this marker); Paul Revere Buried in this Ground (within shouting distance of this marker). Click for a list of all markers in Boston.
 
More about this marker. The upper middle of the marker contains a partial map of Granary Burying Ground, indicating the location of the marker. Also present are examples of gravestone motifs, including deathís head, winged cherub, willow and urn, and a special symbol of the Continental ship Trumbull.
 
Example of an Obelisk Monument Photo, Click for full size
By Bill Coughlin, April 14, 2009
5. Example of an Obelisk Monument
 

 
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Take a tour of the markers found along the walking trail in Bostonís Granary Burying Ground.
 
Also see . . .  Granary Burying Ground. Details of the Freedom Trail from the City of Boston website. (Submitted on May 10, 2009, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.) 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on May 10, 2009, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page has been viewed 2,387 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on May 10, 2009, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.
 
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