Paul Wood Photo
John P. Bowman, of Cuttingsville, with hat in hand and donated bouquet, is about to enter his mausoleum to join his wife and two daughters.
Editor’s note: This article, the latest in a monthly series on Vermont’s granite industry, is provided courtesy of the Vermont Granite Museum.
By PAUL WOOD
For the Times Argus
Today’s monument inscriptions reflect a reticence in dealing with the sometimes unsavory aspects of the deceased’s life and exhibit a genteelness of language, omitting the character, personality, opinions, philosophy, anxieties, anticipations, hopes, despairs, joys, frustrations, fears, prides, prejudices, loves, hates, trials and triumphs that were often chronicled in earlier epitaphs. Also, the increasing cost of carving has curtailed the amount and detail (including the cause of death) of inscriptions in more recent epitaphs. Vermont tombstone inscriptions of 100 to 200 years ago confirm the Vermonter’s reputation as an independent and original thinker.
Early gravestones thundered the sermons of judgment — the dead asked the living for awe at the power of God and then for tears. Consistent with the creeds of the predominant Baptist, Methodist and Congregational sects, gravestone inscriptions expressed a belief in God and Christ and that man will be subject to divine judgment — a fear of the Lord and an expectation of mercy on judgment day as a reward for the pious.
Epitaphs implied a life after death, expressed the basic human emotions of loss and sorrow of parting (with the hope that the deceased is in a better, safer place, free from care and toil), and stated that the deceased would not be forgotten and that the living would rejoin them in this better place.
Gravestones recording early deaths due to sickness (the inscrutable decisions of God) remind us of the then-limited capabilities of medicine. Even as late as the last decades of the 19th century, there was only a faint understanding of how communicable diseases spread. Patent medicines and folk remedies were still widely used. And the importance of antiseptic conditions especially during childbirth and surgery was poorly understood. Sudden deaths through accident (many related to transportation and employment) were reported on gravestones. Epitaphs often covered the “who, what, where, when and why” details of homicides.
Some epitaphs were intended to be attention-catching with a curious or humorous message — some intended and others not. Many epitaphs narrated the deceased’s occupations, life record and influence. Others issued warnings, advice and cautions (“Don’t do what I did!” or “Prepare for death”) and remind us of the inevitability of death and decay — the unavoidable reality and the endpoint when our lives achieve a final perspective.
Some people were ready to go, but others would have loved to stay around. The epitaphs chronicled the deceased’s life or, as Joseph Conrad phrased it, “birth and death separated by struggle.” Many gravestones record historic events such as wars and the heroic actions of soldiers.
Epitaphs were sometimes rhymed and often included puns, moving tributes, heartfelt goodbyes and clever jokes. Epitaphs ranged the full spectrum of human emotions from the ribald, naughty, wise, ridiculous, pompous, lugubrious and courageous to the cowardly, fearful, witty, sentimental, ironic, sad and cheerful.
Epitaphs were sometimes written by the deceased but more often by an expert, colleague, family member or friend. Thus epitaphs mostly record what the living thought of the dead. Often epitaphs were the misguided, fulsome or flattering enumerations of the departed’s supposed virtues. A few epitaphs were simple, factual and eloquent, whereas others were of prodigious length of which “half will never be believed, the other never read.”
Misspellings, due to stonecutters’ illiteracy or error, were common in early gravestone inscriptions, and these have been reproduced here without comment. Also, some of the quoted epitaphs have been extracted from larger inscriptions.
Here is a sampling of gravestone inscriptions from graveyards across Vermont:
The Corporeal Part
— Ethan Allen, Burlington
Genl. Ethan Allen
rests beneath this stone
the 12th day of Feb. 1789,
aged 50 years.
His spirit tried the mercies of his God
In whom alone he believed and strongly trusted.
Keeping It Simple
— Calvin Coolidge, Plymouth
July 4, 1872
January 5, 1933
— Justin Morgan, Randolph Center
This man brought to
To Vermont the colt
From which all Morgan
Horses are descended.
— Brigham Young, Whitingham
On this spot
A Man of much
— William Scott, Groton
In Memory of William Scott, The Sleeping Sentinel
Pardoned by Abraham Lincoln, Sept. 9, 1861.
Born on this farm Apr. 9, 1839
Enlisted in Company K, 3rd Vt. Volunteers
July 10, 1861
Died of Wounds at Lee’s Mills Va.
April 16, 1862
(Scott was found asleep on sentry duty by the officer of the guard and was immediately arrested.)
The Ultimate Sacrifice
— William P. Eames (d. 1863), West Halifax
We mourn and lament our brave youth
In one deep and national wail,
Who rushed to support our dear old Flag
In its hour of deepest travail
Sure of Death
— Moses Buchanan, Ryegate
I lived on earth I died on earth
In earth I am interred
All that have life on earth are sure of death
The rest may be inferred
We All Must Die
— John Sergeant, Brattleboro
The Spoiler is Among the
works of God. All that is
made must be Distroyed.
And all that is Born must
Killed by a Musket Ball
— William French, Westminster
Here William French his Body lies
For Murder his Blood for Vengance cries.
King Georg the third his Tory crew
Tha with a bawl his head Shot Threw.
For Liberty and His Countrys Good
he Lost his Life his Dearest blood.
(Thought by many to be the first blood spilled in the Revolutionary War)
Captivated by Indians
— Capt. James Johnson, Felchville
On the 31st of
a Daughter born
on this spot of
his whole Family
by the Indians
Taken by Indians
— Ebenezer Scott, Vernon
The first white male born in Bernardston,
Mass. was taken with his mother and two brothers
by the Indians, carried to Quebec, sold to the
French when he was 8 years old. Returned to his
father. Served in the Revolution — drew a pension.
A Vermonter of Color
— Jack York, Pittsfield
Jack York, died 1874, age about 85 yrs.
He came to Pittsfield in 1820
Born a Slave in Salem, N.Y.
He was always ready to put his hand out
in friendship to all.
— Nathan Jenner, Pittsford
This hallowed spot hath proved the home
Of him who bright in science shone.
I saw him on that fatal night:
With visage clothed in purer light:
When life had fled I saw him rise
To brighter worlds beyond the skies.
A More Glorious Connection
— Rhoda Nash, West Brattleboro
If my Earthly hope has been cut off in forming
an enduring connection in this World, yet a
Heavenly hope revives, that I shall form a more
glorious connection in a better world.
In Contact with the Other World
— Julia Eddy, Chittenden
Julia A. Eddy
Entered the World
Dec. 29th, 1872
Communication with the Spirits
— Sarah C. Whitney, Dummerston
She was an active participant in all
Reformatory movements, and a firm beliver in
Spirit Communication, which was a solace
in her declining years.
None of Your Business
— Anonymous, Stowe
I was somebody.
Who, is no business
His Just Reward
— Burglar, Sheldon
Unknown man shot in
the Jennison & Gallup Co.’s store
while in the act of burglarizing
the safe Oct. 13, 1905.
(The stone was bought with money found on his person.)
A Lover of Nature
— Williston Winchester, Marlboro
“One of nature’s noblemen, a quaint old
fashioned, honest and reliable man.
An ideal companion for men and boys.
Delighted in hunting foxes and lining bees.
Not Coinciding with the Orthodox View
— George F. Spencer (stonecutter), Lyndon Center
Science has never killed or persecuted a single
person for doubting or denying its teachings, and
most of these teachings have been true; but religion
has murdered millions for doubting or denying her
dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false.
(Spencer carved his own epitaph. Members of his family and other townspeople defaced the monument in an unsuccessful attempt to obliterate the deeply cut inscriptions.)
Effected by Inoculation
— Jonathan Tute, Vernon
But tho’ His Spirits fled on high
His body mould’ring here must lie
Behold the amazing alteration
Effected by Inoculation
The means Employed his Life to save
Hurried Him Headlong to the Grave.
An Early Death
— Abial Perkins (age 13), Plainfield
This Blooming Youth in Health Most Fair
To His Uncle’s Mill-pond did repaire
Undressed himself and so plunged in
But never did come out again.
The Youngest Sometimes Go First
— Roxanna Elwell (age 16), Shaftsbury
She was young & gay & strong
To Hail Mountain Grange she did belong
And the youngest of them all
The first the Lord saw fit to call
A Hard Life
— Henry Clay Barney, Guilford
My life’s been hard
And all things show it;
I always thought so
And now I know it.
An Unequal Marriage
— Willie and Della Marshall, Hardwick
She Always Did Her Best.
He Never Did.
(Willie was flamboyant and volatile, whereas Della was steady and good-hearted. He had the monument erected while both were alive without telling his wife.)
Dangers of Sawmilling
— Elisha Woodruff, Pittsford
How shocking to the human mind
The log did him to powder grind
God did command his soul away
His summings we must all obey.
His Glass was Run
— John Pannel, Halifax
Mr. John Pannel killed by a tree
In seventeen hundred & seventy three
When his father did come
He said Oh My Son
Your glass is run
Your work is done
A Brakeman’s Hazard
— Marshall M. Miller, Vernon
Son of Sidney &
Instantly killed while in the act
Of coupling cars at South Vernon
Building a Bridge
— William Pelsue, Cuttingsville
He was killed at Bellows Falls, Vt.,
While raising a bridge across
The Connecticut River.
(This was a 500-foot-long railroad bridge — an engineering masterpiece of its day.)
A Boiler Explosion
— Adin N. French, Dummerston
The deceased came to his death by the
explosion of the Engine “John Smith” on the
Vermont and Canada Railroad, in Milton, Vermont.
— Solomon Towslee Jr., Pownal
Solomon Towslee Jr
Who was kill’d in Pownal
Vt. July 15, 1846, while
repairing to Grind a sithe
on a stone atach’d to the
Gearing in the Woollen
Factory. He was entangled.
his death was sudden & awful
— Albert Fuller, Putney
His death was occasioned by
an accidental blast of powder
on July 4th
A Slippery Slope
— Anna Hopewell, Enosburg Falls
Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn’t the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.
— Dana Hydenal, Guilford
Died in Jamaica, Apr. 26, 1859.
The deceased on the day of his death
was returning to his residence in West
Townshend accompanied by his second son
In attempting to ford a small stream,
they were drowned.
Lost on the Lake
— Medad and Thalia Hurlburt, Monkton
In memory of
Medad H. & Thalia D. Hurlburt
Who was lost on Lake Michigan
By the burning of
The steamer Niagara, Sept. 24, 1856
A Craftsman’s Tools Laid Aside
— Orie Elbridge Philbrick, Waits River
And each tool is laid aside
Worn with the work that was done with pride.
Mending Shoes No More
— A Cobbler of Weathersfield
Beneath here lies a mender of the Sole
Whose like you will not find from pole to pole.
By every honest means he got his Awl
And happy could he live tho’ in a Stall;
His Ends he answer’d in this life that’s past
And now let’s hope he’s happy at the last.
A Good Name
— Dill Elmer, Vernon
Tranquil & silent here lies Dill,
What gifts he had he managed well.
He did his best to merit fame
And left behind him a good name.
Remember Dill and do the same.
Nothing to Regret
— James Savage, Burlington
This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
With truth may say, Here lies an honest man.
Calmly he looked on either life, and here
Saw nothing to regret; nothing there to fear.
A Vision Come True
— George Gregory (farmer), Guilford
The first man in this country
to promulgate the idea of
female medical schools.
— F. Wytte (age 93), Middlebury
A bachelor lies beneath this sod
Who disobeyed the laws of God;
Advice to others here I give,
Don’t live a bachelor, as I lived.
— Benjamin Carpenter (age 78), Westminster
… left this world and 146 persons of lineal posterity
Two Wives Lost
— Capt. Elias Bingham, Stowe (Abigail, age 25, Betsey, age 20)
This double call is loud to all
Let none despise and wonder
But to the youth it speaks a truth
In accents loud as thunder.
— John P. Bowman, Cuttingsville
A couch of dreamless sleep. To the memory of a sainted wife and daughters.
(A statue of Bowman is about to enter the family mausoleum to join his wife and daughters.)
At Rest, For a While
— Edward Oakes, Middlebury
Faithful husband thou art
At rest untill we meet again.
Soon Pa Must Come
— Ermina B. Hinckley (age 3), Post Mills
Sleep sweet with Ma, Ermina B.
Soon Pa must come and rest with thee.
Four Infants Born at One Birth
— Jacamiah and Mercy Palmer, Danby Four Corners
Four twen infants thay are dead
And laid in one silant grave
Christ took small infants in his arms
Such infants he will save.
$1.90 a Day
— Infant, Burlington
Beneath this stone our baby lies
He neither cries nor hollers
He lived just one and twenty days
And cost us forty dollars.
A Mother’s Sadness
— Rebecca Park, Grafton
Behold and se as you pass by.
My fourteen children with me lie
Old or young you soon must die
And turn to dust as well as I.
— Charles Henry Gilson (age 6), Putney
He was instantly killed
by a stagecoach passing
Nuisance No More
— Philip Sydney Bennett, East Calais
The Old Nuisance
(He lived with a daughter and overheard his son-in-law ask how long the old nuisance would be around.)
Her Life a Mystery
— Mary Hoyt, Bradford
She lived — what more can then be said:
She died — and all we know she’s dead.
— On a field boulder, South Wheelock Cemetery
Exit N. 6 1811
— Charles Bowker, Wilmington
It is all right
— Triphena Shepard (age 99), Plainfield
I would not live always
Rather Be Alive
— Jabez Goodell (age 79), Westminster
Our age to seventy years is set
How short the term how frail the state
And if to eighty we arrive
We’d rather sigh & groan, and be alive.
It Doesn’t Add Up
— Eunice Page (age 73), Plainfield
Five times five years I lived a virgin’s life
Nine time five years I lived a virtuous wife;
Wearied of this mortal life, I rest.
Unger, Frederic W., “Epitaphs,” Penn Publishing Co., 1904
Pike, Robert E., “Granite Laughter and Marble Tears: Epitaphs of Old New England,” Stephen Daye Press, 1938
Wallis, Charles L., “Stories On Stone: A Book of American Epitaphs,” Oxford University Press, 1954
Greene, Janet, “Over Their Dead Bodies: Yankee Epitaphs and History,” Stephen Greene Press, 1962
Mann, Thomas C. and Janet Greene, “Sudden and Awful: American Epitaphs and the Finger of God,” Stephen Greene Press, 1968
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