Rehoboth Historic Cemetery #13
By Leslie Patterson
Reprinted from 2010 RehobothNow
The Peck Family Yard (1736) contains one of Rehoboth’s most beautiful and well-preserved gravestones carved by George Allen of Rehoboth for Captain Samuel Peck who died June 9, 1736. Bearing the Peck coat of arms, both the head stone and foot store feature the intricate work of Allen, considered one of the greatest gravestone carvers in colonial New England.
The “most beautiful gravestone sculpture in colonial New England" is found in a Rehoboth cemetery, according to gravestone scholar Vincent Luti, who spoke at the Carpenter Museum in 2010 and presented a slide show, “The Invisible World Now Revealed: 18th Century Folk Art on Rehoboth Gravestones.”
The gravestone he was referring to was that of Samuel Peck, who died in 1736. The carver was George Allen of Rehoboth, who Mr. Luti believes was the greatest stone carver in colonial New England. “Samuel Peck’s unusual gravestone with winged cherubs holding up the inscription in a heart is complete and magnificent,” he said. “The very elaborate filigree footstone started to break in the late 1970’s. The top parts of the foot stone finally broke off and were removed to the museum, where it awaits the day that a conservator can restore the stone.”
“Big projects need to be done,” he said, referring to conservation and restoration work. “We are losing priceless cultural artifacts.” He pointed out how acid rain eats at the stones and then lichen begins to grow on them, especially those facing north. Mr. Luti emphasized the importance of taking photographs of the gravestones from the colonial era before we lose more stones. He showed a photo of one gravestone and said that in 50 years the design on it would be obliterated.
Mr. Luti traces his interest in gravestones to the 1978 American Folk Culture Seminar on Gravestones sponsored by Boston University, which he said was an enormous success. The Association for Gravestone Studies was formed about that time. “I was astonished at the level of scholarship on gravestones and made a vow that I would someday stand up and give a talk on the subject myself,” he said. “Gravestones are cultural artifacts of the 18th century and a goldmine of information about attitudes towards death at that time.”
He decided to limit his research to 18th century gravestone carvers who lived and worked in the Narragansett Basin in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, communities whose rivers all drained into Narragansett Bay. Each part of New England had its own distinctive carving style, he said. For example, skulls were popular on gravestones in the Boston area but not so much in this area. He has studied 22 carvers in particular and believes that the greatest was Rehoboth’s George Allen, “whose work is extraordinary”.
Photography Better Than Rubbings
“It’s hard to read many old gravestones because they are small, low, dark and often covered with lichen,” Mr Luti said. Showing a slide of one gravestone rubbing he made early in his career, he said he soon came to prefer photography to gravestone rubbing. He especially recommends using mirrors to reflect light on on stones when taking pictures. He said about half the gravestones from the 18th century are damaged by lichen and that they can be cleaned very carefully (without using wire brushes or soap) but people must be careful not to further damage the stones.
He noted that none of the colonial-era carvers were professional artists; they were farmers, tanners and bricklayers who did this work on the side. Presenting a series of over 60 slides, Mr. Luti showed his audience what to look for in old gravestones. He named the parts of the stones -- tympanum, finials, borders, and tablature, the script part that included and epitaph and biographical information about the deceased.
Among the most common epitaphs were those that reminded the passerby of his or her own mortality, such as the one on Charles Wheten’s (Burial Place Hill, 1760): “Remember me as you pass by and don’t forgit [sic] that you must die.”
“Carvers were paid by the letter, so the longer the epitaph, the greater the cost, “ he said. These early stones often included the cause of death as well, whether by illness or accident. “It wasn’t uncommon to list the name of the murderer on the gravestone of someone who was killed,” he said.
He explained that not everyone had a gravestone; the poor were often buried without one or with just a cheap stone that might have had just their initials on it. He showed gravestones carved in a somewhat primitive style by Peter Barker. “His work wasn’t very good but he must have been cheap. Also note the poor spelling.”
Souls Ascending to Heaven
Colonial New Englanders generally used winged soul face effigy forms on gravestones, though he showed one slide of a child’s gravestone with “the delightful profile figure” of a little boy carved at the top. Mr. Luti said that carvers could refer to dictionaries of Christian symbolism to use when choosing objects (such as a flower or gourd) to carve on the stone. Wings represented the soul of the deceased ascending to heaven. Mr. Luti also discussed situations of general iconophobia: no biblical representations were allowed and sometimes not even soul face imagery.
He pointed out that the oldest continually operating business in America is in Newport; John Stevens’ gravestone carving shop began in 1705 and is still in business. Among the other local carvers Mr. Luti has studied are John Anthony Angel of Providence, who brought the baroque style from Germany, John and James New, Gabriel Allen, William Throope, William Coy, and Seth Luther, another Providence carver.
At the end of his talk, Mr. Luti presented the Carpenter Museum with a copy of Markers XXII, the journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies, which features Mr. Luti’s article “George Allen of Old Rehoboth, 1696-1774.” Those who would like to know more on the subject of colonial gravestones can visit the website of the Association for Gravestone Studies at www.gravestonestudies.org.
Above: Headstone, Samuel Peck
Below: Footstone, Samuel Peck
How many graves are in each cemetery?
This is a big question when it comes to many of Rehoboth’s historic cemeteries. The oldest and smallest burial grounds have an unknown number of graves. The passage of time has swallowed up documentation on who was buried where, and the elements have taken a toll on gravestones. Actually many graves from the earliest days of Rehoboth are simply marked by field stones. The only evidence left are portions of these stones arranged in proper rows.
The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission (RCC) is challenged with trying to investigate old records, property surveys and other documents that will give clues about the actual size and scope of each of the town’s cemeteries. It is quite likely there are cemeteries that have been completely forgotten. RCC members are being assisted by knowledgable local historians to find these lost burial grounds if they exist.
Cemeteries NOT under the oversight of RCC include private associations: The Village Cemetery, Oak Knoll, Steven’s Corner and Greenwood (Oak Swamp).
The overall goal is preservation and stabilization to prevent future damage of historic burying grounds. Whenever possible, work is done to enhance the general appearance with well-kept lawns, informational signage and other components (such as fencing) kept in good repair.
According to that state’s Historic Cemeteries Preservation Initiative, all outdoor elements need regular maintenance regardless of age or condition. Additionally, a “well-maintained site tends to discourage vandalism and promote further community support.”
Along with landscaping issues (lawns, trees, plantings, vegetation management) other major issues related to historic cemeteries involve: access, security, vandalism, condition of grave markers, and the condition of mound tombs built into hillsides or standing alone.
Caring for historic gravestones must be done by those trained in proper cleaning and preservation techniques. The various types of stone (slate, marble, sandstone, limestone and soapstone) each require a different technique for cleaning and removing biological growths such as lichens. Often sealants are used to prevent the intrusion of moisture.
Repairing broken gravestones is a task that must be undertaken with extreme care with the ultimate goal of reconstruction (often off-site and then replaced) or complete replacement with a newly carved stone. Tomb Tables, Box Tombs and Vault Structures must also be carefully repaired, usually with a special adhesive and sometimes even reinforced with fiberglass. Fortunately, there are new preservation techniques being developed.
Ground disturbance at historic cemeteries, even those located on a private property, is of great concern to the Massachusetts Historic Commission as well as many other state and local groups. Random digging or unauthorized excavation should not be done in historic burial grounds without appropriate supervision and oversight. Not having adequate historic documents means not knowing how many people are buried in a historic cemetery. Also, it is never known exactly how deeply bodies are buried. Bone fragments are sometimes found only six inches beneath the ground.
Flag display is another responsibility of the cemetery commission. Each spring, the historic cemeteries receive a post-winter check and are prepared for Memorial Day. Working in conjunction with the town’s Veteran’s Affairs Officer, the commission is charged with making sure an American flag is displayed at every veteran’s grave, from the Revolutionary War to present day. Some cemeteries with military association have flagpoles that are maintained by the responsible constituency.
Enforcement of regulations is also the ongoing job of the RCC. Historic cemeteries located on private property are carefully monitored by unauthorized excavation, vandalism, and other activities such as putting up a flagpole, fencing or illumination.
The RCC works to increase awareness of Rehoboth’s 53 historic cemeteries through special events, tours, preservation efforts, and by providing education materials to local schools. In 2012, Rehoboth resident Cheryl Wyman independently completed a map project and submitted it to the Cemetery Commission. The full-color maps of Rehoboth are available for purchase at the Town Office and other locations.
(June 23, 2014) The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission held a two-day gravestone conservation workshop in June at two historic cemeteries with nationally recognized conservation expert Jonathan Appell of Hartford, CT. Rehoboth voters at May town meeting approved partial funding through Community Preservation Act monies administered by the Rehoboth Community Preservation Committee.
Funding paid for Rehoboth residents to attend the workshop while other participants, from both MA and Rhode Island, paid to attend the workshop. Only trained volunteers are allowed to work on gravestones.
Cemetery Commission member Bev Baker spearheaded the conservation effort, from applying for the CPA grant to coordinating the two-day event held at the Village Cemetery and Peleg Pierce Lot behind the 7th tee at Hidden Hollow Golf Course in South Rehoboth.
Last year, Appell spent time in Rehoboth restoring the famous Simeon Martin table gravestone at Burial Place Hill. The stone is in record books for having the longest epitaph on a historic gravestone. Martin, a Rehoboth native, was a Revolutionary War veteran and later served as Lt. Governor of Rhode Island.
Restoration of the Martin stone took place over the course of several months and was funded by a CPA grant approved in 2013 by Rehoboth voters at town meeting.
(September 19, 2013) On Sunday, September 15, a group of interested gravestone conservationists gathered at Rehoboth Historic Cemetery #33 - Burial Place Hill to spend three hours with conservation expert Jon Appell who is currently restoring and preserving the Honorable Simeon Martin box crypt.
Funded by a Community Preservation Act grant of $11,500 approved by residents at town meeting, the Martin table stone restoration was started by Appell in August. As part of the CPA-funded project, he conducted the workshop that included cleaning of stones with D-2, a biological growth inhibitor used by the national monuments in Washington, DC and in Arlington National Cemetery.
Once the D-2 has been sprayed on a stone, lichen adhered to the stone can be carefully removed using flexible plastic scrappers and brushes. Depending on the condition of the stone, reapplication of D-2 is often required.
Doing repairs to cracked or broken stones takes special mortar, tools and patience. Various techniques are used for the different types of stone including slate, marble and granite.
Appell also taught various methods for repositioning gravestones that are leaning or broken from the bases. With the correct tools and leverage, one person alone is able reposition a stone.
Resetting stones into bases was also addressed. All three of the cemetery maintenance groundskeepers attended the workshop along with the cemeteries superintendent and all three members of the cemetery commission.
Gravestone Restoration Projects
(September 6, 2013) In May, Rehoboth townspeople voted at town meeting to approve a Community Preservation Act Grant to restore the famous Honorable Simeon Martin gravestone in Historic Cemetery #33 - Burial Place Hill.
The box crypt and headstone of this Rehoboth native and Revolutionary War veteran is famous in record books as having the longest epitaph in the United States. The stone, like other museum quality artifacts, must be repaired and preserved like a fine artwork by a restoration expert in at least eight stages. The restoration work began in August.
September 24, 2012 - Attleboro Sun Chronicle
The Mysterious Journey of Maria Fellow’s Gravestone and Return to New Hampshire
Late in 2012, Cemetery Superintendent Cheryl Wyman contacted a home owner with a mysterious gravestone that had always leaned against their home. They would be happy if it were moved. Cheryl found the previous owner who revealed he discovered the stone in the 1970s lying in a field near the waterfront in Pawtuxet Village, near Warwick, Rhode Island. He rescued it and brought it home - where it leaned against the rock foundation of the converted barn for the last four decades. At one point, the top twelve or so inches of the marker separated and it was in two pieces.
CemCom member Bev Baker and Cheryl went to take photos of the stone and began the research phase of our little project. Fortunately, the very expensively-made stone was legible, and they had a name, Maria F. Fellows, wife of Samuel Fellows, who died in 1854. First step, check Rehoboth records. No Maria Fellows here or nearby. No Maria Fellows listed in Rhode Island records. Bev then discovered a Maria (Hunkins) Fellows in the 1850 United States census “in the household of Samuel D. Fellows, Sandown, Rockingham, New Hampshire, U.S.”
Maria was from the Hunkins family of Sandown and married Samuel six years before she died at age 28. She had no children. There was a smallpox epidemic in New England the year she died. Her early demise could be a result, but we’ll never know because her death certificate was destroyed with other town records of that year. She is presumably buried at the Center Cemetery in Sandown next to Samuel, who was later listed in the 1880 census as married with one daughter. By the turn of the century he was divorced, and by 1910 was living alone. The Fellows family plot, erected in 1888 after the death of Sam’s parents, is marked with a black granite monument that lists Maria. There are four individual black granite headstones. There is also a Hunkins family cemetery in Sandown with white marble stones in the same fashion as the wayward stone in Rehoboth.
The stone itself has a maker’s mark on the bottom, that of the F.A.Brown Monument Co. of Haverhill. Francis A. Brown, a renowned engraver founded the monument business in 1847. Bev discovered records showing he was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1818 and moved to Haverhill, a short ten minutes from Sandown. Finally we had connections to both New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Bev mused Maria’s grieving husband may have commissioned Brown to carve the expensive white marble stone matching those found in her family’s cemetery. Perhaps Samuel could not pay for the stone and eventually Brown gave it to RI relatives to be used as construction material or for some other practical use on their property.
Cheryl spoke to Sandown Cemetery Trustees. They said they wouldn’t know what to do with it since there was no room in either the Fellows or Hunkins family plots. So they relinquished any claim to the stone. Bev came up with the idea to contact the Haverhill Historical Society. They were delighted with the idea of getting a F. A. Brown gravestone for the Buttonwoods Museum of Haverhill.
By mid-January, Maria’s stone was finally retrieved from its home in Rehoboth for a brief stay in the forestry garage until the folks from Haverhill could come down and pick it up. We bid Maria’s headstone a fond farewell on January 30. Cue the spooky strange weather. It was a dark, very windy winter day, but oddly warm when Tom Spitaleza, who supervises Haverhill cemeteries, came to bring the stone back home. Bev prepared a letter for the Haverhill Historical Society officially presenting them with the artifact along with the facts we had gathered.
The story had come to an end. Well, almost. Our friends in Haverhill graciously asked if we wanted to donate the stone in honor of anyone. Yes, please, in memory of Lynne Fife Searle who really loved Rehoboth’s historic cemeteries.
Map of Rehoboth’s 53 Historic Cemeteries Now Available
(August 10, 2012) A full-color, fold-out map of Rehoboth’s 53 historic cemeteries is now available at the Carpenter Museum and through the Rehoboth Cemetery Commission (RCC).
Two years in the making, the map was created by Cheryl Wyman, a past chair of the RCC, in cooperation with Ernie Boren of Century 21 David Smith Real Estate who donated the use of his copyrighted street map of Rehoboth. Photographs for the map were provided by Rehoboth resident Sheila Oliveira. All donated their time and services to create the map which includes recognition of William Paine who has maintained the town’s cemeteries for the past twenty years.
The map was published to encourage the awareness, research, and preservation of Rehoboth’s historic cemeteries, 44 of which are under the direct care, protection and jurisdiction of the RCC. The map includes information on each historic site as well as guidelines for visiting. Sites are clearly identified and color coded on the map. Sites in red are located on private property and visitation is restricted without advance permission and assistance from the RCC. For those interested in local historic and Rehoboth families, this map will be very useful and functional.
May CemCom Meeting Features Two New Members
(May 11, 2012) The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission met on May 10 with two new members, Ray Viau and Connie Wenzel-Jordan. They have replaced Virginia Latham who served the commission faithfully for many years before recently retiring, and Cheryl Wyman who resigned but continues to serve the commission as a very active volunteer.
Wyman, while acting as CemCom chair last year did a tremendous amount of work researching each of the cemeteries to locate boundaries and other info. She consulted with local historians including Rachel Smith to was very helpful in obtaining survey information.
As a volunteer, Wyman has been able to create, fund-raise and print a map of Rehoboth’s 53 historic cemeteries which will be published later this year and made available to the public.
Cemetery Commission Renames Six Historic Cemeteries -- Adds Number 53 - Phillip Horton Cemetery
(March 13, 2012) The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission voted to rename six of the town’s historic cemeteries by adding more historically accurate names to existing designations established by Rev. George Tilton, the founder of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, in the early 1900s.
They also voted to add a 53rd historic cemetery after learning through deed research that Historic Cemetery Number 31 included a supplemental cemetery which will now be known as the Phillip Horton Cemetery.
The amended cemetery names will better aid those doing genealogical research because they reflect the people interred in the lot. The previous designations were often names of property owners from later periods.
The name amendments include the following: Number 22, Ingalls Family Lot/Comfort Pearce Cemetery, located on Cedar Street. Number 24, Bosworth Cemetery/Job Horton Lot, located on Purchase Street. Number 30, James Horton Yard/Holden Cemetery, located on Pleasant Street. Number 35, Carruthers Lot/Amos West Lot, located on Providence Street. Number 51, Reynolds Lot/Gardiner Lot, located on Hornbine Road. Number 52, Orren N. Horton Family Lot/Thatcher Cemetery, located on Francis Farm Road.
One other historic cemetery, Number 29 on Brook Street, had no name at all. Deed research over the years consistently referred to a burying ground on the property to “remain forever undisturbed.” It it believed it may have either been an ancient Native American burial ground known to original settlers, or a slave cemetery. The lot consists of a mound and scattered field stones. The commission voted to name this the Brook Street Burial Ground.
November 21, 2011 - The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission recently replaced two historic headstones in the Bliss Burying Ground on Agricultural Avenue. The stones replacements were for Abel Bliss who died in 1852 and Sally Bliss who died in 1875. The original stones were damaged beyond repair. The commission is responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the 52 historic cemeteries located in Rehoboth.
In November 2011, Rehoboth Cemetery Commission members Lynne Searle, Cheryl Wyman and Virginia Latham with the newly replaced headstone of Sally Bliss at the Bliss Burying Ground (Historic Cemetery #2) on Agricultural Avenue.
Note: Both Lynne Searle and Virginia Latham, both longtime members of the Rehoboth Cemetery Commission, have passed away.
Take a look at the white marble gravestone at RHC #4. It was treated with D/2, a biological growth inhibitor used to clean national monuments and at national cemeteries. You can see a huge different between the untreated stone to the left. Stones that have been unreadable for years can now easily be deciphered -- much to the appreciation of cemetery visitors including genealogists and travelers searching for their Rehoboth roots.
Beverly Baker (chair)
Melissa Enos (clerk)
Jake Kramer (VSO)
REHOBOTH 375th ANNIVERSARY GRAVESTONE RESTORATION PROJECT
(June 2017) The Rehoboth Cemetery Commission voted in May to pursue a long-term project to clean gravestones in historic cemeteries in honor of the town’s 375th anniversary to be celebrated in 2018.
After hosting workshops in gravestone cleaning, restoration and preservation, CemCom members and volunteers have the skills needed to gently care for the historic artifacts. Cleaning involves using the same biological growth inhibitor used at national monuments and cemeteries. D/2 is a liquid that is first sprayed onto the stone, carefully brushed, rinsed with water and then reapplied. The process is done on intact stones only. Anyone can learn the easy process.
With 53 historic burial grounds in Rehoboth, the task to clean all intact gravestones is anticipated to take more than a year with help from volunteers.
VOLUNTEERS (OF ALL AGES) NEEDED
(June 2017) Those who enjoy helping maintain historic burial grounds are invited to become CemCom volunteers. Training will be provided to all volunteers who are encouraged to always wear insect repellant and keep hydrated while working in the town’s historic cemeteries. Children are welcome to help with parental supervision. Individuals and groups are encouraged to contact CemCom Chairman Bev Baker at
HISTORIC CEMETERIES FACEBOOK PAGE
(June 2017) Rehoboth CemCom now offers a Facebook page for all those interested in the town’s historic cemeteries. Visit at Rehoboth’s Old Cemeteries.
REHOBOTH’S “LONGEST EPITAPH” TABLESTONE
(June 2017) Visitors to Rehoboth Historic Cemetery #33 - Burial Place Hill - on Providence Street will now be able to easily read the wording on the Honorable Simeon Martin tablestone on a sign placed near the restored historic burial site.
The Martin stone was restored and preserved through a grant from a Community Preservation Act Grant through Rehoboth Community Preservation Committee. Rehoboth residents approved the grant at town meeting.
The box crypt and headstone of this Rehoboth native and Revolutionary War veteran is famous in record books for having the longest gravestone epitaph in the United States. The stone, like other museum-quality artifacts, required an expert in gravestone restoration who completed the work in eight stages. The unique stone is periodically cleaned with a biological growth inhibitor.
Despite restoration and preservation efforts, the stone itself bares the ravages of time and the worn carved text is difficult to read. The sign provides the complete epitaph copied in the style and fonts of the era.