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Sunday Pastries With the Dead 35
A 1715(ish)-era Colonial cemetery in a historical New Jersey town.
Today I’m in a bustling New Jersey town with deep historical roots—it was incorporated as a district in 1701 and its main street was laid out in 1705. Its Colonial-era cemetery still stands, a bit battered but very beautiful, alongside the borough’s busy train station (the railroad bought the adjacent property and laid the tracks in 1887).
The burial ground was established sometime between 1715 and 1730; within it are 500 marked graves and 60 unmarked plots. Among those interred are 66 Revolutionary War veterans.
There was once a meeting house at the southeast corner of the graveyard, built in 1717 and expanded throughout the years. When a Presbyterian Church was erected across the street in 1835 to accommodate the growing congregation, the meeting house was demolished—but an oak tree was planted in its place, and it’s still thriving today.
The first person buried here also has the oldest headstone that remains—a rarity. It’s that of John Campbell, who was born in 1659(!) and died in 1731, and it’s still surprisingly legible. His epitaph is a take on a very popular saying at the time (I’ve seen at least a dozen different versions of the same sentiment): As you are now so once was I; in health & strength tho here I lie; as I am now so you will be; prepare for death and follow me.
Fans of late 1700s/early 1800s New Jersey headstone carvers Jonathan Hand Osborn and Henry Osborn, detailed in SPWTD 34, will be delighted to know that this cemetery is absolutely filthy with their creations. You’ll recall that Jonathan Hand’s identifier is his tucked lower g’s, and Henry’s is his rounded and dented, apple-like lower g’s. With that in mind, here are several beautiful examples of the brothers’ work in this locale.
Not only do we have some really gorgeous carved tympanums and borders from Jonathan Hand, but we also see a prime example of his rather ostentatious penchant for placing his maker’s mark front and center at the top of the stone.
Henry’s work is a bit more understated (it’s funny to get a feel for the personalities of the brothers based on the way they each carve)—boy do I love those fat happy g’s!
There’s also a horribly defaced Jonathan Hand Osborn stone that made me audibly gasp, where someone screwed a small metal plate into the sunburst on the tympanum. It details the name and birth/death dates of the interred’s husband (double ick). As for other carvers, there are several examples of William Grant’s pear-shaped soul effigy faces here, and a few Osborn-esque Sillcock family markers as well—both are also detailed in SPWTD 34.
Another familiar artist from last week’s entry popped up here—remember the “rosette carver”? He has one prominent stone in the burial ground. There’s also a carver here who I haven’t come across yet, Elias Darby—ironically, only his signature, Cut by Elias Darby, remains on a toppled and half-buried stone. Because there’s no legible date, there are two possibilities for who it could be. It was either Elias Sr., who was born around 1772 and died in 1798 at only 26 years old, and whose short carving career was highly influenced by the Osborns. Or his son Elias Jr., born in 1797, who took up the family trade and also served as mayor of Elizabeth, NJ.
There are also a few very rare examples of surviving footstones here. It was regular practice in the 1700s to create both a larger headstone and a smaller footstone to mark a grave (making the plot look like a bed, as intended), but most footstones have been pulled up by groundskeepers and damaged or lost. These days it’s more common to find this design in a cradle grave, as the stones are attached by side rails and can’t be separated.
To end, several epitaphs that gave me pause. First is the doom and gloom of Thomas Streamback’s 1812 stone, which reads: Come you wild and giddy youth; Prepare to meet an awful God of truth. Next, Elizabeth Freeman’s absolutely gorgeous slate Jonathan Hand Osborn stone from 1796, which states: And must this body die; This mortal frame decay? And must these active limbs of mine; Lie mouldering in the clay? Uplifting! Last is young William Bloomfield’s touching 1788 marker, which says: Three years he drew his vital breath; Then yielded to the Conquerer death; Away his precious life did bleed; For so the LORD had it decreed.
Until next Sunday, fellow taphophiles!
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