A Note on Gravestones in New England:

There are three specific styles of gravestones in New England during the period 1680 to 1820. Before that date there are very few stones still standing. The earliest markers were probably made of wood, and the oldest stone markers have disintegrated in the harsh winters.

The first style seen in any numbers is of a winged death's head, with blank eyes and a smiling face. This style represents the strict orthodox Puritan beliefs which rejected any symbol that could be interpreted as idolatrous and stressed the brevity of life and the decay that befell us all. The stone of Matthew Farrington from 1727 in Lynn is a good example of the death's head. (page 55) The grave of John Chandler from 1703 in Woodstock does not have a death's head, but a simple design of an hour glass, symbolizing the shortness of life. (page 30)

Gradually this style was replaced by a winged smiling cherub around 1750. This coincided with the decline of Puritanism and the religious revival movement known as the Great Awakening. "During the Great Awakening, in the period from the 1720s to the 1760s, revivalist preachers such as Jonathan Edwards preached a different approach to religion, in which the individual was personally involved with the supernatural. Such a view was more compatible with designs such as the cherub." The stones of Captain Joseph Chandler from 1749, and that of his wife Susanna from 1755, are good illustrations of the cherub. (pages 31 and 32)

Toward the end of the eighteenth century the weeping willow and the urn, far more secular symbols, became popular. "The urn-and-willow is not a graphic representation of either the mortal component or the immortal component of the individual but, rather, a symbol of commemoration." The gravestone of Deacon Thomas Currier from 1812 in South Hampton, New Hampshire is a good example of this style. (page 53)