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 beliefs which rejected any symbol that could be interpreted as idolatrous and stressed the brevity of life and the decay that befalls us all. The stone of Elizabeth Mirick from Newton on page 65 is a good example of the death's head. The more abstract faces on the graves of the Pearces in Groton is a variation of the death's head.

Each stonecutter had his own individual style, so there are many variations in the different areas of New England.

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 stone of Lydia Dyar from 1776 on page 46 is a good illustration of the cherub.

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 Mrs. Kezia Wetherbee from 1793 in Lunenberg on page 54 is a combination of the angel and two urns. Ephraim's Wetherbee's stone from 1802 features the urn and willow.