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JOEL Joel's Blog

Katherine, Late Wife of John Crawley. RIP

05/10/2011 Lettercarving in the Churchyard of Trinity Church

Katherine, Late Wife of John Crawley. RIP 4Last Sunday I found myself standing in front of Trinity Church waiting for some friends who were late. The elegant lettering of a tombstone in the churchyard caught my eye.

"Here lies interrd the body of Katherine late wife of John Crawley who departed this life Janu 31 1762 in the"
(the rest of the inscription is buried)

There is of course something rather amazing about some person dying in New York City when it was still a small town in a royal colony, and only a few blocks away (where City Hall is currently) there were ponds, and uptown was all farms. And two hundred and fifty years later, surrounded by industry and people, the stone is still there and still tells us a tiny bit of her story, enough to think of her and wonder who she was.

What caught me was the elegance of the letters. Modern tombstone carving, which is done by sandblasting, leaves a flat incised letter. This stone was hand carved. The letters are very elegant, with serifs. The body of the letter is cut to a "V" in the middle. The spacing of the words isn't perfect. I noticed that the letter "T" is smaller than a modern lower case "T". The woman in the grave identified by being the wife of her husband, as part of the household, not a co-leader of it. This was the nature of marriages at the time. It was winter when she died so there is a good chance it wasn't old age. (more information about her might be in the church archives.)

There is no real point to this blog entry other the elegant carving caught my eye and made me think of Elizabeth Crowley. Certainly without the skill of some unknown carver I would not have thought about her, and remembering is really the point of a tombstone. Letter carving is a skill that we all can do with practice. I wonder if anything I have made will last two hundred and fifty years?

Oh - it turned out I was waiting in the wrong spot.
Join the conversation
05/10/2011 Skip Taylor
Carving slate tombstones is undergoing a mini revival down here in the south. Charleston carver Mary May (featured on the Woodwright's Shop and recently on the Popular Woodworking Blog) has reproduced a number of headstones for an area church and has been teaching another man in upstate S.C. the art of slate carving. Lettered slates have been a big hit with historic reenactors as well.
05/10/2011 Matt Stauffer
I want this on my tombstone. "Reader, stop and think. I am in eternity, and you are on the brink."
05/10/2011 Richard Wright
I live in Harwich in MA, and we also have graveyards like this. Most of the carving is far less elegant, however, it is still interesting. There are also a lot of carvings on them, many variations on the death's head which was popular back then. A lot of them are sandstone and limestone, however, rather than slate. As a wood carver, I have often toyed with trying to learn slate carving just for tombstones but didn't know of anyone doing it, so thanks Skip. One guy has engraved on his "killed while firing a salute" turns out the town cannon blew up when he fired it!
It didn't have anything to do with woodworking, but Joel,I enjoyed your post. But then I enjoy history, me & my wife have walked through more than one old cemetery. We look upon our walks through old cemeteries as a way of connecting with the past.
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