carvers of ancient cemetery

All 17th and 18th-century grave markers in Ancient Cemetery were imported from other locations, primarily Boston and Plymouth County, because Cape Cod has no native stone suitable for carving, and thus no early gravestone carvers.  The stones represent the work of many different carvers from a wide geographic area.
As gravestone carving moved from the recognizable designs of one individual carver to the more fragmented manufacturing process common in the 19th-century’s larger enterprises, assigning a stone’s iconography and lettering style to one particular individual becomes much more complex ~ and unreliable.  The attributions included here are based on the current understanding of each carver’s known body of work, drawn from some of the resources listed at the bottom of this page.

Nathaniel Fuller (1687-1750)

Nathaniel Fuller (1687-1750), the oldest of Samuel and Mercy Fuller's ten children, was a mason and stonecarver who lived and worked in Plympton, Massachusetts.  He was the most prominent gravestone maker in Plymouth County during the first half of the 18th century.

Drawing from the gray-green slate in Middleborough's near-by slate fields, Fuller fashioned distinctive winged skull stones with striated wings, a flared triangular nose, and sometimes a heart-shaped mouth mark.  This heart-shaped mouth mark is more likely to appear on stones for women or children, as here for the gravestone

for 23-year-old Ruth Tayler, an unmarried daughter of Jasher and Experience Tayler of Yarmouth.  Deacon Shubael Tayler, who died in 1739, in his 51st year, age 50, includes another of Nathaniel Fuller's mouth mark designs, a small profile head and eye. Ancient Cemetery is fortunate to have several surviving Fuller gravestones.

Ruth Tayler gravestone, 1737

Deacon Shubael Tayler gravestone, 1739

Daniel Hastings (1749-1803)

Lucy Eldridge and Martha Hallet's gravestones (both 1794), are examples of carver Daniel Hastings' work in Ancient Cemetery.  Hastings (1749-1803), whose carving shop was near his home in Newton, Massachusetts, was a prolific and popular carver in the last quarter of the 18th century, producing hundreds of wide-eyed faces suspended between a spread of graceful wings and often, as here on the Eldridge stone, capped by an umbrella-like canopy.

Daniel Hastings carved on a fine-grained gray slate that was harvested from the massive Pin Hill outcroppings in Harvard, Massachusetts.  Several other aspiring carvers worked in his shop over the years and there are many look-alike versions of Daniel Hastings' popular motifs.


Daniel's son, Nathan, was also a carver, continuing the business for a short time after his father's death in 1803.  

Lucy Eldridge gravestone, 1794

Martha Hallet gravestone, 1794

Nathaniel Holmes (1783-1869)

Nathaniel Holmes (1783-1869), the youngest of Nathaniel and Chloe (Sears) Holmes' eight children, was Cape Cod's first resident gravestone carver.   He learned his craft from other Plymouth County carvers, but left there in the fall of 1806 to establish his own shop and business in Barnstable, where he quickly became the dominant supplier of gravestones in the area.  He was also described as a painter, an engraver, or a farmer at different times in his life. 


Barnstable records list the marriage of Nathaniel Holmes and Abiah Crocker Davis in 1813, followed by a recorded birth for each of their nine children.  Holmes probably supplied the majority of the Ancient Cemetery gravestones during the first half of the 19th century.  He favored slate, but also carved on marble as the century progressed. 


There are no identifiable Holmes' stones in Ancient Cemetery after about 1850, when Jabez Fisher of Yarmouth Port became the dominant local carver.  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between similar Holmes and Fisher stones, each bearing a familiar urn/willow design.  Nathaniel Holmes died in 1869 and is buried in Cobb's Hill Cemetery around the corner from his home and shop in Barnstable Village.

William Bray gravestone, 1803

Capt Benjamin Homer gravestone, 1825

John Just Geyer (1758-1808)

Capt. Joshua Gray’s gravestone (1791), was made by John Just Geyer (1758-1808), the son of one of Boston’s most successful 18th-century carvers, Henry Christian Geyer, and his first wife, the widow Thankful (Rice) Bolter. The Geyer family, at least three of whom became gravestone carvers, migrated to Massachusetts from Germany in 1751. 


John Just Geyer probably learned to carve in his father’s shop at an early age and worked along with him until Henry Christian Geyer’s death in 1785.  The son’s busy enterprise then employed a steady stream of apprentices and journeymen carvers who produced stones with winged faces, skulls, urns/willows, and quite a few elaborate and unique markers for a wide-reaching market.

Capt. Joshua Gray gravestone, 1791

Joseph Lamson II (1728-1789)

The Ancient Cemetery stone for Abraham Hedge (1762) was probably carved by Joseph Lamson II (1728-1789), the son of carver Nathaniel Lamson (1692/3-1755), and grandson of Joseph Lamson I (1658-1722), the progenitor of this multi-generational carving dynasty.  The Lamsons were one of the earliest and most prolific New England gravestone providers and their work dominates the early 18th-century stones in Ancient Cemetery.

Phebe Hallet gravestone, 1769

Abraham Hedge gravestone, 1762

Franklin Cooley (1790-1857)

Franklin Cooley (1790-1857) signed the marble stone for Capt. John Studley (1832): "F. Cooley. Prov., R.I."  Franklin Cooley, who worked in partnership with Horace Fox for a time (Cooley & Fox), was the son of carver Chauncey Cooley of Providence, Rhode Island. 

The unadorned marble gravestone that Franklin Cooley lettered for Capt. John Studley includes an accounting of the captain's death on December 1, 1832, age 46: "His death was occasioned by his being shipwreck'd on the back side of Cape Cod, on board the ship Warren, of which he was master."

The added epitaph reads: "Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his Saints."

Capt. John Studley epitaph

Capt. John Studley gravestone, 1832

Lemuel Savery (1757-1797)

Lemuel Savery, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, the carver of Betsey Thatcher’s gravestone, was the youngest of Thomas and Priscilla (Paddock) Savery’s nine children.  Savery probably learned to carve from his brother-in-law, William Coye.  Both men were sometimes referred to a ‘painters’ in addition to being called ‘stonecarvers.’

Although Lemuel Savery seems to have lived and worked in Plymouth, several of his stones are found on the Cape and as far away as Charleston, South Carolina.  The stone for five-week-old Betsey Howes Thatcher, a cherub-like face especially popular for women and children, is the only Savery example in Ancient Cemetery.


Lemuel Savery died in 1797; he has no known gravestone.

Betsey HowesThatcher gravestone, 1780

William Bennett (1780-1835)

For much of his career, William Bennett (1780-1835) could be  described as a journeyman stonecutter.  That is, he was trained and probably did an apprenticeship, but did not own and operate his own carving establishment.  He is known to have worked in John Homer’s Boston carving shop and probably carried on there for a while after Homer’s death in 1817. 


He went on to work for many other established carvers until his death at age 55.  The stone for fourteen-month-old Eliza Ann Hill can be attributed to William Bennett based on a probate payment to him for an almost identical stone in Boston.

Eliza Ann Hill gravestone, 1804

William Sturges (1772-1858)

William Sturges (1772-1858), who signed the worn marble gravestone for Sally Hamblen, Engrav’d on Nantucket by Wm. Sturges, was born in Sandwich although he lived and worked in Lee, Massachusetts and Nantucket before returning to the Cape toward the end of his life.  Surrounded by western Massachusetts’ and Vermont’s newly established marble industry, William Sturges was one of the first to carve exclusively on the newly fashionable white marble.  He was responsible for teaching many younger carvers including his sons, Josiah and John.  William moved frequently, opening new markets  in multiple locations.

William Sturges’ last years were in the home of his daughter, Sarah (Sturges) Fisher, the wife of Yarmouth Port carver, Jabez Fisher.  Jabez Fisher carved the gravestone that rests above William Sturges’ grave in Lee.*
*Spelled Sturgis on his own gravestone.

Sally Hamblen gravestone, 1834


Benes, Peter.  The Masks of Orthodoxy: Folk Gravestone Carving in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, 1689-1805.

Blachowicz, James.  From Slate to Marble; Gravestone Carving Traditions in Eastern Massachusetts: 1770-1870. Vol. I.  (Volumes I and II are a particularly rich source of information about the men who carved Ancient Cemetery’s gravestones.)

Blachowicz, James.  From Slate to Marble; Gravestone Carving Traditions in Eastern Massachusetts: 1750-1850. Vol. II.

Ciregna, Elise Madeleine.  “The Lustrous Stone: White Marble in America, 1780-1860.”  Alpheus Cary, Chapter IV.

Farber, Dan and Jessie.  The Farber Gravestone Collection, American Antiquarian Society and online at:

Gabel, Laurel K.  Gravestone Carver Resource Files  (Association for Gravestone Studies unpublished research files)

Gabel, Laurel K.  “Carver Dictionary Data Base, 1650-1800.” (Digital; information on 350 pre-1800 carvers)   

Tucker, Ralph. "The Lamson Family Gravestone Carvers of Charlestown and Malden, Massachusetts."  Markers X: Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies (1993).