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
Nathaniel Lamson (1692-1755) and Caleb Lamson (1697-1760)
Many of Ancient Cemetery's most accomplished 18th-century gravestones were carved by Nathaniel (1692-1755) and/or Caleb (1697-1760) Lamson, sons of the progenitor of the Lamson carving dynasty, Joseph Lamson I (1658-1722). Thomas Sturgis's slate marker in Ancient Cemetery is a good example of the 2nd generation Lamson style.
Nathaniel and Caleb Lamson carved oval-eyed skulls with hooked eyebrows, a moustache mouth mark, and a full complement of perfect teeth. Border panels usually include graceful foliage, fig-like forms, and a small rosette of roundel somewhere in the design. Lamson footstones employ this same fig-like form on footstones.
typical Lamson footstone
Thomas Sturgis gravestone, 1739
Alpheus Cary, Jr. (1788-1869)
The large marble monument for John B. Doane, and his brother of the same name, is signed: A. Cary, Fecit. Boston.* (Fecit. = made this, created this)
Alpheus Cary, Jr. (1788-1869), one of twelve children born to Alpheus and Ruby (Perkinis) Cary, Sr., was Boston’s most celebrated marble artist in the first half of the 19th century. Cary probably began his career in the stone carving shop of Jonathan Rawson of Quincy and went on to establish working partnerships with many more well-known sculptors, architects, and landscape artists.
Many examples of Cary’s work can be found in Forest Hills and at Mount Auburn Cemeteries in Boston, where he catered to the “refined, sentimental, and tasteful expectations of his well-connected clientele.” (Blachowicz) His Collection of Epitaphs, Suitable for Monumental Inscriptions (c.1865), was a popular resource for inscriptions.
John Doane gravestone, 1837
John Doane gravestone detail
David Allen Burt (1830-1894)
David Allen Burt (1830-1894), who supplied and signed (“Burt, Taunton”) the unadorned marble stone for two-year-old Walter Walker, was a designer, carver, and business man who ran a large and successful carving enterprise in Taunton during the second half of the 19th century.
Burt worked with/for Alpheus Cary, the internationally recognized designer and sculptor of Boston, before establishing his own business in Taunton.
The Burt shop supplied many Cape families with grave monuments before David Allen’s son, David Arthur Burt, took over the business.
Walter Walker gravestone, 1875
Ralph Needham (1814-1858)
“Marble worker” Ralph Needham, was born in 1814 in Derbyshire, England. He migrated to the United States with his family in 1842, became an American citizen, and lived and worked as a gravestone carver in Chelsea, Massachusetts, until his death, from consumption, in 1858, at age forty-three.
Ralph Needham signed, “R. Needham, Chelsea” on the marble gravestones that he made for one-year-old Sarah M. Eldridge, who “died in Chelsea” in 1846, and on the adjacent stone for “Son” (Ellery in death record) her one-year-old brother. Young Sarah and Ellery were the children of Ellery and Sarah (Sally) Eldridge.
Ellery Eldridge gravestone, 1840
Sarah M. Eldridge gravestone, 1846
Joseph Milmore (1841-1886)
One of the loveliest stones in Ancient Cemetery sits over the grave of Zipporah (Eldridge) Wilder, who died in 1866 at age 54. Deeply sculpted roses and ivy are gathered by a graceful bow on her simple, stark white marble gravestone. Barely visible on the bottom right corner of the marker is the signature, “J. Milmore, Boston.”
Joseph Milmore (1841-1886), along with his more well-known brother, Martin, immigrated from Ireland as children. The two brothers went on to create several admired public sculptures and busts of famous 19th-century statesmen and authors. Perhaps one of their most recognizable works is the memorial Civil War Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The famous frieze memorial to Martin and Joseph Milmore at Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, (called “Death and the Sculptor”) was carved after their deaths by America’s preeminent sculptor, Daniel Chester French (who also did the Lincoln Memorial, the Concord Minute Man, George Washington and more than 90 other acclaimed works.)
Zipporah Wilder’s beautifully designed and carved gravestone is a testament to Milmore’s talent.
Zipporah Wilder gravestone, 1866
Asaph (1739-1823) and Ebenezer Soule, Jr. (1737-1817)
Asaph and Ebenezer Soule, Jr. were sons of the carver Ebenezer Soule, Sr. and his wife, of Plympton, Massachusetts. The two Soule brothers married two sisters, Silence and Mary Hudson. Each of these marriages produced sons and sons-in-law who carried on the family carving enterprise.
Unfortunately, much of the poorer quality slate that Asaph and Ebenezer, Jr. used has weathered badly and many of their stones in Ancient Cemetery have deteriorated beyond repair.
The two brothers each carved faces with wings, urns/willows, rising/setting suns, and, mostly for children, some smaller little semi-skeletal ‘spirit faces’ crowned with a scalloped top half of the tympanum.
Timothy Hallet gravestone, 1776
Nathan Fobes (1761-1814)
Nathan Fobes, the son-in-law of carver Ebenezer Soule, Jr., worked as a journeyman in Soule’s Plympton, Massachusetts, shop. A great many of Nathan Fobes’ stones were placed in burying grounds on the Cape and Islands. Like several other Plymouth County carvers, Fobes followed the trend to urns and willows and, toward the end of the century, an emerging design of rising/setting suns.
He experimented with a pointed tympanum shape on a few stones, but most have the more familiar central arch with squared ‘shoulders.’ His carving is rather shallow, and precise, ~ almost dainty.
Ebenezer Gage gravestone, 1808
Nancy Thacher gravestone, 1804
John Homer (1727-1803)
John Homer was one of Boston’s busiest carvers during the second half of the 18th-century. Carving on a smooth-grained gray slate, he produced winged skulls, cherub-like faces, and, toward the end of the century, the newly fashionable urns. Most of his slate stones have square ‘shoulders’ and a simple, incised line border.
The top arch of the stone (the tympanum) usually has no confining border or decorated edge, so that the carved image fills most of the space. Homer’s lettering is accomplished and precise. Several other carvers worked in Homer’s shop over the years and probably had a hand in carving or lettering many stones attributed to him.
Sarah Alden gravestone, 1796
EnochHallet gravestone, 1788
Jabez Fisher (1803-1879)
Local Yarmouth carvers, Jabez Fisher and his son, William, supplied many of the 19th century gravestones in Yarmouth cemeteries. Jabez Fisher lived in Sandwich, Harwich, and on Nantucket, before opening his Yarmouth Port shop on Pine Street, near the corner of route 6A, in 1844.
Replicating Nathaniel Holmes’ familiar urn and willow design, the Fishers soon became the dominant local suppliers of these slate markers.
As marble became the more desirable gravestone material, both Jabez and William fashioned more elaborate three-dimensional markers for their local clientele.
After William’s death in 1907, the business continued under David Nickerson’s proprietorship.
Sallie Eldridge gravestone, 1857
Eliza Hallet gravestone, 1873
William Cushman (1715-1768) and son, Noah, (1745-1818) Cushman
William and his son, Noah Cushman, lived and worked in Middleborough, Massachusetts, during the last half of the 18th century. William carved at least two stones that survive in Ancient Cemetery: the broken and problematic slate for Mary Hallet (often linked as pirate Sam Bellamy’s love interest), and a similar stone for Mary’s brother, Andrew Hallet.
Both examples, carved on gray-green, rust-streaked slate, display stylized faces with large round eyes, an oversized triangular ‘nose,’ and a distinctive, t-shaped mouth mark.
The tympanum background is often filled with a cascade of ribbon-like striated lines. Almost all of William Cushman’s inscriptions are done in neat, upper-case lettering. William’s son, Noah, followed in his father’s trade, adapting the popular styles of the day to carve more life-like faces with curly hair and scalloped bibs
Andrew Hallet gravestone, 1751
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).
Images by Maria Ferrari