Category Archives: st johns

Women in the South (of a Cemetery)

Touring St. John’s Cemetery creates more questions than it answers. The majority of its stones are left, eroding and falling apart. The words that were once inscribed on them have been worn away with time. There are some modern stones or monuments, some intentionally well preserved ones (most often the ones by the church), and some that do still, fortunately, have distinguishable words, dates and sentences. Upon first walking through the cemetery, it seems that all of the stones have been placed randomly. There certainly are no rows formed, there are some clusters of multiple gravestones from varying, wide spacing years, and there are some bald patches. Most of the stones face east. However, when observing and noting the names, sentences, and dates that are distinguishable on the gravestones, there are patterns that can be found. For example, the names Thomas, Daniel, and Mary were common even then. However, most notable to me was the disproportionate number of women and people from Ireland in the southern part of the churchyard. While other gravestones note the places that the deceased come from, they are sporadic in their location in the cemetery. In this southern part of the cemetery, there are fewer gravestones with discernable inscriptions of men’s names, and a large number with discernable inscriptions of the origin of the deceased, specifically Ireland.

Daniel Isabella

These photos illustrate the chest tomb of Isabella Neilson from Donegal, Ireland (buried in the furthers corner of the southern corner, right next to the fence) and Daniel McDermoth from Dunnegol, Ireland.

As evidenced in similarities in style, orientation, messages, and dates on the stone, the Irish and the women were not ostracized from the community. They still conformed to typical death practices, and probably shared religious beliefs with the others that are buried in the cemetery. However, if the most faithful, religious, and prestigious people were buried on the northeastern side of the cemetery close to the church, then the southern placement with distance from the church would indicate that the people buried under these stones were less faithful or prestigious – or they were considered to be worth less within their community in comparison to the equally gender separated stones without specification of birthplace.

Ultimately, it is clear that there were some racist feelings against Irish men and women, and there were some strong feelings of the subordination of women. Because of the disproportionate number of gravestones that were in a small way “hidden away” of these two classes, it is a reasonable to believe that, while they were still memorialized and remembered through the stones, they were not something that the church wanted to show off by putting in a spot close to the church or easily accessible to the front of the church. The placement of stones is less happenstance than the layout of the cemetery suggests.



St. John’s Episcopal Church

While visiting St. John’s Episcopal Church last Wednesday, we observed that there was not much rhyme or reason to the layout of the gravestones in the cemetery, other than that they all faced east. However, after touring the grounds on my own, I noticed something else most of the gravestones had in common: a lack of Christian iconography on the headstones. Unlike many of the tombstones we saw in the Farber Gravestone Collection, which had engravings of winged faces and hands reaching towards heaven, the tombstones at St. John’s seemed to have much more secular engravings like the urn and the willow tree, such as this slated headboard from Boston, Massachusetts:
IMG_7417 (2)

But one of the most intriguing gravestones I came across was one with an engraving that looked like a dollar sign with three vertical lines through it:


Unfamiliar with the symbol, I looked it up and found that it represents the Greek letters I, H, and S, or the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. I was fascinated by this gravestone in particular because it seemed to be the most non-secular in a predominantly secular graveyard.

The gravestone belongs to Reverend Robert Archer Goodwin, who was also the Rector of St. John’s Church, according to the engraving on the stone. In Mr. Smith’s overview, he mentioned how many of the gravestones emphasized the script and the epitaph over the iconography. Reverend Goodwin’s stone includes a bible verse taken from 1 Corinthians 15:57 that reads, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” whereas most other stones in the cemetery put emphasis on memorializing the deceased through their epitaphs.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the gravestone, however, is the cross at the top of the monument, in contrast with the traditional rounded headstones on most of the other graves in the site. The gravestone also takes an almost hierarchical shape, with Christ being at the base of the monument (in the bible verse), the middle (with the engraving), and at the top (with the large cross). Lastly, the gravestone is in close proximity to the church, which, according to Nelson’s reading, places him closer to God.

Though the gravesite is inclusive to catholics, baptists, and methodists, and the iconography on the headstones seems predominantly secular, this particular gravestone seems to keep the emphasis on God and Christianity within the churchyard.