|Pennington Presbyterian Church, Pennington, New Jersey.|
Walking through the Presbyterian Church graveyard in Pennington, New Jersey, I noticed seven red sandstone grave markers all in a row – six large (standard-sized), and one small. Recognizing them as the oldest on the site, I thought perhaps they might have the old “angel-head” carving at top (I initially spotted them from behind). I walked around the thick (three inch) slabs with the roughly carved backs and, lo and behold, three of the large stones had angel heads carved at top, while two had a sunrise! I get rather excited to find these as they are quite uncommon outside New England. New Jersey cemeteries seems to be the southern cutoff point. Why is this?
|Rear view of red sandstone grave markers|
Well, New England was one of the first areas of the north American continent to be settled by Europeans and the first to become densely populated. Therefore, the oldest graveyards are there. The Puritanical flair of the headstone artisans and craftsmen is evident on early headstone carvings throughout that region. As time went on, populations grew and spread out from New England. Belief systems changed, different materials were used for grave markers, and this particular type of angel head was replaced with other symbolism (or none at all).
White marble became a popular choice as a replacement for red and brown sandstone, as Vermont and Philadelphia quarries boomed in the late 1700s. Angel heads appear on old marble stones too, but marble wears easily and detail is quickly lost. Sandstone retains detail better, but cracks more easily. Central and northern New Jersey’s sandstone quarries supplied the need for grave marker material from the end of the seventeenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century.
|Small headstone, perhaps a child's|
|"E. Price" signature engraved at bottom of 1775 headstone|
As I photographed the seven red sandstone markers in Pennington’s Presbyterian Church graveyard, I realized two things: one, they all marked graves of members of the same family, the Muirheids; and two, the markers were all signed by the same stone carver! This latter point is rather unusual in my experience.
|Note "E. Price" engraving at bottom right|
It happens to be well-documented that Price signed, or initialed his work, which was unusual in that industry, or craft. I found it interesting that during the Revolutionary War-era that Price was in business, he would barter for payment of a carved headstone. Barbara Schaffer’s 2013 Quilts, Gravestones, and Elusive Ancestors blog post, “Signed by Carvers,” reproduces a 1786 newspaper advertisement for Price’s engraving business. He would accept any of the following in exchange for an engraving job: “timber, stone, brick, boards, window-frames, doors, sashes, shutters, hinges, carting, labor.” The article shows further examples of Price’s intricate carvings of angels, flowers, and letters.
|Seven Ebeneezer Price-engraved sandstone grave markers, Pennington, New Jersey|
Ebeneezer Price’s workshop was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but his engraved headstones – wonderful examples of early American folk art - traveled to such places as New York City, Long Island, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Caribbean (ref.)
References and Further Reading:
Restoration of Elizabeth church digs up Revolutionary-era past