Grubbing in the Mud with the Dead: Newport

If you are interested in early American gravestones, Newport Rhode Island is one of the best places you can be. First, Newport was (and is) the home of an extremely fine family of carvers: the Stevens family. The Stevens shop made some of the most beautiful early American gravestones and have been so successful that it is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in America. Today the John Stevens shop still makes exquisite gravestones. Vincent Luti's remarkable book Mallet and Chisel traces the development of their unique style.

The second reason why Newport rocks for cemeteries is that the town was known for religious freedom. This means there is a remarkable diversity of types of denominational cemeteries in addition to the Common Burying Ground and individual and family plots ("kin plots"). These cemeteries include two ethnic cemeteries: God's Little Acre (primarily African American) and the Touro Cemetery. The multitude of cemeteries provides a perfect test case for doing research: one of the main arguments made about early American gravestones is that they reflect theological differences and religious change over time. Being able to compare use of images and headers in among different denominations allows us to separate out what factors may have influenced changes in gravestone art over time.
Interested in visiting Newport? I recommend the Inn on Bellevue. The rates are reasonable (for Newport) and the location is superb (right next to the Touro Cemetery and smack in the center of town). If you are staying for at least a week, it is worth asking if there is a special "extended stay" rate. Also make sure you visit Newport Historical Society: they have great resources on the cemeteries, including a complete map of the Common Burying Ground.

0 Responses to “Grubbing in the Mud with the Dead: Newport”:

Leave a comment