Time in the cemetery. An examination of gravestones at the Hancock Cemetery at Quincy

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010
5 Pages, Grade: 97.0


Time in the Cemetery

For this assignment I chose to conduct it at the Hancock Cemetery at Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. This was perfect place to do my experiment because it was built before the 1800s. The city of Quincy is already known for its historical backgrounds especially since it was the birth place of two former Presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Not only is Quincy there birth place but it is also where they were put to rest. A nickname for the city of Quincy is “The city of President”. The cemetery was named after Rev. John Hancock, a minister of the United First Parish Church and father of John Hancock, one of the founding fathers of this country. The cemetery was incorporated in 1640 and was the only burial place until 1716 when additional cemeteries were added. The Hancock Cemetery then became the designated cemetery for the North Precinct of Braintree and the Town of Quincy. Around 1844 more land was purchased allowing more burial ground for the Hancock Cemetery. This cemetery was Quincy’s main cemetery until 1854, when they opened the Mount Wollaston Cemetery (Interment).

I started with a row of headstones beginning on the edge of my study area that were similar to each other; they had the same motifs and were of the same size. The motifs were the cherubs and they were all fairly large headstones, made out of granite. The surname was all the same, Beale; families were buried close to each other. Beale was the most common surname I have in my data; it could be because they were of some significance to the city, which is why Quincy has a street named after them. I tried choosing ones that were legible and easy to read, so ones that were not to worn out. While I was collecting my data I noticed there were a lot of headstones without a design. This was kind of odd considering that almost all of the other headstones had a design on it. I thought it might be because they were woman and children. I collected my data by moving across the rows collecting headstones with names I could make out. After about 10 headstones I jumped onto the next row. Almost all of the headstones had the same shape, shouldered dome. Most of the remaining headstones I collected were rectangular, shouldered dome with caps, two with sculpted arch and two with pointed arch. I saw a couple more headstones with no motifs at all just a name, date of birth and death date. With the data so far I came up with a hypothesis, if young children (under 10) were considered less important to society than adults, than when they died, they would have no designs on their headstones, only name and date of death.

When I analyzed my data table this did not prove to be the case. All of the stones that were children had some design on it, except one out of the eight. The remaining seven headstones had either a cherub or an urn & willow. The age of the children ranged from ten months to six. I tried testing the hypothesis by collecting more headstones with no motifs on them, but this just further proves my hypothesis wrong. Even with ages of around 63 some headstones still had no motifs. Although some of the headstones of children had different shapes, like rectangular it did not signify anything. One thing they all seem to have in common was that the size of the headstones were all small. The size could actually be the indicator for how important they were to society and not the motifs. Society probably considered there contribution factor very minimal which is why small headstones was more than enough for them. If we are just looking at the motifs, children seem to be equally important and received the same proper burial as adults, but if we are looking at the size, children seem to be buried with a small headstone instead of larger or medium one, questioning their importance to society.

A question that came up during this study was, would the conditions of the headstones be better if the material was granite. Slate seemed to be very smooth and it gives a softer appearance while granite seemed to be more rough and grainy. While some headstones were in great condition, and seemed to be built only yesterday some were worn down/ scratched, seemingly to have endured a hurricane or something. Slate seemed more prone to scratches, probably due to the soft smooth texture and the small animals around the cemetery. Compared to slate, granite seemed to be in a better condition, its sturdiness and rough texture would protect it from environmental factors and small critters living around the cemetery. According to my data there does appear to be a correlation between the conditioned and materials used. Granite and good/great conditions have a positive relationship with each other. The more use of granite the better the condition of the headstones. While slate would have a negative one, the more use of slate the worse the condition of the headstones seem to be. Slate does not seem to last as long as granite, while I was doing my research I even came across a headstone made of slate cut in half, the top piece on the ground while the bottom piece was still upright. This goes to show that slate is really not as strong as granite.

According to Dethlefsen and Deets around the time 1760, the end of the Great Awakening there was change in religious views which lead to change in cemetery designs. It is stated that “This change is reflected in the cemeteries by the final shift in design types from cherub to urn-and-willow” (Deetz, 2008). Cherub designs were beginning to fade out making way for the urn and willow, urn and willow design represented more of a depersonalization for deaths (Deetz, 2008). In my data this does seem to be what is happening, around the 1760 more urn and willows start to be appearing. There are some exceptions in my data, for instance Theodocia Chorley who died in 1880 still had a cherub design and that was over a hundred years since The Great Awakening. With that exception in mind, most of the headstones are still urn and willow though.

Throughout this study I came across many headstones and most of them had a motif on them. As time changed, so did the motifs. The shape of the stones seemed to be pretty consistent, mostly shouldered domes. The type of the stones remained the same throughout, headstones. Conditions ranged from bad/ cracked to great, most headstones were made of granite. Birth dates were as old as 1567 to 1832, death dates ranged from 1718 to 1877. Size consisted of small to large and with only three designs, Cherub, Urn & Willow, and Death Head. Children were found to have a design much like the adults of their time, proving that based on motifs children were considered just as important to society. When based on size of the stones, children had smaller ones which could be the actual representation of their importance. Granite seemed to be a more durable material for the stones, with its condition being much better than that of slate. A comparison showed that slate has much more scratches and worn down than granite was.


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Time in the cemetery. An examination of gravestones at the Hancock Cemetery at Quincy
University of Phoenix
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Cemetary, Quincy, Anthropology, grave, stones
Quote paper
Kenny Chan (Author), 2010, Time in the cemetery. An examination of gravestones at the Hancock Cemetery at Quincy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/276725


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