I first became interested in epitaphs after seeing a thought-provoking one in a colonial-era cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina: View this tomb as you pass by, for as you are so once was I, and as I am so must you be, prepare yourself to follow me. It was the grave of a young woman who died in the 18th century when she was 24.
I picked up a book, initially published in 1962, with old epitaphs: Over their dead bodies: Yankee epitaphs & history compiled by Thomas C. Mann and Janet Greene. They truly are fascinating: illuminating history and sensibility of early American settlers through the Civil War era.
Here are a few of my favorites:
From Litchfield, Conn.,
Here lies the body of Mrs. Mary wife
of Dea. John Buel Esq. She died
Nov. 4, 1768 AEtat. 90
Having had 13 children
410 Total. 336 survive her.
From Boston, Mass.,
Here lies buried in a
Stone Grave 10 feet deep
Capt Daniel Malcolm Mercht
who departed this Life
October 23d 1769
Aged 44 Years
a true son of Liberty
a Friend to the Publick
an Enemy to oppression
and one of the foremost
in opposing the Revenue Acts
From Concord, Mass.,
God wills us free-Man wills us slaves
I will as God wills: Gods will be done.
Here lies the body of
A native of Africa who died
March 1773, aged about sixty years.
Tho born in the land of slavery
He was born free:
Tho he lived in a land of liberty
He lived a slave
Till by his honest tho stolen labours
He acquired the source of slavery
Which gave him his freedom:
Tho not long before
Death the great Tyrant
Gave him his final emancipation
And put him on a footing with kings.
Tho a slave to vice
He practised those virtues
Without which kings are but slaves
From Ridgefield, Conn.,
In defense of American Independence
At the battle of Ridgefield, Apr. 27, 1777
Died Eight Patriots
Who were Laid in These Grounds
Sixteen British Soldiers
Living, Their Enemies
Dying, Their Guests.
In Honor of Service and Sacrifice, this
Memorial is Placed For the
Strengthening of Hearts.
From Milford, Conn.,
In Memory of Sarah Prudden
who with a happier world in
view departed this mortal state
July 27 1788 in the 80th year of her age.
Our age to seventy years is set
How short the term how frail the state
And if to eighty we arrive
We rather sigh & groan than live.
From Winslow, Maine,
Here lies the body of Richard Thomas
an inglishman by birth
A Whig of '76
By occupation a cooper
now food for worms.
Like an old rum puncheon whose
staves are all marked, numbered and shooked
he will be raised again and finished by his creator.
He died Sept. 28, 1824. Aged 75.
America my adopted country
my best advice to you is this
Take care of your liberties.