The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry

By Ridner, Judith | The Journal of Southern History, February 2014 | Go to article overview

The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry


Ridner, Judith, The Journal of Southern History


The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry. By Daniel W. Patterson. Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. [xiv], 481. $49.95, ISBN 978-0-8078-3567-8.)

Daniel W. Patterson's The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry is a big book in several respects. With four hundred pages of double-columned text plus notes and an extensive bibliography, it is a long and hefty work; the book's physical look and feel suggest that reading it demands commitment. It is also a richly illustrated text; each of the eight chapters, as well as the introduction and epilogue, are packed with images, mostly photographs of gravestones taken by the author in Northern Ireland, Pennsylvania, and North and South Carolina. Finally, it is also an ambitious book. Representing what appears to be a life's work for Patterson, Kenan Professor Emeritus of English and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The True Image aims to present a microhistory of a heretofore unknown family of Scots-Irish stonecutters, the Bighams, and the men who worked for them, while also telling a broader, more comprehensive history of the eighteenth-century Scots-Irish Presbyterian migration from Ulster to America and from the Pennsylvania interior to the North Carolina backcountry. Themes of cultural adaptation and persistence thus form the work's interpretative backbone.

Patterson begins with the Bigham family in Pennsylvania, tracing the arrival of stonecutter William and his brother Samuel in the 1730s and the appearance of one of William's first identifiable gravestones in a Presbyterian church cemetery near present-day Gettysburg. As Patterson makes clear, although the Bighams were skilled and literate artisans (William was a stonecutter; Samuel was probably a weaver who later took up stonecutting), they, much like so many other Scots-Irish immigrants of the time, were ultimately in search of land. What they found in the Pennsylvania interior instead was a highly competitive land market and the brutal Indian warfare of the Seven Years' War. North Carolina was their escape. Fleeing Pennsylvania in the 1760s, the Bigham brothers and their families, again like many others, trekked 450 miles south in search of opportunity to a hardscrabble existence in the new interior county of Mecklenburg. …

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