Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston, South Carolina, 1695-1802

By Thompson, Sharyn | South Carolina Historical Magazine, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston, South Carolina, 1695-1802


Thompson, Sharyn, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston, South Carolina, 1695-1802. By David R. Mould and Missy Loewe. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2006. Pp. x, 277; $45, paper.)

Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston is an interesting addition to the small body of literature devoted to early gravestone art in the southeastern United States. The book focuses exclusively on the eighteenth-century grave markers located in the city's early churchyards. It features text by David R. Mould and crisp, black-and-white, documentary-style photographs by Missy Loewe.

Author David Mould lived in Charleston as a child. When he returned years later as a newspaper reporter, he reconnected with an abiding interest in the ancient graveyard surrounding the Congregational Circular Church on Meeting Street. Mould currently lives in Washington, D. C., but his familiarity with Charleston's colonial-era churchyards and his enthusiasm and concern for historic gravestones and their preservation are evident throughout the book.

Mould relies heavily on Diana Williams Combs's Early Gravestone Art in Georgia and South Carolina (1986) as his authority for describing and interpreting the artistic detail and funerary symbolism of grave markers in Charleston. To a lesser degree, he refers to the work of scholars who have done exhaustive research on New England's colonial-era markers and the stone carvers who made them. Because a number of Charleston's more significant grave markers were made by New England carvers, this information is essential in understanding the development of the craft of stone carving in colonial America and of the transfer of funerary designs that occurred between the southern and northern colonies, despite their sometimes differing attitudes about religion.

Gravestones generally reflect the socio-economic positions of the persons whose burials they mark. Also, the changing shapes and popularity of funerary motifs on markers illustrate that society's changing attitudes towards death and resurrection over time. Charleston is home to so many beautifully ornamented gravestones from the eighteenth century, Mould writes, because of its highly affluent and sophisticated population, who led opulent lifestyles and could well afford to import markers from the northern colonies and from England. His well-researched biographies for many of the individuals and families buried in the city's churchyards confirm this was true, although some of the earlier markers Mould discusses are for persons of more humble means, such as mariners and printers, rather than the expected rice planters, merchants, clergymen, and physicians. …

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