Stones for women in the Old Cambridge Burying Ground–and in many other colonial burial sites–tend to name them in terms of their husbands and fathers.(1) The honorific “Mrs.” usually appears (although this could refer to an older unmarried lady as well) with the husband’s name following, and sometimes his town. For very young women, their parents might both be named together; for some, parents and spouses were both listed.
On Martha Holyoke’s marker(2) most of its space is used to name her illustrious spouse (Edward was a president of Harvard College) and/or parents (Her father, Col. John Appleton, was a noted resident of Ipswich). So, on her marker (almost certainly carved by Nathaniel Lamson) the two men each get two lines of the tablet’s inscription (= 4 total); she gets just one (well, her dates follow, evening things out a bit more).*
We might well want to ask: who is actually being commemorated or memorialized on Martha Holyoke’s stone? Martha, or the men in her life?
This use of other figures to identify an individual is consistent with earlier, especially medieval/feudal, patterns of identification: people were known by their place in the wider society. This is useful for those interested in family history (and is another reason why one should try to actually visit such sites): a nearby stone might give more information, or contextual findings in the town–a street sign with the individual’s name, a school building named for the family, etc.–might enlarge ones understanding of how the individual functioned within their own social milieu, or even show where they lived.
But sometimes it doesn’t tell us as much as we’d like about the individual themselves.
Exceptional stones are also of interest. While most of the stones for women, female children, and enslaved females in the OCBG follow the above pattern, there is (at least) one in the Harvard Square grounds that does not conform to this model. That is the stone for Joanna Winship, near the Garden St./Mass Ave. corner of the grounds, and not far from the large Vassal Family table tomb of Connecticut red sandstone.
Winship was a grammar school teacher. Her home was not far beyond the burying ground, near Mason St., and her school site was probably near the present Harvard Ed. School (Gutman) Library at Ash St. and Garden St.(3) Her stone (probably by Joseph Lamson, Sr.)* says nothing of her father, Lt. Edward Winship, whose own stone is nearby, nor does it identify a spouse (she may never have married; it was usual for a married woman to be allowed teach). Instead, her inscription gives her death date and age, then concludes with this double couplet:
This Good School Dame
No Longer School Must Keep
Which gives us cause,
For children’s sakes, to weep.
I am in the process of researching this stone further: I would like to find more documentation about her teaching position, and to look at her will, if there is one, or other payment records, if they exist, to find out who actually commissioned the stone itself (since I doubt if she did).
There is more to be found out about her stone. But the one thing it most definitely does do is to uphold her value to the community for her professional activities, not her social or familial connections. One wants to avoid placing to modern an emphasis on this, but it is indeed intriguing.(4)
*[Note: Photos of the stones named in this commentary will be posted shortly]
(1) I was not the first to notice this; a student paper on file at the Cambridge Historical Commission from the 1970s appears to have made this observation first.
2) Martha’s stone is identified on the alpha listing as # (TBID’d) and is near the Holyoke table tomb, about half-way down the main central path to the right as you walk towards Mass. Ave. I’ll be posting the map and alpha listing shortly as well and will update with stone ID’s after that.
3) See my paper for the Phi Beta Kappa meeting of 2009 on colonial schools in Cambridge; the abstract is on my Academia site. I’d be happy to supply anyone interested with the PowerPoint in a .pdf format via email.
4) Sources for this information include references in the “Red Book,” (The North Cambridge Survey, by the Cambridge Historical Commission), the Elizabeth Farnum study (1934) and the Thaddeus Harris book (1856) which also lists her epitaph and inscription. I will be doing an entry on the bibliographic sources for the grounds later this summer (2017).