Unburied Stories: Selected Highlights

Don’t miss the latest blog posts on church/crypt/New Haven history here.

Ms. Sarah Trowbridge

UPDATE (scroll to bottom of the linked entry): Slow your roll, Massachusetts! In a 1982 column on the use of “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss,” William Safire claimed the “earliest spotting of that term was on a 1767 gravestone in Plymouth, Mass.” — a claim that has since been repeated.  Well, our very own Ms. Sarah Trowbridge‘s space saving stone cutter in the New Haven Colony had Ms. Sarah Spooner’s in Plymouth beat by at least 70 years.

Revolutionary women

The Upworthy teaser for this tale would be, “I couldn’t believe how a Frenchman ‘complimented’ these sisters in 1781…and then a teenage future President came along and played favorites.”

In our obit guide published in 2000, entries for female decedents are almost exclusively the stories of their husbands’ and/or fathers’ lives: as Deb Townshend wrote–with clear frustration–about Mary Edwards: “This is a classic case of having lots of material on the man but little on the woman.” One goal of mine has been to see if we can mine newly digitized sources to write these women back into their own final narratives. This week’s unburied story at least turned up a cause of death…and a glimpse (through the gaze of two historically significant guests of her father’s) at her reputation and performance as a Revolutionary War-era hostess.

The “painfull” mother

This week’s featured stone is a tour favorite: an exquisite memorial to “the painfull mother of eight children.” Her very Puritan epitaph ends in a line T.S. Eliot singled out as “a monstrous absurdity” in a scathing critique of the poet who originally wrote it.

Mr. John Hyde

My investigation of Deb Townshend’s theory on the death (and life) of the mysterious Mr. Hyde unearthed the story of New Haven’s yellow fever epidemic of 1794…Yale President Ezra Stiles understood the vector of contagion was a certain Long Wharf sloop, but Noah Webster blamed caterpillars.

All the glories of the world shall pass

This week’s featured stone belongs to the grandson of a noteworthy state official, which is not so unique for the crypt….the engraving on his tombstone is, however.

There is no Joseph Whiting Treeves

Autocorrect disaster, colonial style: today’s unburied tale is a prominent state official whose (clumsily abbreviated) occupation on his tombstone was later mistaken for his last name (and inscribed on our marble vestibule tablet as such in 1821), throwing him into obscurity at his final resting site…until now. (Of course, given his post mortem legal issues, this may not have been such a bad thing.)


This week’s unburied story dug up so many more questions than it answered that I’ve sent out requests for help. Was a misunderstanding in an early source repeated throughout the historic record?  Was he really an English immigrant not descended from the Captain Timothy Prout of Massachusetts?  Or did this scion of a prominent Boston family fudge his place of origin when he docked in Connecticut to present as his own man, start fresh, or, as one visitor surmised, “impress the ladies?”

So far from home

Half in, half out: our unburied story of the week is a teenage girl who was originally mistaken for another with the same name, because what we’ve got inside the crypt turns out to be just her footstone.  (The mystery of what she’s doing in New Haven at all still…remains.)

The marriage merry-go-round

This week’s unburied story involved a great deal of records untangling. The dating pool in the early colony was dreadfully small, and this woman was a central figure in what church historian Deb Townshend has described as “a veritable marriage ‘merry-go-round!'”

When your tombstone is news

This week’s unburied tale from the Crypt: a first wife of a future university president, a daughter-in-law of America’s most famous (and fiery) theologian…and our only inhabitant whose epitaph details the cause of death. Her accidental death on a June day sent shockwaves through the tiny town of New Haven.

Moola moola.

Moola moola: uncovered Yale royalty in the basement! It turns out that he wasn’t just one of Connecticut’s “gentlemen of the best education sense and estates” in the eyes of the Governor of NY; he was also the first treasurer of Yale to serve longer than one hot minute (1701-1702).

Protesting too much

This week’s crypt mystery: how the Loyalist, widely-reviled Colony tax collector — who was frequently hung and burned in effigy and forced out of two different positions by patriots — ends up with a memorial boasting the most lavish (and long-winded) praise to be found in the crypt….plus a couple lines left over to indicate that his first wife is interred there as well.  Thou doth protest too much?

A lesser Mather

This week’s tale from the crypt: that awkward moment when you uncover that one of your decedents testified that another was mentally incompetent in a family spat over his will.

A great aunt

There was speculation that the Gaskells might have been servants brought from England, due to the lack of info on the surname. But the discovery of Elizabeth’s maiden name led to a founding father described by Jefferson as “a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.

Refugees of 1776

We had nothing on record except what was on the stone. It turns out she was the daughter of a prominent Long Island judge and later U.S. Representative (NY) whose family briefly sheltered in New Haven as “Refugees of 1776” from the British occupation of Long Island.

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