J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peter Faneuil’s Tombstone

On Monday, Boston 1775 reader Daud Alzayer asked me about how Peter Faneuil’s name appeared on his tomb. That turns out to be a rather hard question to answer.

In a Boston Transcript essay published before 1852 and collected in 1856 in Dealings with the Dead, the Boston antiquarian, temperance advocate, and slavery apologist Lucius Manlius Sargent wrote about Peter Faneuil’s tomb in the Granary Burying-Ground:
The remains of this noble-spirited descendant of the Huguenots of Rochelle were deposited, in the Faneuil tomb, in the westerly corner of the Granary Ground. This tomb is of dark freestone, with a freestone slab. Upon the easterly end of the tomb, there is a tablet of slate, upon which are sculptured, with manifest care and skill, the family arms; while, upon the freestone slab, are inscribed, at the top, M. M.—memento mori, of course,—and, at the bottom of the slab—a cruel apology for the old Huguenot patronymic—“Peter Funel. 1742,” and nothing more.
But a few paragraphs later, Sargent wrote that the inscription was “P. Funel,” nothing more. In 1856 Thomas Bridgman’s The Pilgrims of Boston and Their Descendants listed the burial site this way: “TOMB OF P. FUNEL, 1742” over a coat of arms. I don’t know of any drawing or photograph of the tomb from this period to nail down that text and how formal it looked.

Sargent imagined that Andrew Faneuil, Peter’s uncle, originally commissioned the tomb with his own coat of arms, and that years after Peter was interred there Bostonians began to wonder. “Whereabouts was it, that Peter Faneuil was buried?” Sargent’s imagination continued:
Some worthy old citizen—God bless him—who knew rather more of this matter than his neighbors, and was well aware, that the arms would be but a dead letter to posterity, resolved to serve the public, and remedy the defect. Up he goes into the Granary Ground, in the very spirit of Old Mortality, and, with all his orthography in his ear, inscribes P. Funel upon the tablet!
When might that have happened? The Old Style date “1742” suggests the carver worked before the British Empire shifted to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. But Peter Faneuil’s brother Benjamin lived in Boston and Cambridge until 1784, and his sons were prominent Loyalist merchants. Other members of the family remained in Massachusetts in the 1800s. Would a “worthy old citizen” really have done some unauthorized carving on their family tomb? Despite such unanswered questions, lots of people accepted Sargent’s guesses.

By the late twentieth century, however, authors were positing that the real reason for a “P. Funel” inscription was that a stonecutter had scratched that name on the slab in order to identify the customer it was meant for. Which would mean Andrew hadn’t commissioned that tomb; Peter had. So that theory also raises questions.

By then the mysterious inscription was long gone. In 1900, Abram English Brown reported that the top of the Faneuil tomb had been carved with Peter Faneuil’s full name, in the standard spelling, and the New Style date “March 3, 1743,” as well as the surnames of some family members who died later. That’s the way it appears today, as shown above courtesy of Find a Grave or in this Flickr image.


Jim Padian said...

I believe the calendar shift for Britain and its colonies happened in 1752, '42.

J. L. Bell said...

I looked that up and still managed to type it wrong. Thanks!