Research Finds in the Graveyard, Part 2

What can you find out about loyalists from grave markers? Continuing from our last post Research Finds in the Graveyard, Part 1 we will take a closer look at loyalist settlement era grave markers.

In early settler graveyards of the Maritimes, funerary marker art was influenced by (like other material culture) traditions carried from the American Colonies, while at the same time, denoting the appearance of new physical and social circumstances.

In the northeastern American colonies, grave markers were initially produced and exported mainly from New England. Much of the literature written on grave markers in North America focusses on New England settler graveyards, although some of this work is still applicable to other regions of the eastern continent since New England was so influential in carving traditions. 

Old Salem Cemetery
Old Burying Point Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts. Massachusetts and other New England colonies were influential in the early development of funerary carving in British, settler North America.  (Credit: Leah Grandy, UNB Libraries)

Grave marker output went down in the northeastern American colonies with the outbreak of the American Revolution, signifying the great economic and social upheaval caused by the war. Richard F. Welch writes, “One sign of stress suffered by the New York City gravestone cutting community during the Revolution is the type of markers which were erected during this period.”  Many marker carvers, both loyalists and patriots, had to relocate. Examples of stone makers from the period are poorly made, demonstrating the disruption caused by the Revolution. At the conclusion of the Revolution, trades such as stone carving were resumed, and more stone cutters were working than ever before in the American colonies.  Pertaining to the Maritimes, W.P. Kerr states in History Etched in Stone: Gravestone Art and the Garrison Graveyard, “By the outbreak of the American Revolution, rural Nova Scotia had moved beyond the survival level, and was producing items for local use, which may well have included carved gravestones. Local gravestone carving may have been further encouraged by the fact that the importation of gravestones from New England had virtually stopped following the Revolution . . .”  Although some carving traditions were brought to the Maritime colonies by loyalists, the period would have also encouraged the creation of a localized tradition of carving.

St. Ann's Point
Marker from the earliest loyalist cemetery at St. Anne’s Point (Fredericton), New Brunswick. The Loyalist Provincials’ Burial Ground, used the winter of 1783-4 when many deaths occurred among loyalists encamped at this location due to exposure and lack of supplies. Although weathered, the marker still shows decoration, “shoulders,” and shape typical of settler markers of northeastern North America at that time. (Credit: Leah Grandy, UNB Libraries)

In pre-loyalist Nova Scotia, head stones in the “death’s head” style were imported from New England. Many loyalists in the Maritime colonies post-Revolution still had parents, grandparents, and siblings in the United States and retained socio-economic connections.

German language marker for Cathrina Maragreta Läsle, 1808, Hillcrest Cemetery, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, likely locally carved showing gothic script, the German settler community being established in the area during the early 1750s. (Credit: Leah Grandy, UNB Libraries)

Cemetery Parks

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the rural cemetery park movement had become a popular way on the Eastern Seaboard to house the dead.  As opposed to crowded, urban churchyards, planned, rural park cemeteries (the word coming from the Latin for “sleeping place”) were seen as natural and healthy, peaceful places created for beauty and contemplation, all of which tied in with the Neo-Classical ideals popularized in the century. Mount Auburn, outside Boston, is credited as the first planned cemetery in North America. Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia would be another example. 

Cemetery Park Bangor
Cemetery Park outside Bangor, Maine. (Credit: Leah Grandy, UNB Libraries)

Websites & Resources is the premier website in North America for locating grave markers.  In places you cannot travel, or if you need to find a marker locally, the site is very searchable at both the level of all cemeteries in the database as well as particular burial grounds.  Volunteer members add images and transcribe text from grave markers and may add additional biographical information.  As with other crowd-sourced historical sites, you need to verify that the information provided is correct, but it can provide leads in many cases. You may even remotely put in a request for a local member to photograph a specific marker if one does not exist.  When researching immigrants, such as loyalists, it is possible to locate family members who remained in the United States and sometimes determine the original community and religion of the loyalist.

Gabriel Fowler
Gabriel Fowler headstone (1756-1832), featuring urn carved on white stone/ marble, popularized in mid-nineteenth century Maritimes, from Saint Paul’s Lake Side Anglican Church Cemetery, Hampton, New Brunswick, listed on (Credit: Leah Grandy, UNB Libraries)

Other useful sites for researching settler cemeteries and grave markers in the Maritimes:

Spade and the Grave: Death and Burial Through an Archaeological Lens blog by expert on burial grounds and markers, Robyn S. Lacy.

American Gravestone Evolution from Atlas Preservation

Association for Gravestone Studies

From the City of Boston, Iconography of Gravestones at Burying Grounds  which outlines basic iconography found on early New England grave markers.

On the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website: CFB Gagetown Cemeteries and New Brunswick Cemeteries

 Cemetery Records at Nova Scotia Archives

Loyalist Cemeteries & Gravestones of Nova Scotia  by Brian McConnell

Exploring the Garrison Graveyard by Mappannapolis, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, also featuring work on the Acadian burial ground on the site.


Graveyards  and Cemeteries in the News

Locations of burials can be places of political and ethical contention.  Burial grounds within the Maritime Provinces have frequented public discussions in recent years:


Halifax, Nova Scotia downtown burial grounds

Thousands of people are buried under downtown Halifax. What are they owed?

Poor House Burying Ground & Grafton Park


Kingsclear Kilburn Community Cemetery, New Brunswick

Descendant of early Black New Brunswickers wants apology for ‘desecration’ of graves


Kings Landing, Prince William, New Brunswick

Maugerville family wants ancestors’ headstones back after finding them in an unlikely place

Former curator gives explanation for relocated headstones


The Old Loyalist Burial Ground Fredericton

Headstones in Fredericton’s Old Burial Ground to be refurbished


Author, Hillcrest Cemetery, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Thanks to my family who have detoured to historical graveyards on vacations!

Do take time to (respectfully) explore a burial ground.  It can provide a tangible connection to your historical research!


Leah Grandy holds a PhD in History and works as a Special Collections Assistant at UNB Libraries.


Select Bibliography

Peter Benes, ed., Puritan Gravestone Art (The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings, 1976).

______________. The Masks of Orthodoxy: Folk Gravestone Carving in Plymouth County, Masschusetts, 1689-1805, (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977).

Diana Williams Combs, Early Gravestone Art in Georgia and South Carolina (London: The University of Georgia Press, 1986).

Nicholas J. Evans and Angela McCarthy, eds., Death in the Diaspora: British and Irish Gravestones (Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 2020).

Jessie Lie Farber, “Early American Gravestones: Introduction to the Farber Gravestone Collection,” American Antiquarian Society (2003).

W.P. Kerr, History Etched in Stone: Gravestone Art and the Garrison Graveyard (Kingston, Ontario: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2011).

Vincent F. Luti, “Eighteenth Century Gravestone Carvers of the Upper Narragansett Basin: Gabriel Allen,” Markers, volume 2 (2003).

Richard E. Meyer, Cemeteries and Gravemarkers : Voices of American Culture (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1992.)

Gerald L. Pocius, Newfoundland Gravestones (Newfoundland Historical Society St. John’s Newfoundland, 1978).

Daniel M. Shimabuku and Gary F. Hall, St. Paul’s Cemetery (Occasional Papers in Anthropology, No. 10, Halifax, Nova Scotia: Department of Anthropology, Saint Mary’s University, 1981).

David J. Stewart, The Sea their Graves: An Archaeology of Death and Remembrance in Maritime Culture (Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2011).

Deborah Trask, Life How Short Eternity How Long: Gravestone Carving and Carvers in Nova Scotia (Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Museum, 1978).

Richard F. Veit and Mark Nonestied, New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rivergate Books, 2008).

Richard F. Welch, “The New York and New Jersey Gravestone Carving Tradition,” Markers, volume 4.


SUBJECTS: cemetery, genealogy, art, graveyard, gravestone, research skills, religion, death, material history



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Great to see more people working in this area. You and your readers might also be interested in an article I did on the Saint John burial ground "'The Garden of the Dead': The 'Old Burial Ground,' Cemetery Reform, and Cultural Memory," in The Creative City of Saint John, ed. Gwendolyn Davies, Peter Laroque, and Christl Verduyn (Halifax: Formac: 2018), 84-90 and 137-39

I researched 116 grave sites in this cemetery over a period of 3 years. Each Plot has a full page profile of the persons resting in each plus family pictures as they were available. The project has been published in Generations Journal, the New Brunswick Journal published Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. I am secretary of the Salt Springs Cemetery Committee and I with an another member worked on the research and a new map of the cemetery. Our committee meets twice a year for planning and maintenance. All donations are reported to the CRA and we have to spend 80% of monies on the cemetery maintenance. Currently we are working on an e book from my master copy of the Plots. A copy will be sent to the Archives in Hampton and Acadia University as the cemetery was a Baptist cemetery but now has to be designated a Community Cemetery for donation purposes.

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