Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Cataloguing Funerals & Burials from Samuel Sewall’s 17th-Century Diary

Samuel Sewall (image from the New England Historical Society)

If you’ve been a reader for the last year or two, you’ll know that I’m currently working on my PhD in historical archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland & Labrador! My research is looking at the development of the 17th-century burial landscape in northeast North America, and through the centuries in the outport community of New Perlican, NL. Part of this research involves combing through accounts from the 17th century for details on death, burial, and funeral practices at the time. This information gives us a better idea of how the burial grounds were being used, what people thought of them, and how they changed through the decades and centuries.

Now, I’m only 9 months into my program and have just finished my coursework a few weeks ago, so I don’t have too much of my own research finished yet, but other than lining up some fieldwork and preparing for my comprehensive exams this fall (eep!), I’ve been cataloguing mentions of burials and funerals in the diary of Samual Sewall. Judge Sewall, a public figure and later known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials of May, 1893 (for which he later publicly apologised, so that’s nice), kept a diary of his life fairly regularly from 1674 – 1729, one year before his death. Many Puritans kept detailed diaries and Sewall is no exception. Due to his importance in the community as an educated judge and printer, he was very aware of the community and recorded deaths beyond his own family.

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One Common Skull – A case study at Old Burying Point, Salem, MA.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting some of the historic burial grounds in Salem, Massachusetts during my recently holiday to the area. I was particularly excited to visit Salem because it was not only an important site in the history of colonial New England, but it was a part of the survey I did of settlements for my MA research so getting to see it in person was a real treat! I decided to use the opportunity as a case study to investigate a particularly popular gravestone design.
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