Figure 1. Culpepper monument. Episcopal Cemetery, Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo: author.

The wonderful Culpepper monument (figure 1) rewards a second look. It is among the older monuments in the relocated Episcopal Cemetery in Elizabeth City, N.C. It’s a small cemetery, but if you are a taphophile visiting the Outer Banks, it is worth the hour drive to see it (and see New Hollywood Cemetery while you’re there).

The anagraphic inscription:

CHARLES HENRY
Son of
Henry & Barshaba
CULPEPPER.
Died March 15. 1858
Aged 10 months
& 26 days.

The name Barshaba is as rare as anything you will find. A search at Ancestry dot com turns up 118 occurrences in census records, peaking in records dating to the 1850s. Some of these will be duplicates, of course, as the same person is recorded in one census after another. Still, we never find more than 30 in the same decade. The greatest number lived at the time of the census in North Carolina (10), followed by Virginia (8) and Georgia (8). If I’m not mistaken, the name is probably taken from Barsabbas, the early Christian contender for the apostleship opened up by Judas’ demise. Beavis and Butthead would be immensely pleased that Barshaba’s family name was Butt.

An aside:—

As I have noted elsewhere, there is no trusting census and other official records for names, as the records were compiled by careless and disinterested workers who took in information by ear and double-checked nothing. So we find Barshaba as “B.” in 1850, living (and, I suspect, working) in a hotel in Elizabeth City under the Sanderlin family; she is “Bashba” Culpepper in 1860; Culpepper died between 1860 and 1863 when we find “Bathsheba” married to Maxey Sanderlin, alongside whom she had lived in the Sanderlin hotel; in 1870 a careful worker recorded “Barsheba” Sanderlin in the census; “Barsheba” again in 1880; “B. Sanderlin” in 1900; as a mother-in-law she lived in Norfolk, VA in 1910 where she is now “Barsheba Sutherland” (!); and at her death, on 19 November 1915 (in Norfolk, of “senility”) she was “Basheba.” A North Carolina drawl probably accounts for several of the errors; assimilation to the more famous Bathsheba for others.

Figure 2. Culpepper monument. Detail: angel in lunette. Episcopal Cemetery, Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo: author.

To return to the Culpepper monument the angel in the lunette (figure 2) is wonderful with her crisply carved wings, her curling locks, delicate fingers, and her textured lower gown scooped out with a round-tipped chisel.

Figure 3. Culpepper monument. Detail: poem. Episcopal Cemetery, Elizabeth City, N.C. Photo: author.

But it is naturally the poem that arrests our attention, even though it is a commonplace (figure 3):

To thée the chíld was ónly lént,
While mórtal ít was thíne:
The chíld tho’ déad is yét alíve,
And líves for éver míne.

It’s been taken from one of those handbooks of epitaphs that got circulated among undertakers and cemetery salespeople, and as something tried and true the versification is clear and workmanlike: two couplets, each of an iambic tetrameter followed by an iambic trimeter.

We see the same poem on the grave of Joseph H. Carney (1859-1862) in West Virginia’s Henry Fry Carney Cemetery, and again on the stone of William Riley Thaxton (1872-1872) in Thaxton Cemetery in West Virginia; and again on the marker of Sarah Jane Stepp (1853-1855) in the Stepp Cemetery in Grundy County, Missouri. These are all the examples I could find on the interwebs, but there were surely more, dating to the central nineteenth century.

The fonts are wonderful, a bold sans-serif font above, followed by a more delicate serifed font below. The poem is interestingly in different sized fonts (compare “To thee” with “While,” for example), depending upon how many letters the cutter had to fit into the line.

And finally, the cutter identified himself, T. M’Caffrey, Norfolk, wonderfully, in parentheses. It almost looks like he is getting credit for the poem!

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: