death’s head was the first gravestone design of the colonies (Deetz 69). Its
popularity is rooted in the Puritan loathing of icons, something they associated
with Catholicism. The design was meant to be an “earthly and neutral symbol,
serving as a graphic reminder of death and resurrection (71).” The urban centers
were more apt to stick with this general pattern, but in rural communities it is
interesting to note how their gravestone art evolved into their own versions of
the classic (78).
time goes on though and religion becomes less ridged, so too does the gravestone
art become less rough and much more relaxed with its use of symbolism.
Therefore, with the spiritual movement of the Great Awakening comes the use of a
second gravestone motif the winged cherub (Deetz 71). As seen in the
image on the left of the shift in grave art in the Stoneham cemetery of
Massachusetts, we see that this change was a gradual shift (70).
In the South, unparticular Charleston, we see that most,
if not all, of the gravestone art also harkens back to the New England design
(Combs 6). Although it appears that this classic design was not quite as popular
in the south as it was in New England (8). Here is where there is an emergence
of the skull and cross bones motif (13). This also later evolves into divergent
mixture of a cherub with crossbones (Combs 16).
“By the end of the
eighteenth century the winged death’s head and skull and crossbones had all but
disappeared as a funerary motif (Combs 19).”