Americanhistory on PuritanGravestonesStudent’snameDate
Change in views of religion and death from 1720-1820
Deathin colonial New England was terrifying as in the present times.Though Christianity was evident during that time the religious peoplestill suffered emotionally from the loss of the loved ones. Death wasterrifying reality for New Englanders. Church played significant rolein nourishing people with the word of God and condoling the bereaved.In fact during the death of any member in the society tolling bellwas common in the burial day. The government recognized how thesebells were becoming nuisance and legislated against tolling bell inchurch during funerals. Another most common customary practice in NewEngland was sending of cloves to people invited for the funeralincluding the relatives and friends.
Deathstroked people of all ages including the infants, youth and the old.Children died one in ten in healthiest regions whereas the number washigher than three in ten in less healthy regions like Boston. Most ofthe deaths in seventeen century were attributed to bacterialinfections, epidemic diseases, intestinal worms, carelessness andcontaminated water and food. These factors caused about 40% deaths ofchildren not reaching adulthood. Epidemics were the largest killersweeping thousands of people within a month. Epidemics were due todiphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, influenza, pneumonia andsmallpox. The puritans had to change to ever present deaths in thesociety especially after large number of deaths due to conflicts andwar with the Indians (Hempton, 1996).
Therewas a change in the way death was viewed due to light ofChristianity. Puritans Christians viewed death as a release from theworld’s tribulations and suffering into the joys of everlastinglife. Puritans also viewed the death as a punishment for wrong doingand sinful nature of the people. New Englanders were so muchterrified that God may allow death to continue consuming people’slife and many feared suffering from eternal damnation in Hell. Duringthe early childhood Puritans were taught to fear death by showing thechildren corpses, public hangings and graphics showing how the hellis bad. They told the children horror stories that if they sin theirparents would testify against them during the last days of judgment.The children could be touched with sin and could die any time thusPuritans reminded children that destination was death and hell.
Theadults too feared death including the Christians. The Puritantheology believed that there was no salvation for individual’ssinful nature. They believed that God had already decided the fate ofevery individual during the time of creation thus God could notforgive the sins and take people to heaven. Many Puritan people atthe face of death suffered from anxiety and spiritual torment. The Puritans believed no relative, friend or even a pastor could changethe fate of an individual destined to die. They, therefore, carry outless expensive and less elaborate ceremonies and religious ritesduring the burial. The eulogies and funeral monuments were kept plainand simple. The caskets were wooden and gave stones did not containany designs as the Puritans believed that the 2ndcommandment prohibit use of graven images and thus use of designs andgraven images was viewed as idolatry.
Gradually views of death soften and the Puritans funerals become veryelaborate and expensive. The funerals were carried at after some timeto allow family to invite guests and plan for the funeral. Theintense religious activities after 1720 change the attitude of peopletowards death. Children were taught not to fear death in 18 centuryand to see death as a way of future reunion with parents and God. Theadults were reassured of salvation and forgiveness of sin by God. Thedeath was then viewed as a temporary separation from the loved ones.
The religion was awakening and people changed the old order and beganpraying for the revival of spiritual energy. Many preachers gatheredtheir congregation and spread the gospel to arouse sinners out ofspiritual lethargy. The preachers sensitized the people that outwardmorality was not enough to be saved but a change in heart to acceptChrist. The New England, therefore, believed that an individual has achoice to chose whether to do Godly teachings or satanic. The newawakening was viewed differently by pastors and led to division ofchurches. The congregation split resulting in many differentchurches. Emotions were common during spiritual activities andtherefore the pastors felt that the emotions reflected presence ofGod and true spirituality (Hempton, 1996).
God was viewed as supreme and had superpowers to save man and nobodycould save himself/herself. The repentance and acceptance of Godsways lead to salvation of mankind. Since psalm singing was the onlymusic, new Christian hymns were introduced due to religiousrevolution. The way of teaching Christian teachings also changed aschildren and the youths were taught religious lessons through storytelling.
Changesreflected on the gravestones
Winged cherubs were used to replace winged skull and grim death’sheads in the cemeteries. The discovery of archeological remains andgreat revolution in America lead to use of Republic symbols such asurns and willows in graves. In the early 1800s cherubs were furtherreplaced by decorated willow tree overhanging pedestal urn (Deetz andDethlefsen, 1967). The wording in the graves change to ‘rest inpeace or in memory of’ instead of ‘lies the buried body of’.The people therefore believed that even if the body decays the soulwill survives. The stones were designed to have the names and thedate of death of an individual. Furthermore, the contribution of theburied to the society was also put on grave stones. Cherub stonesindicated that there is hope for the death due to later resurrectionto reunite with God in heaven (Roy and Saillant, 2004).
Lessonsfrom Puritan from these stones
Modernsociety today has undergone several transformations. Technology hassimplified the way of live. People can easily travel to any part ofthe world. The tasks that were challenging during the past are nowsimpler due to improved technology. However, there is need to spreadChristianity around the world. People have turned away from God andenjoy the pleasure of this world. There is suffering in modern worlddue to natural calamities and epidemics. Some diseases have becomeincurable while the earthquakes, wars, terrorism claims lives of manyloved ones. There is therefore need to have hope that one day we willreunite with our loved ones as portrayed in grave stones of Puritans.The people need to change their ways and accept Christ in order to besaved and enjoy staying happily with God after resurrection.
Deetz, J., and Dethlefsen, E. S. (1967). The Plymouths colony archiveproject. Natural History, 76(3), 29-37.
Hempton, D. (1996). Religion and political culture in Britain andIreland: From the Glorious Revolution to the decline of empire.Cambridge University Press.
Roy, R., & Saillant, J. (2004). The Plymouth Colony ArchiveProject. The Journal of American History, 91(1),347-348.