One of the most famous early gravestones in New England is this one at King’s Chapel Burying Ground. It marks the grave of Elizabeth Pain, who died in 1704. It was carved by noted local carver William Mumford, and it is rich with symbolism. On the top of the stone is a winged skull and winged hourglass to symbolize death, and the borders feature a variety of flowers, plants, and fruit to symbolize life.
However, the stone is most notable for the coat of arms that is carved next to the inscription, which includes a symbol on the right side that could be interpreted as a stylized “A”. This has led some to theorize that Nathaniel Hawthorne drew inspiration from this stone when writing The Scarlet Letter, since the protagonist, Hester Prynne, was buried in this graveyard beneath a stone that had a heraldic symbol with an “A” on it.
The first photo shows the stone sometime around the turn of the 20th century. It has been moved since then, and it now faces a different direction, but otherwise the stone itself remains well-preserved as a good example of colonial-era gravestones in New England.
Historic image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.