By Lew Halprin
The cemeteries of Stow have many interesting gravestones with different designs, shapes, sizes and inscriptions. However, a few of them are puzzling. There is, for instance, a gravestone for a woman named Nancy that proclaims “I’m Happy”. Nobody knows why.
There is another for Daniel Gates which declares not just once, but twice, that he is the only son of Samuel & Mary Gates, yet records indicate that Daniel had a brother Samuel Gates III.
Let’s put on our investigation hat and look at some facts and questions, and see if you can answer why such a declaration was placed on such public display.
• Fact: Samuel Gates II married Mary Rand on February 14, 1779, according to Stow records. But there exists a family bible that indicates that Samuel II and Mary were married on February 14, 1774. It is suspected that the Stow records miswrote 1774 as 1779, leaving Feb 14, 1774 as the most likely date of marriage.
• Fact: Their first child was named Samuel III, but there is no known record of his birth, only a death record that indicates he was born on Sept 27, 1774. Doing a little math indicates Samuel III was born 7 months 2 weeks after his parent’s marriage, perhaps a marriage of necessity.
• Fact: A second son, Daniel Gates, died Sept 29, 1805 at age 25 (see picture of tombstone wording) making his birth date in 1780, or about 6 years after his parent’s marriage.
• Fact: At the time of the death of Daniel (cause unknown), his parents were still alive but his brother Samuel III had moved to Ashburnham, later to New York (reason unknown).
• Fact: The area in Stow’s lower village cemetery contains a group of 8 tombstones for the Gates family. All are about the same size except for Daniel’s stone, which is almost twice as large as the other 7 stones.
• Question: Did Daniel’s parents support the wording on his tombstone? Did they perhaps write the text on the tombstone? Did they pay for the tombstone? Were they upset at Samuel III leaving the family or some other event and disowned him?
• Question: Was the epitaph just “sour grapes” from a jealous brother who knew that Samuel III was conceived out of wedlock and considered his birth illegitimate?
• Question: Would the church not honor such births in their official records as a way of punishing the parents and perhaps had some influence on the wording on the tombstone?
• Question: Might Samuel III’s father not be the same as Daniel’s father?
So, we know some facts, but many questions arise. Your theory as to why the large tombstone size and its provocative wording will be as good as any others.
I have a cemetery plot at Brookside Cemetery overlooking the activity on Gleasondale Avenue. I need to start considering about what unique wording I’d want on my tombstone when the time comes. Hmmmm. No, not that. Let me think…