Tombstone Tuesday: Deacon Thomas Norton (1673-1744)

Thomas Norton headstone featuring soul effigy carving

I just love this headstone. Not only is it beautifully carved, but it is inscribed with a fabulous tribute which gives us an insight into the character of the man who rests beneath it. The inscription reads (with updated spellings):

Here lyes Buried ye Body of
Deacon THOMAS NORTON
Who departed this Life
July ye 13th Anno Domini 1744
in ye 71st Year of His Age

Soundness of Judgment, Steadiness of Mind
Plainness of Heart, Friendship to Humane Kind,
Courtesy, Patience, Humility,
A Strict, but unaffected Piety,
Zeal for the Public Good, the Church’s Peace ,
And beauteous Order did whilst living grace
The worthy Gentleman whose dear Remains
This Sepulchre in Darkness now Contains.

The intricacy and care taken in carving this headstone gives testimony not only to the warm affection that the Deacon Thomas held in the community, but implies a degree of wealth. Fancy carvings such as this would have taken a good deal of labor. And such was the case: Thomas Norton was not only a ruling elder of the church, but a prosperous Ipswich tanner, as well.

The headstone features a lovely soul effigy or winged cherub below a graceful arch. The arch symbolizes a triumphant entry into Heaven or victory over death. The cherub-soul effigy symbolizes man’s immortal side and was the most popular motif of that era. The flowers above and below the cherub symbolize both the beauty and brevity of life. Carved in the top, corner circles above the inscription are oak leaves, which symbolize faith, virtue and endurance. The ivy vine represents undying affection. The lilies on the back side of the stone (below) are symbols of purity.

Thomas Norton headstone with lily engravings

Thomas was born Nov. 10, 1673, the son of Capt. George Norton and Sarah Hart Norton, in the coastal town of Ipswich, MA. He was a 2nd generation “American,” grandson of George Norton of Herefordshire, England. George Norton sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony aboard the ship Talbot, part of the Winthrop Fleet, in April 1629. Thomas was the 3rd of seven children raised by the Captain and Sarah Norton (their 6th born survived only a few weeks after birth).

In November 1700, Thomas was married to Mercy Rust, daughter of his business partner, Nathaniel Rust. Thomas is mentioned often in the book, Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Below is one excerpt:

Thomas Norton - IpswichThomas Norton’s grandson, John Norton, for whom I’ve developed a particular fondness, was a Revolutionary War soldier who served many years for our nation’s independence. His story is forthcoming!

Thomas Norton is my 8th great-grandfather; 6th great-grandfather of my grandmother, Delia Feister Irvine.

Old North Burying Ground or Highland Cemetery. High Street, Ipswich, Essex Co, MA.

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