Written in Stone: Meet the Carvers – Noah Pratt, Jr.

Noah Pratt, Jr. was a third generation carver from Massachusetts. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father along with two of his brothers and then passed the craft down to one of his sons.  This generation of carvers was part of the shift from winged skulls and/or faces to other styles that happened in the late 1700’s. They were among the first to use realistic faces and figures.

Originally pioneered in the mid 1700’s by John New, the Pratt family soon took up this unique style. It is believed that Noah Pratt, Sr. may have been an apprentice of John New, they may have even carved some stones together. Nathaniel Pratt (Noah Pratt, Jr.’s grandfather) was believed to be more of a middle man for his son Noah, Sr. only carving a handful of stones. Early Pratt headstones found in the Abington, MA area were carved on dark, red slate. They had chamfered edges, wide finials and high tympanums.  They stood out due to their large size and unusual color. Although most of these stones are found in Abington, some may be found as far away as Boston, MA or Portland, ME.

Noah Jr. was born in Abington, MA on July 20, 1758.  He married in 1780 and, together with a cousin, bought 50 acres in North Yarmouth, ME. In 1784 he bought more land and in 1785 signed a petition for a road near his residence; Pleasant Hill Road in Freeport. Noah Jr. served in the Militia of North Yarmouth. In 1789 North Yarmouth became Freeport. When his brother, Robert, died in 1791, Noah returned to Abington to take over the family’s gravestone business. He sold his property to his cousin.

Over 40 gravestones are attributed to Noah Jr. in the Freeport, ME and Brunswick, ME areas. They are carved on a poor grade of black or gray slate and have eroded over the years. All of these stones have a symmetrical halo of leaves that surround the head in the tympanum. The heads that he carved are in three styles

  • A male head, facing forward, sitting on a narrow neck with hair in a wig-like style
  • A head, facing forward, sitting on a narrow neck with a hood similar to those used to cover the hair of woman and children
  • A male head, in profile, showing his shoulders

All of the Pratt stones have eyes that curve upwards. The side borders have fat foliage that may extend into the finial. A six-point star may also be found in the finial or at the top center of the halo of some stones. The inscription is found in a rectangle frame beneath the tympanum and bears the following specific styles: an uppercase “P” is often used instead of lower case; the long “s” resembling an “f” is used; a lower case “g” with large, flattened loops is used; and the lower case “m” is used on “Mr.” Almost all of the inscriptions start “In memory of…”, with only two stating, “Her lyes…”. The phrase “he died” is used instead of “who died”. Noah Jr. is also known for making 3, 5, 6 and * as tall as the upper case and dropping 4, 7, and 9 below the baseline.

As realistic faces and figures overtook the classic winged skulls and cherubs, the Pratt family’s style continued until the newer themes of neoclassical urns and weeping willow trees became the new norm.

The Pratt family carvers are as follows:

  • Nathaniel Pratt (1702-1779)
  • Noah Sr. (1731-1781) Nathaniel’s son
  • Robert (1753-1791) Noah Sr.’s son
  • Noah Jr. (1758-1825) Noah Sr.’s son
  • Seth (1762-1838) Noah Sr.’s son
  • Cyrus (1783-1846) Noah Jr.’s son

Information found at:

  • http://archive.org/stream/markers14asso#page/138/mode/2up
  • http://www.capecodgravestones.com/carvers/pratt.html

 

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