Breast-shaped gourds, and other early American gravestone motifs
I was so busy staring at the inscription on the Jane Dummer/Henry Sewall stone that I recently posted about, I completely forgot to consider the carved imagery that surrounds it. You can see in the photo below that there are pairs of breast-shaped gourds in amongst the foliage – they really are more breast than gourd, I’d say:
Ulrich writes: “Joseph Green, minister at Salem Village, died young, his ‘breasts full of milk.’ Because breasts signified the milk of the Gospel, breastlike gourds might appear on the gravestones of either men or women.”*
The expression “his breasts full of milk” is, I gather from a bit of Google searching, taken from a version of Job 21:24 that’s no longer widely used. It describes a healthy man in his prime; the current wording is “his loins are full of vigour”.
There’s a lot of good stuff online about Colonial gravestone imagery. I would urge anyone with even a slight interest in the topic to visit the Farber Gravestone Collection – it’s fascinating. I’ve selected a few examples of the breast-shaped gourds and other motifs – most relating to women and children – below (click to enlarge them and read more); and that site has hundreds more, organized by motif, date, location, even name of carver. The “Destruction: Tree Eats Gravestone” section is worth a look, too.