Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What would you like on your tombstone?

When Victoria commented recently about tombstones her family discovered near Bruton Parish in Colonial Williamsburg, she reminded me of some photos I took in the spring of 2009 that have been languishing on my hard drive. There are many interesting tombstones in the graveyard surrounding Bruton Parish, but I'd like to recognize just one in this post.

Judge Nathaniel Beverley Tucker is buried with his wife beneath a prominent granite obelisk just outside the west entrance to Bruton Parish. The east face of the stone is shown above, containing the details of their births and deaths, including the names of their parents. Most people today might recognize him best as a son of St. George Tucker, although Nathaniel's accomplishments are also impressive.
In case you have trouble reading the epitaph in this image of the south face of the monument, the inscription reads:
Descended from Virginia's best blood
Judge Tucker
Was by birth, and training, a gentleman of the old school. He filled with credit, and distinction positions of trust and dignity. Was Judge of the U.S. Court in the Territory of Missouri, and after his return to his native State was the Professor of Law in the College of William and Mary till his death. His influence in developing the minds and character of his pupils was a prominent trait in his character. He was a ready, accurate, and elegant writer. He was hospitable, benevolent, and charitable, And his honour and integrity were without a stain. This eminent scholar and author, upright Judge, learned jurist, constant friend, affectionate Husband and Father, died as he lived a Sage, a Patriot, and a Christian.
Wow. That sounds pretty impressive.

Even though Mr. Tucker's epitaph is impressive, I think I prefer the epitaph on the north face of the stone, which describes his wife, Lucy Ann. Her text reads:

Mrs. Tucker
Was admired, respected, and beloved. She lived an ornament of the society in which she moved. The kind neighbor, and friend, the charm of her household, the faithful wife, the devoted mother, the pure christian. In her life and character were happily blended gentleness and firmness, affability and dignity. She died lamented, as living she was beloved, by all classes of the community.

In both cases, few of us live up to the descriptions carved on this stone, but if I perceive Judge and Mrs. Tucker correctly, I think they may have doubted whether they actually lived up to these words as well.

Finally, I'm sorry that I don't remember what's written on the west face of the monument.


  1. Those are indeed beautiful epitaphs. I would be so honored to have even a fractions of the things said about Mrs. Tucker said about me. What a wonderful and inspiring couple they must have been.

    As for my epitaph.. I think I'd like something simple like She loved her God and she loved her children. Not poetic, but it expresses my priorities♥ Of course, by the time my epitaph is written, I'll be in a place far, far away with much more thrilling things to do than worry about what was carved on my headstone;-)

  2. Ok, wow, that's amazing....

    Sure does make me wonder what they'll put on mine... but then, I guess in the whole order of things, it matters more what God would put on it than what those who come after me would put on it....

  3. I don't know that I want a tombstone. However, if I had one, I'd probably want it to say something such as:

    "Rejoicing with Jesus:

    For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

    I hope that the people I knew closely will remember me fondly when I die, and I'd prefer that my reputation with strangers would be far better than what it has been. Yet, more importantly, I want my death to point people, especially my unsaved family members, to Jesus.

    I'm not opposed to Christians having tombstones, but in my case, I'd like my family to remember that I am alive in Jesus instead of coming to mourn a plot of grass. And, if I have a stone, John 3:16 is the perfect verse. It's something that most heathens in our culture already recognize, but it's profound enough, especially within a place of mourning, to still spur people to stop and consider their own spiritual estate.

  4. I wish I had seen that tombstone when we were there. What wonderful tributes to the judge and his wife. I suppose it must have been written by their children, and that would make those sentiments all the more impressive.
    Thanks for sharing this. I'll have to look a little harder at those tombstones the next time we're there.


  5. Diane -- I think your minimalist approach is effective, and cheaper too when you're paying a monument company by the letter! I agree that it really won't mean a thing to the person that died, but I have a hard time not wanting to make a good impression -- even after I'm dead!

    Emil -- You could choose what is on your tombstone and have it cut before you die. Write your own epitaph that way.

    Jeremy -- Good verse. You do seem like the sort that would try to cause someone to think, even after death. Although I wouldn't put it past you to instead order something like, "Don't look now, but I think someone's behind you!"

    Victoria -- thanks for being the inspiration behind this post!

  6. Ok... scratch out my previous comment... :-)

    Cliche-ishness aside even, my comment committed a logical fallacy, in that whatever people will put on my tombstone is what God would have put on my tombstone. (at least I believe that would be called a logical fallacy)

    I think I'd prefer allowing someone other than myself to write it though. :-)