Monday, June 03, 2013

Epigraph to a Grave in Concord, Massachusetts

God wills us free; man wills us slaves.
I will as God wills; God's will be done.

Here lies the body of
a native of Africa who died
March 1773, aged about 60 years.

Tho' born in a land of slavery,
He was born free.
Tho' he lived in a land of liberty,
He lived a slave.
Till by his honest, tho' stolen labors,
He acquired the source of slavery,
Which gave him his freedom;
Tho' not long before
Death, the grand tyrant
Gave him his final emancipation,
And set him on a footing with kings.
Tho' a slave to vice,
He practised those virtues
Without which kings are but slaves.
The epigraph above is on a Concord gravestone.  Historian Michael Kammen (my graduate school advisor), notes in his 1972 book People of Paradox that "[i]n the nineteenth century this became the most famous epitaph in America, and was reprinted in English, French, German and Scandinavian newspapers." (p. 193)

The current gravestone is a facsimile of the original; the present copy was erected in 1830.  Here's the picture of the grave from Alfred Sereno Hudson's 1904 book The History of Concord, Massachusetts, Volume 1: Colonial Concord:

And here's the best contemporary picture I could find of the gravestone:
Image source here (click the above photo for a larger, almost-legible version).  Alternate images here, here, here, here and here.

There is a 1902 essay about John Jack, and about Daniel Bliss (the loyalist lawyer who wrote Jack's epigraph) here, online as a free google book.  The grave is on find a grave hereH/T to Jonathan Holloway for putting me on this trail.


PT said...

You have posted a link to my photo of this headstone going to this URL...

Could you please change that link to be so that my Flickr account is accessible and my other photos available for browsing?

Thank you,

Stephen said...