John Wolcott Phelps Visits Meeting House Hill


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My Father's Sepulchre.

By a Cadet.


"Here lies the body of Capt. Joseph Williams,
formerly an eminent merchant in the
Town of Norwich in the State of Connecticut.
He departed this life
the 19th day of January, 1776,
in the fifty-third year of his age.
He was remarkable for his piety, and a
professor of Jesus Christ."


The above is an epitaph upon the tomb-stone of one of my great Grandfathers. The stone itself is a warped slab of schist. Art has done but a very little for it;---however, for the time and place in which it was erected, I suppose it was considered a very costly monument. He was the father of my grand-mother, on my father's side.


If future generations of my relations should wish to visit it, they will find it upon a by-way leading from the southwest into the main road between Newfane and the east village of Brattleboro, and about three miles from the latter place. It is upon a hill, and catches the last gleams of every cloudless sun.


It is in a retired, though not a solitary place; now and then the voice of some one may be heard in the distance. No sighing water-fall is there; but the unmolested birds render it pleasant by their music. No grove or tree is there to moan in the passing breeze; but a long grass grows up and protects the chirping grasshopper, which ever and anon breaks forth when the music of the birds is hushed, to cheer the monotony of a warm summer's day.


Little did I think, a few years ago, that I should ever be led to the tomb of one of my kindred forefathers. What associations then were connected with it! Methought, while transcribing his epitaph upon my handkerchief, that I was transported back to former times, when the region in which he sleeps, was nothing but an unbroken wilderness.


I could see him, giant-like, roaming in its wilds, and facing the dangers of wild beasts and savages. I could see him plodding his uncertain way, whilst the trees were groaning under the violence of the hurricane, and caverns were yawning to receive him into their dark and raging waters. I could see his log hut rising alone in the wild, when visitors there were none save the denizens of the forest.


The gnarled oak, the lofty pine and hemlock, and the rugged beech and maple, fell before his stalwart arm. A few fellow beings in time followed his example; neighbors, tho' distant, settled around him. In the winter of his age, he had scarcely broached the fruits of his long and arduous toil, when he died.


A procession of friends wound round those high hills that were then about me, and deposited where I sat, his mortal remains. Little did he dream that sixty years would create the change it has; or even that a great grand-child of his should visit his grave and gaze upon it with mingled feelings of reverence and affection. But such has been the case; and while I live, the stone alone shall not be the memento of his worth.


West Point, Aug. 30, 1834.


Vermont Phoenix, September 11, 1835.


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Standing in the Meeting House Hill cemetery at age twenty, Cadet John Wolcott Phelps perhaps thought about Captain Williams' five sons serving in the Revolutionary War---John, Frederick, Joseph, Benjamin, Isaac.


Cadet Phelps did not record his grandfather's inscription at all accurately. Somewhere between West Point and the Defense of New Orleans, Gen. John Wolcott Phelps learned the worth of accurate reporting.


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Here lies the Body of
Captain Joseph Williams
formerly an Eminent Mer
chant in the Town of Nor
wich in the State of Connecticut
he Departed this Life the
19th Day of January 1776
in the 53d Year of
his Age


He was remarkable for his Piety
and a professor of Jesus Christ


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The two-line epitaph is cut in italics. The slate stone is ornamented with a traditional soul face, an encircling vine, and checkerboard, or denticulated, borders. The footstone is inscribed with a three-bladed pinwheel, symbolic of continual movement, or eternal life, and the inscription is quite detailed---


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Captain Joseph
Williams died
January 19th
1776 AEtat 53


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