Carved in Stone

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From the first moment I laid eyes on Jacob and Mary Snader’s tombstones at Pipe Creek Church of the Brethren Cemetery in Carroll County, Maryland I have been intrigued by their stoic beauty. I was filled with curiosity about the identity of the craftsman, the artist who rendered these monuments: Who was he? And how did my ancestors come to find him?

I’m familiar with New England tombstone craftsmanship: skulls, skulls with wings, skulls with wings and big noses and crowns. Entire studies have been done on gravestone craftsmen to identify them, their symbols and trademarks, their craft. My Connecticut ancestors have some very interesting tombstone art as do most of the other tombstones in their cemeteries.

While New England gravestone carvers have risen to the level of celebrity status in genealogical circles and cemetery studies, tombstone craftsmen in Maryland have remained more or less anonymous, to my great disappointment. That is, until I stumbled on Mary Ann Ashcraft’s research studies on African American gravestone carver Sebastian Hammond. And some of my questions were finally answered.

I never imagined as I stood in Pipe Creek Cemetery admiring Jacob and Mary Snader’s tombstones that they had been carved by an illiterate African American who used the proceeds from his craft to purchase not only his own freedom but also his wife and children. And he crafted these stones from start to finish by quarrying, hauling, cutting, shaping, designing and carving the local greenstone himself, chiseled so deeply that the lettering appears as fresh today as it did over a hundred and sixty years ago.

Not all of my questions have been answered. I still have not discovered why Jacob and Mary Snader’s family chose Sebastian Hammond to craft their tombstones and what, if any, connection existed between them. Regardless of the answers that elude me, I feel a personal connection to Sebastian Hammond and am grateful to him and thankful for his legacy, not only for the memorials he crafted for my ancestors but also for the simple, ageless beauty of his handiwork. These stones bear witness to a remarkable man with an unforgettable story and an exceptional talent…sacred to his memory.

I’m also very grateful to Mary Ann Ashcraft for bringing Sebastian Hammond out of the shadows. Learn more about his story:

Mary Ann Ashcraft, “Carving a Path to Freedom: The Life and Work of African American Stonecarver Sebastian ‘Boss’ Hammond” in Markings XXI, 2004,pp 12-39. Available on-line at https://archive.org/details/markers21asso

Mary Ann Ashcraft, “Sacred to the Memory: The Sonecarving of Sebastian Hammond”, in Catoctin History, Spring 2003, pp 20-27.

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About Cindy Jones Nicewarner

I’m on a personal mission to locate my kin, dead or alive—Whatever it takes, wherever it leads, I keep digging until I surface with those hidden golden genealogical gems. I get a thrill from busting through brick walls and mining mysteries. I live for this. Well that and documenting my sources, and keeping meticulous notes, and filing all of my discoveries. This is my thrilling exciting life of a professional genealogist--assembling clues in the never ending quest to discover the deeper profound meaning of our family relationships across the generations.
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