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John New, Stonecutter

Gravestone cutting tools

We have gravestone expert Vincent Luti to thank for the biographical background of John New. Born on July 8, 1722 in Wrentham, New became one of the most inventive and unique stonecutters of eighteenth-century Massachusetts. He married Marcy Adams in Wrentham in 1742 and throughout his life he supported his family with various occupations such as laborer, yeoman, and stonecutter.


He apparently began carving gravestones as a young man around 1745 but completed few between that date and 1752, but from 1753 and 1755, he carved a large number of stones. In 1757, he was declared non compos mentis by a judge and a guardian was appointed to oversee New’s affairs. For the next few years, he had little work – sometimes he did little more than odd jobs or running errands – but he suddenly reappears as a stonecutter around 1758-1760. As Luti puts it, during those years New completed an “astonishing and large body of exuberant, sometimes very ornate” carvings. His work took on greater complexity and an innovative and inventive style emerged. By 1770 records of a guardian disappeared and New seems to go about his business as a stone carver. In the 1790s, he began a slow decline due to illness and, once again, poverty; he became a ward of the town of Attleboro around 1797. John New died in 1811 at the age of 89.


In Old Parish Cemetery, there are five gravestones identified by scholars as being the work of John New. Each one is unique; three have face effigies, one is a sunrise, the last is a stylized acanthus design.


John Morse (1703-1750)                                             lot 181

The son of Ezra Morse (1671-1760) and Mary Lovett Morse (1679-1746), John Morse was born on November 10, 1703. On April 26, 1727 he married Mary Guild, the daughter of Nathaniel and Mehitable Hartshorn Guild. John and Mary had ten children. John Morse likely worked with his father at the mill at the southern end of South Dedham. He died on November 22, 1750.


His gravestone, badly worn and damaged – a repair was made to one of the shoulders by OPPV volunteers – contains a rather strange, almost otherworldly winged face on its tympanum.

John Morse tympanum


Nathaniel Lewis (1691-1752)                                       lot 163

Born in Dedham on May 25, 1697, Nathaniel Lewis was the son of Barachiah Lewis and Judith Whiting Lewis. He was one of nine children. On January 16, 1728, Nathaniel married Miriam Draper, also of Dedham. Nathaniel and Miriam had six children: Merriam, Nathaniel Jr., Rebecca, Timothy, Mehitable, and a second Merriam (born two years after their first daughter died).

Owners of a small farm, the Lewis family remained in the South Parish of Dedham until their deaths. Nathaniel Lewis died on May 13, 1752 “of ye small pox,” a disease that was endemic to the area during the 18th century.


The stone completed for Nathaniel Lewis by John New has an oddly shaped face/figure on its tympanum. An example of New’s unusual, inventive design-work, it reminds one of a winged “man in the moon.”


Nathaniel Lewis tympanum


Abigail Ellis (1696-1763)                                            lot 153

Abigail Ellis, wife of William Ellis, was born in Gloucester on November 2, 1696. She married William Ellis of Dedham on October 27, 1720. The couple had ten children born between 1721 and 1738. Abigail died on August 14, 1763. She was 67 years old.

Her gravestone depicts a rising sun motif, the symbol of resurrection. The eyes of the sun just breaking the horizon, are surrounded by ornate rays exploding into varied shapes and swirls carved into concentric semi-circles on the stone’s tympanum. The work is a prime example of New’s originality. There are no other comparable carvings in the graveyard.


Abigail Ellis tympanum

William Ellis (1694-1778)                                           lot 152

The husband of Abigail Ellis (above), William Ellis was born on June 17, 1694. He married Abigail Millett on October 27, 1720 in Dedham. He survived his wife by fifteen years and died on June 9, 1778.


His gravestone is perhaps the most handsome of New’s work in Old Parish. Here, New has carved an elaborate foliate design of acanthus leaves, an example of his innovative stylized carving.

William Ellis tympanum


Richard Ellis (1764-1766)                                           lot 232

This child, Richard Ellis, is the grandson of William and Abigail Ellis above. William and Abigail’s son, William Ellis and his wife, Olive Fairbanks Ellis were the parents of eleven children. Three of these children were named Richard. The first Richard Ellis was William and Olive’s first child. He was born on October 15, 1764 and died on April 14, 1766. His gravestone reads:


In memory of

Richard Ellis son

of Mr. William Ellis

& Mrs. Olive his wife,

 Died April ye

14th, 1766 in

ye 2d year

 of his age.


Badly damaged, the stone features a small, odd, bald winged face with New’s distinctive V-shaped collar.


Richard Ellis tympanum

 It is not known whether John New completed these carvings contemporaneously with the deaths of these individuals or at a later date, which was common. They are, however, excellent examples of the work of one very talented, yet often troubled, artisan.



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