Category Archives: Oak Spring Cemetery

Oak Spring Cemetery in Canonsburg developed from a churchyard used for burials since about 1875. The “Old Yard” section is one of the largest early-settler burying grounds in the area, with many Revolutionary War veterans’ graves.

Thomas and Jennet McNary Grave, Oak Spring Cemetery

An elevated slab for a Revolutionary War veteran and his wife. The two inscriptions were certainly done by the same craftsman, but from subtle differences in the thicknesses and forms of the letters it looks as though they may have been done at different times, suggesting that Jennet’s was added to Thomas’ already existing stone.

Memory of
Who departed this life on the
9th of July A.D. 1820 in the 76th
year of his age.

Memory of
Consort of
Who departed this life on the
15th of April A.D. 1828 in the 84th
year of her age.

White Family Plot, Oak Spring Cemetery

Oak Spring Cemetery in Canonsburg has a number of slab stones elevated into table-like structures—an arrangement common in some old cemeteries. Obviously the props under these stones are newer than the stones, but they may have replaced older ones that were original. Old Pa Pitt simply doesn’t know whether these slab stones were always elevated or whether graveyard caretakers elevated them later, when they began to vanish under the ground.

to the
Who departed this life
May 12th 1837, In the
82nd year of his

Samuel White, Sr. was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He married a considerably younger woman named Mary:

to the
wife of
JUNE 12th, 1841 in the
76th year of her age.

In the short time between the death of Samuel in 1837 and the death of Mary in 1841, a new fashion in tombstones had swept over Western Pennsylvania. Samuel’s is a simple slab stone of the sort that had been made here since the late 1700s, but Mary’s is in what Father Pitt calls the “poster style,” with each line in a different style of lettering, like an advertising poster of the same era.

Master of the Curlicue I in Canonsburg

Oak Spring Cemetery

In memory of
James R. Sinclair
who departed this life
Jan. the 21, AD 1843.
aged 5 months.

Two early-settler graveyards at opposite ends of Canonsburg have tombstones inscribed by some of the same local craftsmen. One of them, who worked in the 1830s and 1840s, is very easy to identify by three obvious quirks of his style:

  1. He writes almost exclusively in italic letters.
  2. He begins each inscription with a very distinctive capital I with curlicues.
  3. He makes the abbreviation “AD” into a single character, with the right-hand stroke of the A serving as the left-hand stroke of the D.

In addition, if you paid him well enough, he was capable of some fine decorative folk-art reliefs.

The Giffin family, buried in Speer Spring Cemetery, employed him almost exclusively:

In memory of
who departed this life
in the 19 year of his
April 22 AD 1842

In memory of
who departed this life
in the 53d year of his
Aug. 12, AD 1841.

memory of
Samuel Webster Giffin
who departed this life
Sept. 18th, AD 1838, aged
9 months and 25 days

memory of
Consort of Andrew H. Giffin
who departed this life
May the 15th AD 1842, in
the 36th year of her age
— — —

Following his usual method of naming anonymous craftsmen after a distinguishing characteristic of their work, Father Pitt will call this artist the Master of the Curlicue I.

To round out the Giffin family plot, we include one broken tombstone done by a different craftsman:

Memory of
GIFFIN, who—
departed this life,
Febr. 11th, 1836
in the 13th year of
his age.

Andrew M. Russel and Andrew Russel, Sr., Tombstone, Oak Spring Cemetery

A simple rectangular stone is unusual in this era. This stone commemorates two Andrew Russels (note the spelling of the name). The first died in 1808 at six years old. (If a tombstone says “in the xth year of his age,” it usually means the deceased was years old, though technically an x-year-old is in the x+1 year of his age.) The second died in 1814 at 82 years old, so he was probably a great-grandfather of the first.

Father Pitt believes that this stone was put up in 1808, and the inscription for Andrew Russel, Sr., added in 1814. His evidence is, first, the word “Also,” and second, a demonstrable difference in the styles of lettering between the two inscriptions. The second is well matched to the first, but probably by a different hand, one that made thinner letters—or possibly by the same stonecutter after six more years of practice.

who died
Feb,y 27th 1808;
in the 6th year of his age.

June 20th 1814;
in the 82nd year of
his age.

Margaret Templeton Tombstone, Oak Spring Cemetery

Somehow the stonecutter managed to run out of room twice while cutting the name “Templeton” into this stone for a young wife who died at the age of twenty-eight. (“Consort” simply means “wife”; it was strongly believed among rural folk in the early nineteenth century that “consort” was a much more elegant word.) This Gothic style of tombstone became popular at about this time; there are several examples in the cemetery.

David and Ann Reed Tombstones, Oak Spring Cemetery

David Reed was one of the early settlers in the Canonsburg area, according to the cemetery’s Web site; we know that he was here by at least 1779. He hosted George Washington at his house, which was awfully considerate of him, considering that Washington had come to take his house away. George was a big-time real-estate speculator, and he had claimed huge tracts of land in what was, to him, Augusta County, Virginia. (The area south of the Ohio River was still fitfully disputed between Virginia and Pennsylvania until after 1800.) The Reeds and many other settlers had moved here on the strength of other claims to the same land, and politely told Washington they would await the decision of the court. Courts ultimately ruled in favor of Washington, but the settlers moved only a short distance, close enough to walk to their little log church and be buried in its churchyard.

Ann’s tombstone is well preserved; David’s is damaged, but enough of the inscription remains to tell us that he died in December of 1829, fifty years after his first appearance in the records as an elder of the church.