Tag Archives: Master of the Curly G

Jane and James McBurney Tombstones, Robinson Run Cemetery

Instantly recognizable as the work of the Master of the Curly G, these two stones have inscriptions beginning simply “the grave of”—a curious family tradition also observed by Elisabeth Moss, who was buried in the same plot and is probably related. Note the awkward and rather embarrassing correction of the name “McBur[n]ey” above.


Master of the Curly G in Union Cemetery

We have already met the Master of the Curly G in Robinson Run Cemetery. Union Cemetery, the burying ground of the adjacent Union Church, is only a few miles away, and we find the same readily identifiable craftsman active here, too. Above, the grave of a Revolutionary War veteran who died in 1807 (spelled “John Nicle” here and “John Nickle” on a modern bronze plaque next to the stone).

This stone is no longer completely legible, but its few distinct features mark it as obviously the work of the same artist. It is interesting to note that (if Father Pitt reads the remains of the inscription correctly) it begins with “Here lies the body of,” like a New England tombstone, rather than the far more usual “In memory of.” Father Pitt’s best effort at a transcription follows; unfortunately, the two data we should most like to have—the surname and the date of death—seem to be irretrievably obscured.

Here lies the body of Matth.
—— who departed this
life ———— in the 27th
year of his age.

Only a small part of the inscription on Mary Morgan’s tombstone is visible above ground, but again it is enough for us to recognize the craftsman instantly.

George and Rachel Dickson Tombstone, Robinson Run Cemetery

in memory of
George Dickson
Who died Dec. the 8th A.D.1817
in the 83d, year of his age.
Also of
Rachel Dickson his wife
Who died May A.D. the 20th
1798 in the 47th year of her age.

These are probably the parents of the Agness Dickson who died in 1799 and is buried next to them. Their stone was cut by the same craftsman who cut Agness’ stone, whom we call the Master of the Curly G. Here, however, he has done much more elaborate work, which may be explained by his having had eighteen years of experience since Agness’ stone. The decorations are something new, and the individual letters seem more neatly made.

This tombstone gives us very good evidence of how our early stonecutters did their work. We can still see the lines scratched into the stone with a straightedge to align the letters. But it is equally plain that the stonecutter did not first trace the letters with chalk or any other impermanent material: he made his lines, and then he just started writing. If it were not so, he would not have been taken by surprise when he came to the end of a line and had no room for the E in “wife.” He would not have left out the day of the month in Rachel’s inscription, then realized his mistake, shrugged, and stuck it in after “A.D.” And this seems to be the almost universal practice of the stonecutters of two centuries ago: they never drew the inscription first before cutting it, but launched straight into cutting the letters, dealing with errors in any clumsy way that occurred to them.

Now, it is quite possible that Agness’ stone was cut at the same time as this one, rather than when she died in 1799. In favor of that proposition we have these arguments:

  1. Both stones were cut by the same craftsman (but, on the other hand, local craftsmen often worked for decades in the same cemetery).
  2. Rachel, who died in 1798, apparently did not have a stone until her husband George died, so it is reasonable to suppose that Agness might not have had one either.

There are enough differences between the work on this stone and the work on Agness’, however, including the decorations and (in Father Pitt’s eyes) much neater individual letters, to suggest that the stonecutter might have been considerably older and more experienced when he cut this stone. Old Pa Pitt regards the matter as worthy of further investigation.

Agness Dickson Tombstone, Robinson Run Cemetery

in memory of
Agnesſ Dickson
Who died feb. the 11th A.D.
1799 in the 21ſt year of her

If this stone was cut when Agness Dickson died in 1799, then it is one of the oldest legible grave markers in the Pittsburgh area. Father Pitt is not sure that it was not put up later, however; it could have been cut at the same time as her parents’ stone in 1817.

Robinson Run Cemetery is a fairly large cemetery near McDonald. It includes a fourteen-acre burying ground that obviously goes back to the 1700s, and many interesting tombstones may be seen there.

The work of this stonecutter is distinctly recognizable, and he has left a few other stones in the same graveyard. His most distinctive quirk is his habit of making a lower-case G like a curly number 3. Following our usual custom, therefore, we shall call him the Master of the Curly G.

On this stone he has made use of the long S twice, and in both cases he gets it wrong. He uses it for the second member of the double S in “Agness,” when it should be the first; and he uses it in the ordinal “21st,” but makes it shorter than the T following (it should be longer, since the long S should have the same dimensions as a lower-case F).

Note the spelling “Agness,” by the way, which seems to have been the usual spelling of that name among the early settlers of western Pennsylvania.

John Reed Tombstone, Oak Spring Cemetery

A tombstone from 1817 remembering a father and daughter. Since they have different surnames, it seems likely that the daughter married; but perhaps her husband had no money for a tombstone, and it was not until her father died (he outlived her by eight years) that she had any memorial.

Old Pa Pitt was not able to read the last part of the inscription, but here is what he could read:

In memory of John Reed Esq. who Departed this life April 14th 1817 in the 73d year of his Age——and Cathrine McLean his daug[hter] who died in the 25th year of her Age 1807 they liv’d in peace with the world in love with their [neighbors?] death…

Note the spelling of “Cathrine.” Reeds were among the very earliest settlers in the Canonsburg area; this is probably a branch of that family.

The stonecutter was the craftsman we identify as the Master of the Curly G, who had a wide-ranging practice: stones of his also show up in Robinson Run Cemetery and Union Cemetery (Robinson Township).