Last Remember Me Lecture – September 6

Two Historic Cemetery Programs in Little Compton this Week

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Final Lecture in the “Remember Me” Speakers’ Series

This Thursday, September 6, Marjory O’Toole, “Remember Me” Project Director and Executive Director of the Little Compton Historical Society, will present “Lessons Learned from Little Compton’s 46 Historic Cemeteries” at the Little Compton Community Center at 7 pm. The talk will focus on the new information discovered after a year of research and restoration in the community’s historic cemeteries. Ms. O’Toole will touch on issues of cemetery ownership, the Town’s Negro Burying Ground, recent and continuing restoration efforts, and the recent discovery of numerous unmarked graves using Ground Penetrating Radar.  The Little Compton Historical Society is presenting the lecture as the last in their “Remember Me” speaker’s series. It is free and open to the public thanks to a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.  No registration is required.

Gravestone Cleaning Workshop

Then on Saturday, September 8, Ms. O’Toole and other Historical Society volunteers will host the next gravestone cleaning workshop in the Old Burying Ground on the Commons from 9 to Noon. The “Remember Me” project’s goal is to recruit 100 volunteers who will each attend a workshop to learn safe gravestone cleaning techniques approved by the American Association for Gravestone Studies and then pledge to clean 10 gravestones this year. If successful the result will be 1000 clean gravestones. To date 90 volunteers have attended or registered for a workshop and the Historical Society estimates that these volunteers have cleaned 500 local gravestones to date. Volunteers age 14 and up are welcome and are asked to register for the Saturday workshop by visiting or calling the Historical Society at 401-635-4035. Additional cleaning workshops will be scheduled this fall, including one in the Adamsville Cemetery. Gravestone cleaning is important to prevent lichens from slowly breaking down the stone and to enable visitors to read the inscriptions on the memorials.

The “Remember Me” project has been generously supported by The Rhode Island Foundation, The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, The Ocean State Charities Trust and members of the local community. A Town-wide Cemetery Tour is scheduled for Saturday, September 22 to explore and celebrate the town’s 46 historic cemeteries, a number of which are not normally open to the public. For tickets please contact the Historical Society.

Elizabeth Cazden Speaks August 21

Elizabeth Cazden Quaker Historian visits the LC Quaker Burying GroundThe REMEMBER ME lecture Series Continues August 21 at Friends Meeting House with Elizabeth Cazden

Rhode Island’s Quakers and their Burial Practices
Tuesday, August 21
6 PM
Little Compton Friends Meeting House – 234 West Main Road Rd
Free & Open to the Public.

(Note start time and location – as they differ from the other lectures in the series.)

Elizabeth Cazden, an independent scholar who is expert in Rhode Island Quaker history, will speak on “Rhode Island’s Quakers and their Burial Practices” at the Little Compton Friends Meeting House on Tuesday, August 21 at 6 PM. Ms. Cazden will focus on how Little Compton’s Friends fit into the regional Quaker community and will explore regional Quaker burial practices. Recently, ground penetrating radar discovered multiple rows of unmarked graves to the east of Little Compton’s Quaker burial ground. The talk is hosted by the Little Compton Historical Society as part of their larger “Remember Me” project celebrating Little Compton’s 46 Historic Cemeteries.

This talk and the others in the series are free and open to the public and are made possible by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. No registration is required.

The final talk in the series will take place in September:

Remember Me – Little Compton’s 46 Historic Cemeteries
Thursday, September 6 –7 PM
Marjory O’Toole, Executive Director, Little Compton Historical Society

Remember Me – Little Compton’s 46 Historic Cemeteries



Gravestone Cleaning Workshops –                                                                                         Register Here:

Town-wide Cemetery Tour, Saturday, September 22, 11 am to 4 pm, Tickets $15   Buy Tickets Here:

New Cemetery Guidebook Goes On Sale Now at Wilbor House, Wilbur’s Store, Earle’s Gas Station, Partner’s Village Store, and Gray’s Daily Grind

Call 401-635-4035 with questions or to register by phone.

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Remember Me

Little Compton’s 45 Historic Cemeteries
Local History Lecture by Marjory O’Toole
7 PM – March 19   – LC Community Center
FREE & Open to the Public 

The Old Burying Ground

The 45 minute lecture will be followed by a brief project planning meeting for those interested in being cemetery volunteers.

The Little Compton Historical Society invites the public to enjoy a presentation on Little Compton’s 45 historic cemeteries given by Executive Director, Marjory O’Toole on Monday, March 19 at 7:00 pm at the Little Compton Community Center.

Ms. O’Toole will explain why Little Compton has so many cemeteries and how they’ve been lost, found, and altered through the years. She’ll also discuss some of Little Compton’s unique gravestones as well as recent evidence identifying the location of the town’s “Negro Burying Ground” and the presence of numerous unmarked graves in the Old Burying Ground on the Commons recently discovered by ground penetrating radar. The talk is free and open to the public and is the first of many events planned for 2018 to explore, restore and preserve Little Compton’s historic burying grounds.

Following the 45-minute lecture and slide show, Ms. O’Toole will invite interested audience members to stay to hear more about the Historical Society’s “Remember Me” project, a major community effort to research, clean, and repair historic cemeteries throughout Little Compton. Over 100 volunteers are needed this summer to clean 1000 gravestones. The Society also hopes to recruit 45 volunteers willing to monitor cemeteries in the future and to complete annual condition reports.

Community members are also asked to share their stories, documents, and photographs regarding local cemeteries with Ms. O’Toole no later than mid-April in time for their use in the special exhibition and cemetery guidebook the Society will launch this July. Loans or donations of objects related to death and remembrance including mourning clothing, decorations made from human hair, memorial embroideries, and even displaced gravestones are needed for this summer’s special exhibition. Anyone with these or similar objects is asked to contact the Historical Society at 401-635-4035 or

Photo: The Old Burying Ground on the Commons, by Bart Brownell.

Teaching RI’s Black History

Dear Teachers,

We’ve made, and will continue to update, a public folder of resources that you can use in your classroom to teach your students about the history of slavery, indenture and freedom in Rhode Island.

Here is the link:

On February 10, 2018, our Executive Director Marjory O’Toole will be leading a workshop discussing ways to use her book “If Jane Should Want to be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, RI” in your classroom.  Marjory is just one of a dozen excellent presenters featured in the “Next Steps: A Place-Based Approach to Teaching African American History in Rhode Island” conference at Rhode Island College. Tickets are only $10.  Use this link to learn more.

This young girl is Moselle Gray. Enslaved in North Carolina as an infant by Arnold Gray formerly of Little Compton, Moselle was inherited by her master’s brother who granted her freedom and brought her to live in Little Compton with his family. Moselle’s life was not easy in Rhode Island, but today a large, diverse, and very vibrant Newport family honor her as their matriarch.    

Moselle, c. 1866. Gray Family Album 2007.2585

Witches Marks at the Wilbor House?

It’s Halloween.

I’m sitting in the 325 year old Wilbor House Museum by myself, listening to the wind howl, and staring at 13 Witches Marks.


They are on the door directly in front of me, one of the doors that leads from my c. 1970 office space to the historic part of the house. There are more marks inside.


Witches Marks or apotropaic (derived from the Greek word for “averting evil”) marks are good luck signs carved into buildings. They remind me very much of Amish “Hex Signs.”


For more on Witches Marks see this fascinating article from England by Kirsten Amor which prompted me to write my own story today:

In her article Amor writes that 17th-century English property owners inscribed a variety of Witches Marks on doorways and near hearths to prevent witches from creeping into their homes to lurk, unseen in the shadows behind doors and in dark corners, waiting to cause mischief or damage property. Some marks were placed near a family’s (or business’) valuables to ensure their safekeeping. The marks were often tangled together in order to tangle up the witches and better prevent them from entering the home.


Historian Joanne Pope Melish pointed the marks out to me as superstitious symbols a year ago when she first toured the Wilbor House. There are quite a few. Aside from the 13 or so on the green door, there are about a dozen more over the doorway and hearth of our c. 1740 Long Kitchen. I had seen the marks many times before Professor Melish’s tour, but I thought they were something different. Much less Halloweeny.


While our former Executive Director Carlton Brownell was training me, over a decade ago, he explained that the boards with the drawings were taken from a workshop in Westport and the tradesmen had doodled them into the wood. I don’t often contradict Carlton, sadly now deceased, but for the sake of Halloween let’s put his practical explanation aside for a bit and focus on superstition instead.


In 1955-1957 when Carlton restored the Wilbor House its Long Kitchen was in particularly bad shape, and he used a great deal of wood from the Waite-Potter House of Westport, Massachusetts which was destroyed by a hurricane (Carol?) shortly before the Wilbor House restoration. See the Waite Potter House below in a photograph owned by the Westport Historical Society.

Waite Potter House

For more on the Waite-Potter House please see the Westport Historical Society’s on-line collection and an archaeological report (by Little Compton’s very own Kate Johnson):

Note the “Potter” brand (weirdly upside down) in a board with many circular marks now positioned over one of our doors. Carlton may very well be correct that the Waite Potter House was used as a workshop sometime in its 250 year history, but before it was a workshop it was a house, originally dated 1677 and now, based on Kate Johnson’s work, more likely to be very-early-18th century. We must decide for ourselves whether it was 18th-century colonists or 19th-century workmen who made the marks.

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Today, on Halloween, I vote for early-18th-century Witches Marks. The tangled designs are so like those in Amor’s article that I find myself convinced. I also wonder why practicing workmen or apprentices would make designs on permanent walls rather than on scrap wood or even paper. More significantly, why would workmen tangle and overlap their designs in confusing ways? It doesn’t make sense. The tangled circles (shown below with a pencil rubbing of the green door) are perfect for trapping witches. They are pretty terrible for showing the skill of a craftsman.


At least some of Little Compton’s first European settlers were superstitious. Several owners of local historic homes have recently shared the “concealment items” (usually worn shoes) hidden behind their fireplaces by early residents to keep evil spirits out. Why not Witches Marks, too?

There’s one more bit of evidence that I was very happy to discover today. While 90% of our Witches Marks appear on boards most likely brought from the Waite Potter House, I found two very small, very simple marks on a huge beam over the hearth in our c.1690 Great Room. I am certain the beam is original to the house. I am less certain about the significance of the marks, but for the sake of Halloween, let’s just go with it. Perhaps our  good Quakers Samuel and Mary (Potter) Wilbor, like the early Potter’s of Old Dartmouth (was Mary related?) may also have thought it wise to protect their family from stealthy spirits and cowering witches with these symbolic marks.


No spirits bothered me today.

I have a deal with them that they leave me in peace, and I will do the same for them. But I did find this broom in the Long Kitchen behind the door – maybe waiting for a visit tonight.  It’s getting dark.  I’m going home.


Happy Halloween from the Little Compton Historical Society and the Wilbor House Museum.

If you have apotropaic marks in your historic home please post them in the comments here, on our facebook page or email me at  I’d like to learn more.

Marjory O’Toole –  Managing Director