Elizabeth Mortimer Palmer

Elizabeth Mortimer Palmer

1712 – 1776

Elizabeth Palmer is Little Compton’s best known 18th century woman. The unusual inscription on her gravestone, “Elizabeth who should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer,” has sparked speculation for over 200 years, and seems to suggest she never married. Elizabeth did in fact marry Simeon Palmer on September 5, 1755. Elizabeth and Simeon had one child, a daughter they named Lydia after Simeon’s first wife. Elizabeth and Lydia (1719-1754) are buried side by side in the Old Burying Ground on the Commons.

Legend has it that Simeon was eccentric and began demanding that his family eat cat meat, the favorite meat of the town’s minister, Richard Billings. To escape Simeon’s odd behavior, Elizabeth took her daughter and moved back home. Simeon visited every Sunday for dinner and brought Elizabeth his laundry to do.

When she died, Simeon ordered Elizabeth’s gravestone carved in this intentionally insulting way so that everyone passing by would know she had not been a proper wife. Some people say that Simeon is buried in an unmarked grave between his two wives, but no. Simeon married a third time and moved to New York State.

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Outdoor exhibit panel from the 2020 special exhibition, The Little Compton Women’s History Project.
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