A gravestone carver in the family tree? Who knew!
Joseph Sikes and his son Elijah not only carved headstones in Massachusetts and Maine in the late 18th century but their work is now celebrated as colonial art.
Joseph is also my 4th great-grandfather, the grandfather of Sarah Sikes who around 1840 married John Hickey, an Irish immigrant to Maine. (You’ll hear more about the Hickeys when we visit Montana next month.)
He also managed to serve in the Revolutionary War from December 15, 1776 until March 18, 1777, marching 220 miles to take part in the battle of Princeton. He served again for two days in June 1782, in nearby Northampton to “suppress a mob.”
Curious about these headstones, I have been seeking them out in Chesterfield and Belchertown, Massachusetts and in Scarborough, Walpole and Pemaquid, Maine.
Joseph Sikes was born in Belchertown in 1743. It is believed he learned to carve from other members of the Sikes family in Connecticut. But his work is distinct and his images haunting. He often carved schist, which unfortunately does not stand up well to the ravages of time.
Sikes almost always featured the face of the deceased on the headstone, encircled with ivy vines, rosettes, hearts, stars or moons. Occasionally he would include a winged cherub, a popular symbol at the time.
After arriving in Maine around 1790 his style evolved more. Some of faces he carved had hair that surround the face like a lion’s mane.
Other stones show men and women with shoulder hair that flipped up at the neck.
Virtually all of the faces feature closed eyes that are carved as half circles.
Elijah Sikes' headstones in Massachusetts are perhaps the most creative of all.
Despite his prolific career creating memorial headstones throughout New England, the whereabouts of Joseph Sikes gravesite remains a mystery. He was reported to have died in 1802. His last known residence was Bristol, Maine. If you have any clues to where he is buried, please contact us!
His son Elijah moved to Vermont, where he ran a granite business before relocating to Ohio.
David Diaz, an armchair academic, visited some cemeteries in Connecticut and Massachusetts where he found more headstones by the Sikes.
Here’s more from Brooklyn, Ct.