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Mystery Stone

In my quest to identify the location of gravestone markers in the Point of Graves, I came across a name that I had not seen in any of my research on the cemetery. There is a small stone located in the Northwest corner of the cemetery next to the stone of Eleanor Shackford, that I think is most likely a foot stone rather than a head stone. After brushing away the winter’s build-up of dust and dirt, a name was boldly revealed… ‘James Stoodly’. Given its small size, I had thought it might be a marker for a child. I am slightly embarrassed that I did not recognize the name immediately and it wasn’t until researching later that I had my ‘duh’ moment.

Taken March 2016 Point of Grave, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Those who are familiar with Portsmouth, New Hampshire history and the American Revolution, probably know about James Stoodly, sometimes spelled Stoodley. James Stoodly owned and operated a tavern in Portsmouth that was used as a gathering place for Revolutionary patriots. It was also the location where auctions of bulk goods and slaves occurred. Stoodley’s Tavern has been restored and is now part of Strawbery Banke Museum.

My research also revealed that [tavern owner] James Stoodly is buried in the North Cemetery on Maplewood Avenue in Portsmouth.  Find a Grave   My first thought was that someone had re-appropriated the foot stone of Mr. Stoodly from the North Cemetery to Point of Graves. The shape of the stone [in the Point of Graves] looks like a miniature version of the head stone. The font style of the inscription looks to be the same as well.

On further research of James Stoodly, I find there to be several over a period of a hundred-plus years during the time Point of Graves burials took place. James Stoodly’s father was James, who died sometime between 1760 when he wrote his will and 1762 when it was proved. James’ brother, Jonathan had a son named James. There is a James Stoodly in the Portsmouth 1800 census. There are ‘James Stoodlys’ (of various spellings) that are not of that family lineage located in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, as well as those emmigrating from England.

So which James Stoodly does this stone belong to?   As very few records exist of Point of Graves burials, it is a mystery that may never be solved.

Photographing Stones

Last weekend’s warmer Spring weather gave me the long anticipated opportunity to visit the Point of Graves to take photos of the stones. I had gotten an LED light stick earlier in the year and was anxious to use it for night photography… hoping to be able to read the stones where the inscriptions were eroded.

I am super excited to report success! The results were better than I could imagine. I got confirmation of the Elizabeth and James Drisco stones. Also, Nathaniel Marshall and several others that were faded and difficult to read in daylight.

It is interesting how nighttime photography shows details one misses during the day. As an Artist, I was taught to turn my project upside down for a different perspective when I ran into problems with design and balance. Our human eye/brain sees what it thinks it should see based on previous experience and often fills or replaces what it doesn’t comprehend in order to made sense of what it is seeing. When you change perspective, flaws or other things generally dismissed become glaringly obvious. Nighttime photography took away all the surrounding clutter and focused only on the stone.

By illuminating the stone with the LED light stick from the side, I was able to clearly see the shadows of the inscriptions. I am told that one can get the same results using a mirror in the daytime. I felt it safer to use a light at night than attempt to transport a huge, breakable mirror.

My camera is a Pentax X-5 digital, set on automatic with no flash. I am not that tech-savy and still haven’t figured out how to really use my camera after all these years. I’m a ‘point and shoot’ kind of person. I do repeated shots of the same subject in an attempt to get an in-focus one, so I’m always surprised by what may show up.

The inscriptions of the stones in the nighttime photos are clearly readable without any manipulation of the photos. I later used Picassa photo editing to lighten the pictures, just to see what would happen. That made the inscriptions stand out even better, I think. Other than an occasional cropping, no other manipulations were done to the photos.

Night Photos 3-26-2016


I will be going back to the cemetery soon to document more stones at night. I am that impressed with the clarity. If you see two dark figures with a light wandering around, don’t be alarmed. It is probably my cemetery buddy husband and me. But then again…