Harnett Grave Stones


The full inscription reads:

April 20, 1781
Aged 58 Years

Slave to no sect, he took no private road —
But looked through nature up
to nature’s God


In the composite image above, on the left, are the headstone and footstone grave markers for Cornelius Harnett.  These markers are located behind and on the grounds of St. James Church in Wilmington, N. C.  In the background, behind the fence, is 4th Street, near its intersection with Market Street.  On the other side of 4th Street the Temple of Israel can be seen.  Today, St. James is an Episcopalian Church that fronts on 3rd Street.

In the composite image above, on the right, is an enlargement of the print matter on the headstone.  The date he died is incorrect.  The Wilmington Town Book indicates that he died on April 28, 1781. 1

According to Connor, Cornelius Harnett wrote his will on April 28, 1781 2 and agrees with Lennon and Kellam that Harnett died on that same date, April 28, 1781. 3 Connor also states that a short time before his death Harnett dictated the epitaph that appears on the lower portion of the stone and states that it was a couplet from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man4  Actually it is a paraphrase of Pope’s couplet in the past tense.  Pope’s couplet, in the present tense, reads:

Slave to no sect, who takes no private road —
Who looks through nature up to Nature’s God. 5

According to the web site of St. James Parrish:

The graveyard is the sole remaining physical connection with the original church building.  The last burial in the churchyard was in 1850 when Oakdale Cemetery was established and private burials within the city were prohibited by law.  Among the historic tombstones is one marking the burial site of Thomas Godfrey, author of “The Prince of Parthia,” thought to be the first attempt at dramatic composition in America.  Another marks the grave of Cornelius Harnett, patriot and signer of the Articles of Confederation, who died a prisoner of the British during the occupation of the City. 6

1.  Lennon, Donald R., and Ida B. Kellam, eds. The Wilmington Town Book – 1743-1778. Raleigh, NC: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1973. Print. p39.  A footnote on page 40 of this source, referencing public records, states that he was . . . “captured by the British and later released only to die on April 28, 1781, at the age of 58 years.”
2.  Connor, R. D. W. CORNELIUS HARNETT: AN ESSAY IN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY. Raleigh, N. C. : Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1909. 1-209. Print (& Web, digitized after copyright expired by Google at http://books.google.com/. p 197
3.  Connor, p 198
4.  Connor, p 198
5.  Tillotson, Geoffrey, Pope and Human Nature, Claredone Press, Oxford, 1958, p 49, reprinted http://www.questia.com/reader/print, 2007 [books & other sources available on line for a monthly, annual or lifetime fee].  [Note:  An attempt to reach this site on March 9,2013 by clicking on the above hyperlink was unsuccessful.  Apparently, access as a paid subscriber must be active.]
6.  St. James Parish, founded 1729, http://www.stjamesp.org/, p2.

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