The True Image

Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry

By Daniel W. Patterson

496 pp., 8.25 x 10, 234 halftones, 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-3753-5
    Published: October 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4290-9
    Published: October 2012

Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts

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A thousand unique gravestones cluster around old Presbyterian churches in the piedmont of the two Carolinas and in central Pennsylvania. Most are the vulnerable legacy of three generations of the Bigham family, Scotch Irish stonecutters whose workshop near Charlotte created the earliest surviving art of British settlers in the region. In The True Image, Daniel Patterson documents the craftsmanship of this group and the current appearance of the stones. In two hundred of his photographs, he records these stones for future generations and compares their iconography and inscriptions with those of other early monuments in the United States, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

Combining his reading of the stones with historical records, previous scholarship, and rich oral lore, Patterson throws new light on the complex culture and experience of the Scotch Irish in America. In so doing, he explores the bright and the dark sides of how they coped with challenges such as backwoods conditions, religious upheavals, war, political conflicts, slavery, and land speculation. He shows that headstones, resting quietly in old graveyards, can reveal fresh insights into the character and history of an influential immigrant group.

About the Author

Daniel W. Patterson is Kenan Professor Emeritus of English and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is author or editor of nine books, including The Shaker Spiritual, Sounds of the South, and A Tree Accurst: Bobby McMillon and Stories of Frankie Silver.
For more information about Daniel W. Patterson, visit the Author Page.


"This book delves into the rich tradition of headstone-related iconography. . . . The symbology and inscriptions on these stone structures prove that they are as much works of art as they are portals back in time."--Art & Antiques

"The culmination of decades of research, this volume not only examines the gravestone production of the family from a folk art perspective and identification of specific carvers, but also looks more deeply into what else can be gleaned from these objects. . . . Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and researchers/faculty; general readers."--Choice

“Successfully demonstrates the rich historical ethnographic potential of blending different approaches to create a world and a sense of the everyday lived experiences of its inhabitants.”--Benjamin Staple, Material Culture Review

“This extraordinary book is a landmark in historical ethnography.”--Alan Jabbour, Journal of Folklore Research

“An important addition to the understanding of funerary art in the colonies and early national period.”--Thomas G. Connors, Journal of the Early Republic

“From the initial pages of The True Image, the reader is aware of a skillful writer embarking on a serious scholarly work. . . . Patterson reveals that the true image is not of a dichotomy, but of an art that emerges only as a unity with the culture, which it both reflects and of which it is a part. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries, as well as libraries with a special interest in Appalachia.”--Thomas G. Burton, Tennessee Libraries