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The Mannings

Josiah Manning (1725-1806) and his two sons Rockwell (1760-1806) and Frederick (1758-1810) established a style of gravestone carving that became dominant in eastern Connecticut for nearly fifty years. Manning stones are present in almost every eighteenth-century cemetery in eastern Connecticut from the Sound to the Massachusetts border, but are most abundant and varied from Mansfield and Norwich eastward. (Manning stones also occur in southern Massachusetts and west of the Connecticut River.) Josiah lived nearly as long as his two sons and because the two sons worked together for a period (presumably both worked with their father at different periods) it is not yet possible to determine which of the three carved many of the stones. Josiah’s cousin Samuel may also have been a carver. There are basically five types of Manning stones although some of these types show striking variations; because of the versatility of the craftsmen, not all stones fall into these five categories. The earliest stones, produced chiefly in the 1760s and early 1770s are bat-winged types with curious hoods over the faces and a series of half loops below the face. It is probable that Josiah himself carved all of these designs; however, in Scotland there is a bat-winged stone signed by Rockwell made for his grandmother when he was thirteen years old. I suggest that Rockwell probably carved the letters, but that Josiah did the design work. The predominant Manning style, constituting probably 80 percent of their stones, is quite different. This style uses a frowning face pattern with a sweeping upswept hairstyle consisting of a central pompadour and side curls. Most of the stones of this type have solid wings that curve strongly upward. There is frequently a series of half circles above the face and an elaborate scroll design below the wings. Most commonly the border panels are copied from those of John Stevens of Newport, but undulate and other borders also occur. There are many elaborations of this basic style wherein the wings are elaborated into a series of feathers. This style was certainly used by all three of the Mannings throughout their entire careers. Indeed Josiah used the style when he carved his own gravestone. A third style is almost used exclusively for children. The facial design is as above but the wings rather than being solid and upswept consist of a series of strongly downswept curving lines. A fourth style is also exclusively for children and is a late style, possibly carved only by the two Manning sons. Here the face is conventional but the area beside the face is not carved, thus leaving a completely blank area below and outside the face. Presumably this is the most inexpensive type of stone and is what a Manning stone looked like when not carved into the more elaborate patterns. A fifth type of stone appears subsequent to the Revolutionary War and probably resulted from Rockwell and Frederick, who were Revolutionary soldiers, realizing the beautiful work that could be done in Vermont marble. These marble stones often have the wings and face produced outward from the stone rather than being cut into it as on the earlier stones. Many of these marbles were done by Rockwell Manning and are recognizable by the finished margins, an unusual feature in eighteenth-century stones. Marble apparently freed the Mannings from the constraints of granite schist, for the work is extremely varied and often elaborate, sometimes resulting in beautiful work. At other times the stones are less attractive than the more severe granites. In the 1770s Josiah Manning discovered a source of handsome light tan sandstone, and on this, fortunately durable, material he produced some of his most beautiful work. Excellent examples are in the Norwichtown, Preston, Brooklyn, and Abington graveyards. In the latter is a stone of this type signed by Frederick (“Fraderick Manning”) so it is obvious that his son also used this handsome material. The Mannings were extremely versatile craftsmen; in addition to their generally used designs they also carved coffins, elaborate heads framed in picture-like relief, birds, trees, crowns, etc. Some of their stones are huge, five and six feet tall, with very deeply and elaborately incised carving. The Manning style created a revolution in gravestone carving in eastern Connecticut and gave rise to a whole bevy to carvers who either directly copied or were strongly influenced by the Mannings. The work of Lebbeus Kimball, Amasa Loomis, Thatcher and Luther Lanthrop, and John Walden, while obviously Manning-type, is relatively easy to distinguish from stones carved by the Mannings. However there are other carvers such as Aaron Haskins whose work is often very difficult to distinguish. Several of these imitators remained unidentified.

From: Slater, James A. The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them. Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, vol. 21. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1987.
*Homer Babbidge Library call number f/Q/11/C85/v.21