Grave-tober 1 – Sarah Tefft, Warwick RI

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October 1, 2018 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Gravestone of Sarah Tefft, originally placed at her grave in Warwick, Rhode Island

For many years, the gravestone of Sarah Tefft was believed to be the oldest extant gravestone in New England.  Recent scholarship has proven that the date roughly sketched into the bottom of the stone is 1672 not 1642 as it was long believed.  Nevertheless I think the stone is a fine place to start our 31 day tour of my favorite gravestones in New England.



TEffT IN thE MA-


Sarah Tefft (her maiden name is not certain; current scholarship suggests it was Greene, the daughter of John J. Greene Jr. who later became deputy governor of Rhode Island in 1690).  Tefft was Native American, her mother likely either a Narragansett or Wampanoag woman as Green had extensive dealing with both tribes .  Sarah Tefft herself was identified as “Indian” in several documents from the period recording her marriage to Joshua Tefft in 1670.

Sarah died two days after the birth of her son Peter, likely of complications from his birth.  She was buried shortly thereafter and the stone above placed there presumably carved at some point afterwards (gravestones could be erected many years after a burial, but considering the rough nature, it is likely Joshua or someone from her extended family carved this stone  For more information on Sarah, see HERE.

Because of its (mistakenly believed) status as the oldest gravestone in New England, the original grave marker was removed from Sarah Tefft’s grave in 1868 for safekeeping by the Rhode Island Historical Society, who displayed in their headquarters in Providence.  The stone that replaced it, oddly enough, is in far poorer shape than this original show above; it also erroneously copies her inscription, suggesting she was 67 years old when she died.  For more information about the stone and its removal, see this article from 1980.


Photo of 1868 Tefft gravestone by Tammy Joy Tanner (2012)


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