Unquiet Ground: Whitefield's Soul Trap
July 24, 2019 5:07 AM   Subscribe

It started with an anonymous letter to the St Pancras coroner in North London. Wasn’t there something a little odd, the writer asked, about just how hastily Elizabeth Thomas had been buried? Elizabeth was only 27 years old when she died on October 28, 1808, and was buried next day at St Mary’s parish church in Islington. By November 1 – just three days after her death – a headstone was already erected on the grave, Elizabeth’s date of death carved firmly into its surface. “She had no fault, save what travellers give the moon,” the stone read. “Her light was lovely, but she died too soon.” [via mefi projects]
posted by ellieBOA (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This was really interesting, thanks! Could someone explain to me what this epitaph means: “She had no fault, save what travellers give the moon”.
posted by Ned G at 6:10 AM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

It’s the second line: the moon goes down and leaves you in the dark, in the same way that she died young.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:22 AM on July 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

That was totally fascinating!
posted by saladin at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've only just begun reading but I have to say "death by the visitation of God" is so much more evocative than "natural causes". If I have the good fortune to go out like that, that's what I want on my death certificate.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

That one's pretty good, but "by the contrivance of the devil" sounds even better.
posted by asperity at 7:48 AM on July 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

"death by the visitation of God" is so much more evocative than "natural causes"

One of my favorite lines in all of literature is from the short story Count Magnus by M. R. James:
"People still remembered last year at Belchamp St. Paul how a strange gentleman came one evening in August years back; and how the next morning but one he was found dead, and there was an inquest; and the jury that viewed the body fainted, seven of 'em did, and none of 'em wouldn't speak to what they see, and the verdict was visitation of God"
posted by komara at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

great read, thank you!
posted by mwhybark at 9:08 AM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is extraordinary. Best of the web! Thank you, Paul Slade and ellieBOA.
posted by cheapskatebay at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow! What a tale!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:18 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

What a story!!
posted by ninazer0 at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the kind words, everyone, and particular thanks to ellieBoa for promoting my original Projects post to the front page. A LOT of extra people have read the essay as a result, and I'm grateful to her for that.

This whole thing began with a couple of lucky finds. The first came in March, when I was mooching around my local charity bookshop and happened across a ragged 1811 volume about the history of Islington. It was only £3, so I bought it - and that's where I first came across the Elizabeth Thomas story. She'd be worth writing about, I thought - probably just a short piece, quick and easy to do.

I contacted Whitefield's Tabernacle on the off-chance it might have its own burial records for Elizabeth. It didn't, but one of the ministers there was kind enough to invite me over for a chat. When I got there, he produced the chapel's fat 19th century scrapbook containing a year's worth of press clippings from the late 1880s telling the whole story of the fairground wars. That sent the story off in a completely different direction and me into about two months of further research.

I've never known a story which developed in this way. It sounds fanciful, I know, but it honestly felt as if the universe was deliberately strewing this stuff in my path just to get the story told. I hope I've done it justice.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:53 AM on July 26, 2019 [9 favorites]

A well-deserved promotion to the front page! Love how the story came about.
posted by ellieBOA at 5:53 AM on July 26, 2019

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