Friday, March 31, 2023

Oddities & Curiosities: Nathaniel Beverley Tucker’s Tombstone

Judge Nathaniel Beverley Tucker is buried in the cemetery of Bruton Parish Church, where some are able to see strange images on his grave. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

WILLIAMSBURG — In the cemetery of Bruton Parish Church on Duke of Gloucester St., Judge Nathaniel Beverley Tucker lies next to his third wife, Lucy Ann Smith, beneath a prominent obelisk.

While many now might not know much about the author and judge who died in 1851, his tombstone is eye-grabbing to anyone who walks past the entry to Bruton Parish.

Those who take a peek at night, however, might see a few eerie images.

Tucker, typically referred to by his middle name Beverley, was from an influential family in Virginia. His father was St. George Tucker, a notable scholar and William & Mary (W&M) law professor. His older half-brother was John Randolph of Roanoke, who had a strong influence on Tucker’s studies and political views.

Tucker was an intelligent and studious young man, enrolled in W&M by 15 years old.

Tucker studied and began the practice of law in Virginia, where he started a family with his first wife. He was a captain in the militia during the War of 1812, and, in 1816, moved with his family and slaves to the Missouri Territory.

For over a decade there, he served there as a circuit court judge. He was a strong proponent of states’ rights and slavery.

While in Missouri, Tucker lost two wives and two children. By 1830, he took a third wife, Lucy Ann Smith, with whom he had a daughter, Cynthia Beverley Tucker.

He moved back to Williamsburg with his family in 1833, and became a Professor of Law at his alma mater. He was a Fire-Eater (a name given to pro-slavery Democrats during the Antebellum era) and spokesman for states’ rights.

Tucker also wrote for the “Southern Literary Messenger,” and through this became acquainted with the publication’s assistant editor, Edgar Allan Poe, who was just starting his work as a fiction writer.

Tucker became a mentor to Poe, and, while they never met in person, the two corresponded through letters.

Poe strongly admired Tucker and his work, and there is a legend that before Tucker died, he wanted a black raven placed on his grave as a tribute to Poe, who died in 1849.

Tucker is now buried with his third wife in the Bruton Parish Church cemetery. The grave is said to have been struck by lighting multiple times, and now there are discolorations on the stone that have not been able to be removed.

In these discolorations, many people claim to see faces. Some say they see the face of Abraham Lincoln. Others believe to see the face of Edgar Allan Poe.

On a quiet Williamsburg night, make your way out to the churchyard and wonder whose face you’ll see peering back at you from Tucker’s grave.

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