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Tallest Tombstone in New Hampshire is 100 Years Old

Tucke final block installed

So who was John Tucke?

Christian ministers arrived at the Isles of Shoals soon after the first European fishermen in the early 1600s. Dozens of these missionaries tended to the souls of the fishing families over the centuries. Most stopped only briefly to officiate church services, baptisms, and weddings, and to warn the Shoalers of the wages of sin. Most preachers quickly sailed back to the safety and comfort of the mainland.

One early minister scolded the hard-drinking fishermen for straying from the righteous path of their forefathers who had come to America in search of religious freedom. “Not so,” a member of the congregation spoke up. “Our forefathers came here to fish and to trade.”

When Gosport (on Star Island) officially became a town in 1715, the residents were required by law to maintain an active church. The “gathered church” of Gosport then contained only five men and 18 women members.

In order to maintain their status as a New Hampshire town, Gosport residents “called” a young Hampton man named John Tucke (1702-1773) to serve their island church.  A graduate of Harvard and recently ordained, Tucke worked harder, stayed longer, and was more beloved than any minister in Shoals history. In the era of the Great Awakening of the Christian religion, Tucke preached a softer kinder message to his isolated parishioners, a great relief from the fire-and-brimstone ministers who preceded him. He acted, not only as the town pastor, but as school teacher, doctor, lawyer, and friend for 41 years.

No minister fared better in return. He received 50 pounds annually, paid to support the building and maintenance of his house. Although the Tucke house was reportedly moved to York, Maine during the Revolution, early photographs show what appear to be a wine cellar in the old foundation of the original parsonage, another perk for the island minister. Tucke also received 110 pounds annual salary. He was given a garden plot, a luxury on an island with almost no soil. Free firewood was delivered to his door, an enormous benefit on an island with no trees.

His salary was later raised to a quintal of “marketable” fish per man delivered each year by about 100 fishermen. The sale of these fish, it has been calculated, made Tucke among the highest paid clerics in New England. He was, from his ordination, “a fisher of men.” Despite the need to admonish church members for their sins of drunkenness, fornication, and rowdy behavior, the four decades under Rev. Tucke were among the most orderly and pious in Gosport history. He dispensed his benevolence like a medieval baron supported by his loyal villagers.

Tucke and his wife Mary Dole, also of Hampton, had 11 children, but only three lived to adulthood. Amazing as it seems today, they kept four enslaved Africans in their household, a common practice for a minister of his stature in New England at the time. His death in 1773 coincided with the rise of the American Revolution and the temporary collapse of the Gosport village population that followed.

 Workers building Tucke Memorial in 1914 / Portsmouth Athenaeum

Flawless construction

          The skull and large bones of the body of Rev. Tucke were still intact when four workers delicately removed the stone slab from his grave in May 1914. But when they tried to move the minister's remains into a new casket, the skeleton crumbled into bits. As Tucke was sealed into his final resting place, stone blocks weighing from nine to 11 tons began arriving by ship. Eight work horses, lifted by crane onto the island, were unable to pull the heavy carriage holding each block. Extra horsepower from ropes, pulleys, and an engine were required to move the blocks to an elevated spot on the island. The obelisk is visible on a clear day from the New Hampshire shore.  

          It took three weeks to deliver and assemble the obelisk and another week to grade and prepare the area around the monument, still owned and maintained by the NH Historical Society. Six hundred words, echoing the epitaph by Dudley Tyng, were inscribed an inch-deep into the polished face of the monument. Each of the large block fit perfectly and were installed "without the least accident."


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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