The Grave of Moses Carpenter (Middlesbrough, 1889)

Photo by Jen Whitelock

I’m not exactly sure when the grave of Moses Carpenter in Linthorpe Cemetery, Middlesbrough became what it now is. I used to live nearby and generally remember a broken slab, a lot of stones and a few scraggly feathers.

Like many, I’d always pick a feather up if I saw one in the area and stick it in one of the cracks on the stone. Now it’s been tidied up and more offerings appear regularly; the work of the wonderful Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery and Nature Reserve. This is how folklore grows.

Moses (standing) with one of the many men who styled themselves ‘Sequah’ (possibly William Hannaway Rowe)

Moses was a Mohawk, born in Ontaria, Canada back in 1854. His birth name was Ska-Run-Ya-Te (also spelled Skaroniate), but upon his conversion to Christianity he took the name he’s now known for.

Sequah’s Travelling Show

He travelled the UK as part of the medicine show of noted quack doctor Sequah (a pseudonym assumed by many different white men – the Sequah that Moses worked with is thought to have been named William Hannaway Rowe), which drew crowds across the country in the 1880s. They would sell health tonics and oils, give massages and extract painful teeth.

An advertisement for Sequah’s “Prairie Flower” health remedy. Year unknown.

Sequah’s show did not always receive a warm welcome in Middlesbrough, as shown in this extract from the Medical History journal (1985, 29: 296):

The second Sequah, William Rowe, was also no stranger to civil strife. In September 1889, he appeared before the magistrates at Middlesbrough to request a summons against a local medical man, Henry Leiston. Rowe had come out of his lodgings after nightfall, he said, and had found waiting for him at the garden gate a tall man, Leiston, who had looked him straight in the face and said “You are a damned quack”. After a certain commotion, they continued their dispute at the police station. Rowe demanded damages because, he claimed, he had given the doctors in the town every facility to prove whether or not he was a fraud. The magistrates persuaded Rowe to let the matter drop.

Moses Carpenter’s Death

Just a month before this, tragedy had struck. On a visit to Middlesbrough with the show in 1889, Moses Carpenter had become sick from fever (possibly pneumonia). He died in North Riding Infirmary.

By then Moses had become popular in the town, and that – combined with the unusual prospect of a Mohawk burial – led to a huge turnout of mourners.

The Yorkshire Gazette of Saturday 24th August 1889 reported:

“The gorgeously-painted car…bore the body of the deceased from the Infirmary, the coffin being covered with wreaths and floral tributes which had been sent by grateful patients of the famous medicine man to St. Paul’s Church, where a full choral service was conducted the vicar, the Rev G H. Stock. The route to the cemetery was lined by thousands of people, and at the graveside, 10,000 people congregated.”

Yorkshire Gazette, August 24th, 1889

On the grave is a poem, written by a local girl named Mary Charlotta Parvin. It reads:

“Far away from his home o’er the billow,
No one to visit his bed-side to weep;
Yet he will rest on his still lowly pillow,
Peacefully, sweetfully, the last dreamless sleep.
And his dear master-friend burdened with sorrow,
Though at his loss he is sorely distressed,
Surely some comfort from this thought can borrow,
He did his utmost and God’s will is best”

There were discussions with about repatriating Moses’ remains to Canada, but his conversion to the Christian faith seems to have led his fellow tribe members to let him lie in Middlesbrough. I hope the stone remains either way.

I’ve long been obsessed with this one, even going so far as to write a spoken-word song about it years ago (before the grave had been restored) on my old band By Toutatis’s album.

Sources include:

Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough: (Friday 16 August 1889, Monday 19 August 1889, Monday 23 September 1889) – accessed through British Newspaper Archive
BBC News
Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery & Nature Reserve
Hidden Teesside
Sequah: Medicine Man

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