Jarvis Turner, born in Birmingham, England on August 14, 1814, was an early marble carver who sculpted hundreds of extraordinary tombstones throughout Alabama’s black belt region as well as in areas along the upper Tombigbee River.
Turner made his life in Mobile beginning in 1836, and operated a successful monument business until 1871 when he sold it to Thomas McDonald. Shortly after the sale, Turner developed a door, sash, and blind manufacturing company located at the corner of Water and St. Anthony streets in Mobile.
Daniel Pratt, founder of Prattville, located his family cemetery on a hill overlooking his residence and what was his entire village at that time. Perhaps he liked that location because it was a large flat area or because the floodwaters could not rise to that level to engulf the graves. Whatever the reason, the cemetery is located in a wooded area off of Gin Shop Hill Road.
Some of the headstones in the graveyard are beautifully crafted, both with wording and sculpture by Turner. Pratt’s infant daughters, Mary and Maria, share a monument that reflects Turner’s handiwork and his designs are also on the stone for Esther Pratt’s brother, Simon B. Ticknor.
Another example of Turner’s fine carvings can be seen on the monument stone of artist George Cooke, who is buried in the cemetery but is not related to the Pratt family. Pratt admired Cooke’s talents so much that he built a gallery in his home to store his artwork. Cooke’s wife felt it appropriate for her husband to be laid to rest near the collection of his paintings, so he was buried in the Pratt family cemetery.
Concord Cemetery, Greensboro Cemetery, and Moundville Cemetery, all located in Hale County, contain burial monuments that were carved by Turner. At times the letters “J. T.” were engraved in the lower right hand corner, signifying that particular sculpting was the work of Jarvis Turner; at other times the signature would read “J. Turner, Mobile.” Turner’s usual fee for a marble head and engraving was $25.00.
There are numerous examples of Turner’s designs in the historic Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile. On one of the oldest burial sites (of Col. John Hinson) dated 1821, Turner carved a beautiful three-dimensional weeping willow, a symbol of perpetual mourning and grief because they were planted in marshy old-world graveyards to draw up water.
Turner died on April 24,1884 and ironically, this accomplished craftsman is buried in Magnolia Cemetery amongst many of his exquisite carvings.
Article by Melissa Parker
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