When Thomas Brophy lifted the stone slab at the foot of the side entrance to the Westhampton Beach office building he purchased a year earlier, he was surprised by an eerie discovery.
Carved into the underside of the rectangular white marble stone, which measures about 3 feet tall, 18 inches wide and a few inches thick, was a gravestone inscription: “Jerusha L., Wife of Thomas G. Osborn, Died August 25, 1857, æ 34 ys.”
He was renovating the Mitchell Road building, Mr. Brophy explained, and decided to lift the stone while working on the surrounding landscaping beds. “It fit perfectly,” he said of the space the stone occupied for an unknown number of years.
He leaned it against the back of the building, where it remained on Tuesday afternoon, a few weeks after it was discovered.
The finding raised a number of hypotheses as to how the grave marker came to be face down in a doorstep and about the history of the Osborn family. A transcript of the historical record of the Old Sands Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, published in 1885, states that Thomas G. Osborn was born in Riverhead. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and was ordained in 1843. The book says he ran his first ministry in Southampton, but was also associated with numerous churches in New York City, including the Sands Street Church. His personal life seemed fraught with tragedy.
The book shares little information about Jerusha L., the reverend’s first wife, though it states that one year after her death, he married her sister, Maria Jane. After she died in 1863, Rev. Osborn married a woman named Calista E. Barton, who died three years later. He married a fourth time to a woman named Grace E., according to the record, though it does not state what year she died. Rev Osborn and Jerusha also lost two children, Thomas G., who died as an infant, in 1853, and Isabel C., who died at 10 years old in 1865.
The last line in Rev. Osborn’s biographical sketch provides a large piece of the puzzle: “The three wives repose side by side in the cemetery in Riverhead.”
Roughly in the center of the Riverhead Cemetery, which sits between Roanoke and North Griffing avenues, an obelisk marks Rev. Osborn’s grave, but also lists the names of his first three wives, including Jerusha, and their dates of birth and death.
Hollis Warner, a volunteer with the Riverhead Cemetery Association, said last week that the records of the Osborn family plot, number 195, are incomplete—leaving the paramount question of the exactly location of Jerusha’s interment unanswered.
“The fact that it was incorporated into a building makes it real interesting,” Mr. Warner said of the stone found in Westhampton Beach.
Still, he and others have no reason to believe that she was buried near the office building.
He said a record shows that Osborn family members paid $194.45 on January 1, 1913, to ensure that the family plot would be cared for in perpetuity. Mr. Warner also explained that the stone was probably better preserved because it had lain face down in the earth, without exposure to the elements.
Southampton Town Historian Zach Studenroth speculated that the marble stone was replaced with the larger monument after the reverend’s death, though he said it is also possible that Jerusha was interred elsewhere. He explained that it was common in the mid-19th century for families to mark their plot with a larger monument, such as the obelisk that bears the reverend’s name, but individuals still often had their own stone set to mark their specific place of burial, meaning it would not necessarily be redundant to place the stone in the plot.
“One’s intuition is not to set it back in the ground someplace where she isn’t,” Mr. Studenroth said, pondering the appropriate resting place for the stone. “On the other hand, I would say that having discovered that the family is interred there together in this family plot, it would be a pretty compelling reason for installing it there.”
Georgette Case, the Riverhead Town Historian, said she would like to plan a small ceremony, if all are in agreement that the stone be set in the Osborn family plot. The event, she said, might encourage others who make such discoveries to return the stones to their proper place—wherever that might be.