By Rick Holmes
Close to the entrance to the Forest Hill Cemetery in Derry is a most remarkable gravestone. To find it, walk 50 paces along the cemetery road then turn left at the tall marble gravestones marked Thom and covered with bright yellow lichen. Walk 25 paces into the cemetery, keeping the pine tree on your left and, as sure as Bob's your uncle, you've found it.
It stands about 5 feet tall and is made of a very dark, fine slate. The top face is expertly carved with a variety of designs including a moon and sun with human faces, seven stars, various stone workers' tools, a coffin, a shoe, a book and three candles. Below this design is the phrase "Virtue and silence." This motif would indicate that whoever is buried under this stone was a member of a Masonic lodge. It is certainly the most elaborate monument within the entire cemetery.
The name on the gravestone is Dr. Philip Godfried Kast. His name is followed by a lengthy inscription: "He was a gentleman of extensive acquaintance and his benevolence was no less confined. His hospitality was without ostentation ... he was a benefit to mankind. In his last illness his pain was extreme which he endured with a true philosophic spirit." The inscription goes on to further praise his character and mentions that he leaves behind "an inconsolable widow and five small children." He died on "September 6, 17—" Mysteriously there is no year of death given.
A search of the Derry/Londonderry town records reveals no mention of Dr. Kast. Recently I found a probate record indicating he died in Derry/Londonderry in 1781. With that added information I was able to craft the following brief biography.
He was born around 1740, the son of Sir Philip Godfried Kast, a prominent Boston physician. Because father and son shared both name and profession, it is frequently impossible to figure out who is who in the old records. To add to the confusion, they both apparently had wives with the same first name. Thomas Kast, another son of Sir Philip, was also a local doctor. All three are often referred to in the old documents as simply "Doctor Kast."
Sir Philip (c1703-1791) had been born in Germany and immigrated to Boston. In 1746 he was an army surgeon in the British expedition against Louisburg on Cape Breton Island. In 1764 he received an official thank-you from the city of Boston for treating 150 patients without charge during a smallpox epidemic. How and where he received his title "sir" is not known.
During the 1760s, the two Philip Godfried Kasts appear to have moved to Salem, Mass. There, one or both of them operated an apothecary shop that was called The Lyon and Mortar. It was advertised as selling the "best of drugs, medicines, and spices ... alum, logwood, redwood, copperas, brimstone, indigo as cheap as they can be purchased in Boston." Kast also proudly advertised he sold "the famous anodyne necklace" that was used as a teething device by the children of Queen Caroline. Kast said, "a mother would never forgive herself whose child should die for want of so easy a remedy for their teeth."
The doctors Kast were very popular and trusted in Salem. In 1772, a convicted rapist, while standing on the gallows, sold his body to one of the doctors to be used for dissection to help teach medical students. Soon, however, the fervor of the coming Revolutionary War threatened the Kasts' position in Salem.
The Kasts were Loyalists. In 1774, P.G. Kast signed an address to British Gen. Thomas Gage which "praises his Majesty's parental care and affection" toward the Bay State, despite the fact that Gage was there to enforce the draconian Boston Port Act. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, Gage used Dr. Thomas Kast to care for a wounded officer. Later, however, Kast would join the Patriot cause.
In 1775, the streets of Salem were filled with Patriotic mobs. The Kasts were forced to flee for their lives. They first settled in Hopkinton. Soon afterward, Sir Philip moved to Haverhill, Mass., where he lived till his death in 1701. His son Philip moved to Derry/Londonderry around 1778 and died there in 1781. His elaborate gravestone was probably carved in coastal Massachusetts. Why the omission of a year of death on the stone? My theory is that the administrator of the estate wrote to the carver that Kast died on Sept. 6 and though the artesian would know he meant the year 1781. The carver did not want to ruin the stone with a mistake so he cut into the stone "He departed this life September 6, 17—." I imagine he thought the last two numbers could be put in by a local mason. They never were.
During the 19th century, the stone separated from its base. Around 1920, J. Frank Couch took a "silver collection" at a Derry Masonic lodge to reset the stone in a cement frame. In 1993, I found the Kast footstone buried 100 feet away and restored it to the grave site. Within 10 feet of Loyalist Dr. Kast's grave is the final resting place of James Thornton, whose son was Dr. Matthew Thornton, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Rick Holmes is the Derry town historian and the director of the Derry History Museum.