Persecuted for Wearing the Beard

Joseph Palmer, a veteran of the War of 1812 and farmer from NoTown, Fitchburg, Massachusetts died in 1873. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, North Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA. His gravestone bears a portrait of him sporting a large beard with the legend, Persecuted for Wearing the Beard.


Seems outrageous but when beards went out of fashion in the early 18th century, men who continued to wear a beard were considered lunatics and eccentrics with poor hygiene. He was nicknamed the Old Jew by the village denizens and accused of looking like the devil; to which he replied that Jesus wore a beard.

In 1830, four men armed with razors and scissors attacked Palmer in an attempt to shave him. His successful attempt to fight them off using a jackknife brought him to court where he was charged with unprovoked assault. When he refused to pay the fine he was jailed for a year.

Even in prison the relentless attempts to make him lose his beard continued. Palmer spoke out about prison conditions and his treatment, and fought for his right to free speech proclaiming his innocence. The county authorities and the judge eventually offered to repeal his sentence, but Palmer was steadfast until his mother pleaded with him to come home.


As with all trends, beards were once again fashionable by 1873, the year of his death. He died at age 84.


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