One of Nashville’s most popular events is the annual Living History Tour each fall at City Cemetery. Visitors see the past come alive as costumed characters step forward from the gravestones to tell their stories. Although a few beloved personalities from Nashville’s history do reappear from time to time, the Nashville City Cemetery Association (NCCA) selects many new characters each year. The individuals named below were featured in the 2013 Tour. The photos of reenactors were taken during NCCA Living History Tours between 2008 and 2012.
Lipscomb Norvell, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, served under General George Washington at Brandywine, Trenton, and Monmouth. An early pioneer, he raised a large family in Kentucky before joining family members in Nashville, where he died at age 87.
Frank Parrish, a free man of color, was a Nashville entrepreneur, operating a Bathing House and Barber Shop on Deaderick Street. He died in 1867 and was buried in a family plot at City Cemetery.
William Carroll Napierowned a Nashville livery stable. His son James carried Mayor Cheatham to surrender Nashville to Union forces in 1862. Later the two Napiers helped John Berrien Lindsley set up military hospitals around the city by transporting food equipment and supplies. During the Occupation, the Union Army employed Carroll as a spy, tasked with reporting Confederate troop movements in Murfreesboro and along the Harpeth River. Son James C. Napier would later become Nashville’s African American city councilor, as well as Register of the U.S. Treasury under President Taft.
George W. Campbell, one of Nashville’s most distinguished citizens, was an attorney, a U.S. Representative and Senator, one of the first two Tennessee Supreme Court Justices, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia. His wife Harriet Stoddert was the daughter of the secretary of the Navy in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. In 1843 Campbell sold a property known as “Campbell’s Hill” to the city of Nashville, later transferred to the state as the site of the Tennessee state capitol.
Mabel Lewis Imes was raised in New England, where she received an excellent education, learned to speak French, and took voice lessons. When she auditioned for the Fisk Jubilee Singers during their Eastern tour, they immediately invited her to sing contralto with the group . . . at the age of 13!
Thomas Crutcherserved as the State Treasurer of Tennessee for 25 years. An activist in promoting education for women, he was a founder and active trustee of the Nashville Female Academy, where the students called him “Uncle Crutcher.”
Lizzie Porterfield Elliottwas the daughter of Collins D. Elliott, president of the Nashville Female Academy, and she was perhaps the most compelling example of his belief in educating women. She taught in both public and private schools for more than 30 years and was active in educational and civic organizations. An authority on Tennessee history, she served as an officer in the Tennessee Historical Society. A bright and interesting woman, she authored the Early History of Nashville, still admired for its historical accuracy.
Before the section of the city north of the Cumberland River was known as Edgefield (and then East Nashville), it was referred to as Wetmore’s Addition. Moses Wetmore, the first person to subdivide the area into lots for homes and businesses, also donated the land for Holy Trinity Church and gave his name to two city streets.
Mayor John Patton Erwin served two terms as mayor of Nashville. He worked as a bank cashier (in those days, the equivalent of a bank manager), was editor of the Nashville Whig, and served as Postmaster, Justice of the Peace, and clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
PowhatanMaxey served as a justice of the peace, an alderman for seven terms, and mayor of Nashville from 1843-1845. He negotiated the purchase of Capitol Hill from William Nichol and George W. Campbell, and then donated the land to the Tennessee General Assembly, provided they would locate the State Capitol on that site. (2013)
Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.
Andrew Jackson Pageot was born a child of privilege: he was named for his godfather, the President; his mother was heir to a wealthy Nashville estate; his father was the son of a diplomat. This baby’s future was bright. How then did it come about that he lies in an unmarked grave, his burial place lost to history?
The first (and only) Catholic wedding ceremony held in the White House took place November 29, 1832. The groom was Alphonse Pageot, secretary of the French Legation and brother-in-law of the French Minister. The bride was Nashvillian Mary Anne Lewis, daughter of Major William Berkeley Lewis, a friend and political appointee of Andrew Jackson. The Lewises’ Nashville home was called Fairfield, set on an estate not far from City Cemetery. Today’s Fairfield Avenue was originally one of the lanes leading to the residence.
Although Mary Anne and her half-siblings William Henry and Margaret Adelaide grew up in relative comfort, they all suffered early losses. William B. Lewis’s first wife (Mary Anne’s mother) was Margaret Lewis, the daughter of W. Tyrrell Lewis and owner of Fairfield. Margaret died at Fairfield in 1816, when Mary Anne was about 12. The mother of the other two children was William B. Lewis’s second wife, Mary Adelaide Stokes, daughter of U.S. Senator Montfort Stokes. Mary Adelaide died in May 1823, leaving behind “an infant son [little William Henry was not yet two] & daughter five days old.”
After their marriage, Mary Anne and Alphonse Pageot lived in Washington, D.C., in a house provided by her father, William B. Lewis, who wrote a friend, “I go to housekeeping with them.” Their son, Andrew Jackson Pageot, was born the following year and christened at the White House. The Rev. William Matthews of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church officiated, as he had for the wedding of the baby’s parents.
As a diplomatic family, the Pageots moved often between the United States and France. Major Lewis returned to Nashville, where he had to face yet another loss, that of his son, William Henry, who died August 30, 1842, “in the twentieth year of his age,” Major Lewis’s youngest child, Margaret Adelaide, who was said to be the most beautiful young woman in Tennessee, had married George Washington of Wessyngton Plantation in Robertson County that same year. She herself died at the age of 21 in November 1844, three weeks after the birth of her only son, William Lewis Washington.
When the Civil War began, William B. Lewis remained loyal to his country and active in local politics. On December 14, 1864, the night before the Battle of Nashville, as Federal troops dug entrenchments in Fairfield’s front lawn, U.S. Major T. J. Morgan stayed in the house, occupying the room that Andrew Jackson had always been given. As a loyal citizen, Lewis would eventually receive compensation from the Federal government for the damage to his property.
Two weeks after the Battle of Nashville the family suffered another tragedy. On January 11, 1865, this notice was published in the Nashville Daily Union:
“Died, on Monday morning, the 9th inst., at the residence of his Grandfather, Major William B. Lewis, Andrew Jackson Pageot, Esq., son of Hon. A. Pageot of Paris France, and Mary Ann, his wife. He died from an acute attack of the heart, after only an hour’s illness, in the 32nd year of his age. His funeral will take place this morning, at 11 o’clock, at the residence of Major Lewis. Hacks will be waiting at W. R. Cornelius’ on Church Street, at 10 o’clock this morning, to take out friends and acquaintances who desire to attend the funeral.”
Where was Pageot buried? He has an interment entry in City Cemetery records, but no location is indicated. In 1843 Major Lewis had purchased a 40×40-foot lot in section 5 for $80.00. Who, if anyone, was buried on this lot? Not Major Lewis, who died in 1866. He and others of his family, along with their tombstones, were removed to Mt. Olivet in 1890 from “the old family burying ground.” Whether this burying ground was on the Fairfield estate is yet another mystery. The property was sold at auction in 1867, and by 1890 St. Margarethe’s Hospital occupied the location.
None of the removal records lists the name of Andrew J. Pageot. Was he originally interred with other Lewis family members and then, having been buried without a marker, simply forgotten? Does the partial record at City Cemetery exist because undertaker Cornelius merely assumed he would be interred there?
The old PBS series History Detectives insisted that “no secret is safe.” Is the secret of Andrew Jackson Pageot waiting to be found someday? (2010)
Sally Thomas died during Nashville’s 1850 cholera epidemic. In 1908 her tombstone could still be found, but by 2005 it was no longer standing. In 2009 a replacement tombstone for Sally Thomas was dedicated in a well-attended ceremony at City Cemetery.
Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.
This is the story of the most famous execution in Nashville history and how it led to the deaths of four young men – the Hefferman killers – within months. It is evidence of how violence begets violence, a story that is much older than Nashville. It begins with the death of Champ Ferguson.
This legendary execution occurred on October 20, 1865, as a result of the Civil War. Champ Ferguson was a Confederate guerilla. Captain Ferguson, as he was sometimes called, had assembled a band of killers that preyed on Union soldiers and partisans in the upper Cumberland area. By the time the war ended, Ferguson boasted of killing over a hundred men.
Union authorities refused to recognize his purported military status and arrested him for murder on May 26,1865.1 Most of the killings occurred in southern Kentucky, but the prosecution was not based on a formal investigation. Instead, when news circulated that Ferguson was to be charged, his victims’ families besieged federal authorities with stories of atrocities, and scores of them eagerly traveled to Nashville for his trial.
Because he was charged with murder, Champ Ferguson was brought before a military commission, which was neither a civil court nor a court-martial. This system had been used throughout the Civil War to bring criminals to justice. It was the same sort of commission that had sent Sam Davis to the gallows for spying in 1863. On the very day Ferguson was arrested, the four Lincoln Conspirators were executed at the nation’s capital after being tried and convicted by a military commission.
Ferguson came before a six-member commission in July 1865, and his trial lasted until September.2 Twenty-three specific charges were brought against Ferguson, who was accused of murdering fifty-three men. According to witnesses, he simply shot people dead, sometimes in their own homes in front of their wives and children.
Among the victims was Reuben Wood (white, age unknown), who had known Ferguson as a child. Ferguson and two other men rode to Wood’s house near Albany, Kentucky, on December 2, 1861, and inquired whether Wood had been to a Union mustering ground at Camp Dick Robinson. Hearing that he had, Ferguson cursed him, called him a “damned Lincolnite,” and shot him in the chest with a pistol in front of Wood’s adult daughter.3
Ferguson insisted that Wood was a member of a Union partisan gang who had been issued shoot-to-kill orders for Ferguson. “If I had not shot Reuben Wood, I would not likely have been here, for he would have shot me. I never expressed a regret for committing the act, and never will. He was in open war against me.”4 Contemporary Southern writers refused to condemn Ferguson’s actions, insisting they were no different from those of equally bloodthirsty Union guerillas like the infamous Tinker Dave Beaty, who operated in the same area.5
Ferguson was also charged with murdering Alex Huff in Fentress County in 1862, and with killing David Delk by chopping and cutting him to pieces at the Fentress County home of Mrs. Alex Huff in 1863. Other charges included slaying nineteen soldiers of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry (names unknown), on February 22, 1862.6 Elijah Kogier was shot at his home in Clinton County, Kentucky, in 1862 as his little daughter clung to him, pleading for his life. In 1861 Ferguson killed William Fogg, who was sick in bed and did the same to Peter Zachery at Rufus Dowdy’s house in Russell County, Kentucky, in January 1863.
Ferguson’s most notorious murder occurred in Emory, Virginia, on November 7, 1864.7 Marching into a Confederate hospital, he strode to the bed of a Union officer known only as Lt. Smith. Brandishing a pistol, Ferguson announced he was going to kill Smith and promptly shot a bullet into the man’s brain. It was this particular killing that led to Ferguson’s arrest. He was held for court-martial by the Confederate army, but he was released because the Confederate forces were too disorganized by that point in the war to follow through. At his trial Ferguson was mute regarding Lt. Smith, but his defense to the other murders was simply that he killed people who were trying to kill him, if they had the chance.
Regarding Lt. Smith, Ferguson spoke freely after his trial ended. “I acknowledge that I killed Lt. Smith in Emory and Henry Hospital. I had a motive in committing the act. He captured a number of my men at different times, and always killed the last one of them. I was instigated to kill him, but I will not say by whom, as I do not wish to criminate my friends. [Smith] is the only man I killed at or near Saltville [a battle that sent Smith to the hospital], and I am not sorry for killing him.”8 Because of Ferguson’s notoriety, a number of his guards contrived to have their picture taken with him, and several of those images survive. The trial received daily verbatim newspaper coverage.
Ferguson’s chief defense was that his actions fell within the terms of the surrender which barred punishment for actions committed during the war. His lawyers had convinced former Confederate General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler to attend. Wheeler’s testimony was generally favorable to the defense but failed to establish clear evidence that Ferguson had held a commission or had received and obeyed orders in killing any of the persons named in the indictment.9
The military commission convicted Ferguson in September, and he was hanged October 20, 1865, at the Nashville prison on Church Street, in front of three hundred people who had received passes to witness his death. The prison itself was protected by soldiers from the 15th United States Colored Infantry, a circumstance that greatly irritated the townsfolk.
As the long sentence was being read to Ferguson on the gallows, he alternately nodded and shook his head at various charges. When the Colonel said, “to all which the accused pleads not guilty,” Ferguson said, “But I don’t now!” After the cap was placed, he called out in a loud voice, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on me!”10
Champ Ferguson’s execution started a folklore tradition that endured for decades, namely that he was not actually hanged, but that his body was spirited away in a coffin and given to his wife and teenage daughter who had been present but unnoticed at his execution.
The folklore arose out of the fact that supposedly no one actually saw Ferguson’s body hanging after it dropped. The area below the gallows was obscured by wooden planking; hence, he might conceivably have been placed in his coffin alive. Indeed, the widely seen drawing of his execution – found in Harper’s Weekly, November 11, 1865, at page 716, shows it was impossible to see the gallows bottom, although the image shows Ferguson hanging.
One folklore tradition holds that Ferguson’s pillaging during the war made him wealthy, so his wife had the means to bribe the hangmen into placing the body of a recently deceased (supposedly hanged) black man in the coffin.11 Another version says that rocks were placed in his coffin, which was nailed shut when his wife carried it away.
The folklore is further enhanced because his wife and daughter left Tennessee for the West and were never heard from again – and by the fact that Ferguson’s name was misspelled on his gravestone. The story of Ferguson’s “escape” was retold every time a man was hanged in late 19th-century Tennessee. For this reason, hanged men’s bodies were often placed in an open coffin near the jail or place of execution for all to see.
The execution of Champ Ferguson probably led to the execution of George Crabb, James Lysaught, Thomas Perry, and James Knight. All were white. All except Knight, age 20, were teenagers. And despite their ages, all had criminal records.
Crabb was prosecuted and executed under the name “George Craft.”12 He had used the alias “Reid” or “Red.” Perry was sometimes known as “Ferry.” Knight had used the alias “McClusky” and was arrested under that name, but he also used the alias “William Dran” or “Dean.” He was prosecuted and executed as William Dean. Lysaught’s name has been reported as “Lycought.” These young men were known as the Hefferman killers.
Their crime was committed on the night of November 22, 1865, when Nashville was still under federal control. The killers were civilians employed as hands in the Army corrals. Knight had served in Confederate service in an Arkansas regiment. Perry had served in the 11th Tennessee and claimed to have been among those captured at Ft. Donelson. Crabb had been a teamster in the 11th Army Corps under Gen. Joseph Hooker. The killers lived in the back of a low saloon (referred to as a “doggery”) on Jefferson Street, then occupied by federal soldiers of both races.
William Hefferman (sometimes spelled “Heffran,” “Heffernan,” “Hufferman”), white, age 60, was a wealthy and respected street and railway contractor. Hefferman, his wife, adult daughter, and her husband Mr. Tracy, were returning to their home from a musical program at St. Cecilia Convent.
As the Hefferman carriage came near the doggery, four to six young men came out and suddenly turned toward them. Perry stopped the horse. Mr. Tracy asked, “What do you want!” as Hefferman said, “Surely you don’t mean to hurt anyone here!” Perry, closest to Hefferman, said, “Yes, goddamned quick, if you don’t give up your money!” Hefferman replied, “I am a private citizen, near my own home, just from an evening party and have no money.”13 Crabb seized Hefferman, pulled him to the ground, and beat him with a Billy club. Mrs. Hefferman got out to help her injured husband.
At that moment, Mr. Tracy shot a pistol at Crabb, and the bullet struck a glancing blow at the nipple and exited the chest. Crabb returned fire. His bullet grazed Mrs. Hefferman’s face and entered her husband’s nose, passing into his skull. The buggy bolted, still carrying the Tracys. By the time Mr. Tracy was able to control it, the killers had escaped. Taken to his home, Hefferman was able to describe both the incident and the killers, although he was bleeding badly and brain matter was coming out his nose. Hefferman died on November 26.
News of the incident stunned the city, and the next day two prostitutes led the town marshal to the injured Crabb, who quickly confessed and implicated the others. Perry had escaped to Murfreesboro, where he was arrested after breaking into a shed.14
Taken to jail, Crabb and his accomplices were visited by East Tennessee Unionists, Gen. Brownlow and Col. Horace Maynard. They identified Crabb as the person who had robbed them a few days earlier on the Franklin turnpike.
A three-member military tribunal heard evidence against all but Perry in November; Perry’s trial began on December 3, 1865. Co-defendant Joseph A. Jones (alias “Tom Carter”) denied involvement. Perry insisted he had not actually stopped the horse, only stood in front of it. He said Crabb was the shooter. Witnesses included persons the killers had confided in, such as Perry’s supervisor at the corral, who said that Perry had told him the details of the crime, which he relayed to the tribunal.15
All but Jones were found guilty of a multiple-count indictment and sentenced to death by hanging.16 They appealed to Gen. Thomas, who rejected their appeal on January 16, 1866. He sent the case to General Grant. Grant, too, refused them, as did President Andrew Johnson.
Throughout the trial and the appeal, the defendants maintained a confident and defiant manner, convinced they would be granted clemency. They broke only briefly, but generally maintained bravado, including joking, up to the moment they were pinioned and taken to the scaffold.17 Then they began to tremble and sob.
The killers were seated on coffins and taken to the gallows on two wagons, each pulled by four white horses. The execution was carried out on January 26, 1866, at the state prison on Nashville’s Church Street and was witnessed by a solemn and orderly crowd of ten thousand. Knight exhorted the on-lookers, “I wish to say to all, don’t swear, don’t visit low houses, don’t gamble, don’t do anything wrong. If you take warning by me, you will never meet my fate, but I am going to a better world.”18
Lysaught, the youngest, who had earlier joked that he weighed so little he might not actually die by the hanging, said, “I am no scholar; I have no education, but I wish, gentlemen, to say, that I hope I am going to a better world. I forgive everybody, and I hope no man in this crowd has anything against me; if he has, I hope he will forgive me.” After thanking the military jailers for treating him kindly, and stating that if he had stayed in the city jail he would have starved to death, Lysaught concluded, “That is all, gentlemen, I am going to a better world and I hope to meet you all there.”19 Each bid the other farewell as the caps were being drawn over their heads.
Lysaught’s neck was broken; the other three were strangled, notably Perry. The knot had slipped around the back of his neck. The killers were buried in unmarked graves at the National Cemetery in Nashville.
Later in 1866 the United States Supreme Court ruled that criminal trials by military commissions were unconstitutional where the state courts were open, as they were in Nashville at this time.20 But the result was not likely to have been different.
At the time of the Hefferman murder, in November 1865, the military was still trying to keep the peace in Middle Tennessee. The media carried frequent accounts of gangs robbing civilians.21 Most of the gangs were garbed in at least partial blue uniforms. The execution of the Hefferman killers was a signal that the Army would punish federal lawbreakers as well as former Confederate killers like Champ Ferguson. Coming on the heels of the Ferguson execution, it showed fairness to all, regardless of prior allegiance. This was the first quadruple execution in Tennessee. It would not be the last.
1 Thurman Sensing. Champ Ferguson, Confederate Guerilla. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1942), p. 1. (Standard biography of Ferguson.) See, J.D. Hale. Sketches of Scenes in the Career of Champ Ferguson, His Lieutenant, With Champ’s Confession, J. M. Hughes and the K.K.K. (The author: Hale’s Mills, Tennessee, no date [circa 1867]. 54 pp.
2 One of Ferguson’s lawyers was Josephus C. Guild, later a judge and dean of the Nashville bar. He vigorously defended Ferguson, but wrote nothing about the case in his memoirs except this: “October 20, 1865, Champ Ferguson was hung at the penitentiary on account of war operations. On the 20th of November William Heffran was dragged from his carriage and murdered by some ruffians belonging to the Federal army, who were subsequently apprehended, tried by a court-martial, convicted, and hung. The execution took place January 26, 1866.” Josephus C. Guild. Old Times in Tennessee. (Nashville: Tavel, Eastman & Howell, 1878) p. 496.
3 Id., note 1, at p. 83-84.
4 Id., note 1, at p. 87.
5 Bromfield L. Ridley. Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee. (Nashville: 1906). (Ridley served on Gen. A. P. Stewart’s staff.)
6 Id., note 1, at p. 29.
7 Id., note 1, at p. 177.
8 Id., note 1, at p. 188.
9 Id., note 1, at p. 208-216. At 5′ 2″ tall, Wheeler was known as “Little Joe” Wheeler during the war, but became “Fighting Joe” thereafter. He was placed in command of the cavalry of the Army of Tennessee in 1862. Sothrons saw his testimony at Ferguson’s trial as a courageous gesture. By the time of the Spanish-American War, Wheeler “went over” to the Federal Army and was named a general, a largely symbolic gesture, but an important one.
10 See “From the Nashville Daily Press and Times, October 21, 1865,” in August Mencken.By the Neck: A Book of Hangings. (New York: Hastings House, 1942) at p. 120-126.
11 “Champ Ferguson,”Daily American, September 28, 1879, p. 2. In publishing the tale, this newspaper says that Ferguson was seen hanging by Henry Watterson, who wrote about it when he was a reporter for theRepublican Banner. He was currently editor of theLouisville Courier-Journal.
12 “Fate of the Hefferman Murderers,” Nashville Union and American, Jan. 18, 1866, p. 1.
13 “Murder, Melancholy Progress of Highway Robbery in the State Capitol,”Republican Banner, November 24, 1865, p. 2.
14 “Another Murderer Arrested,”Republican Banner, Dec. 2, 1865, p. 1.
15 “Trial of Thomas Perry,”Republican Banner, Dec. 3, 1865, p. 2.
16 “The Heffernan Murderers,”Nashville Union, Jan. 18, 1866, p. 3. “Interview with the Hefferman Murderers,” Union and American, Jan. 20, 1866, p. 3.
17 “Talk With the Murderers of Heffernan,”Nashville Union, Jan. 25, 1866, p. 2.
18 SeePittsburgh Post (Pittsburgh, Pa.), February 1, 1866.
19 “Execution of the Hufferman Murderers,” Nashville American, January 27, 1866, p. 2.
20 Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866).
21 “Highway Robberies on the Murfreesboro Pike,” Republican Banner, December 10, 1865, p. 2. “Another Horrible Murder,” Republican Banner, December 11, 1865, p. 3.
On a beautiful early spring Sunday afternoon, about twenty descendants and relatives of Private Robert Bradfute (1794-1861), a veteran of the War of 1812, gathered in City Cemetery for a dedication of his recently installed military marker. The ceremonies were arranged by Ruth (Bradfute) Heizer of Knoxville, a great-granddaughter of Private Bradfute’s brother, and were conducted by the United States Daughters of 1812.
Robert Bradfute was a Virginian, and sometime after 1821, following his war service with the Virginia Militia, he and his wife, née Lucy Ann Vasser, came to Nashville, where he worked as a brick mason. One of the many buildings he worked on was the old insane asylum, which was torn down in 1999 for the new Dell campus on Murfreesboro Road.
In addition to the Veterans Administration headstone for Robert, Mrs. Heizer and her husband Jim purchased monuments for six other relatives buried in the Bradfute lot. The family placed another marker for Lucy Ann, who died in 1826 while still a young mother of three or four children. Lucy Ann is buried about 50 yards from the Bradfute lot on Oak Street.
After the death of Lucy Ann, Robert married Sarah Holman Snead and fathered four more children. Sarah is buried next to her husband, along with one of her children. Robert’s brother Hamilton, his wife Nancy Robinson Bradfute, and their daughter Blanche, are also buried in the Bradfute lot.
William R. Bradfute, the second child and oldest son of Robert and Lucy Ann, served as a captain in the Mexican War and a colonel in the Confederate Army. In 1853 William’s first wife, Ann Bennett Bradfute, only 22 years old, died in Nashville and was buried in City Cemetery, although her grave is not now marked. Colonel Bradfute later moved to Texas, along with other family members. After his death, he was buried in the National Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
A number of Bradfute descendants had come from Texas to attend the dedication ceremony. One of them, Roland Bradfute Jr., Robert’s fourth great-grandson, sang the National Anthema cappella. He sang beautifully, and everyone present found it especially inspiring to hear the words written during Private Bradfute’s war sung in the shadow of the two flags displayed at the ceremony: the current U.S. flag and the 15-star flag that had been the national flag during the War of 1812. (2014)
Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.
During October 1847 Nashvillians were alarmed by newspaper reports of numerous fires in the city, some caused by accident, some by “incendiaries” (i.e., arsonists). But on the evening of October 12, 1847, something much worse happened when a strong thunderstorm passed over the city.
A newspaper editor wrote of hearing a thunderclap, then a “terrific report—a lifting up sensation, as if something had exploded in the interior of the earth, with the effects of an earthquake.” He was in an office on the Public Square about one-half mile from the source of the explosion: a brick building storing gunpowder just west of Capitol Hill. The “powder magazine,” which reportedly contained over 500 kegs of gunpowder, had been struck by lightning. The building was completely blown from the site, sending brick missiles throughout the city.
The shock wave and debris broke almost every pane of glass in the city, some two miles away. More than fifty nearby houses were destroyed or rendered unfit for occupation, particularly on the streets Gay, Spruce (today’s Rosa L. Park Avenue) and High (today’s 6th Avenue North). Three people were killed instantly and at least one other person died later; many more were wounded. One newspaper account described a 100-pound rock going through the roof and into the cellar of the Nashville Inn on the Public Square.
Within a week of the explosion, city officials took measures to relocate another powder magazine away from the city, and the owners stationed a guard by it “day and night” until it could be moved. An attempt was made in the Tennessee House of Representatives to pass a resolution giving the city $1,000 from the State Treasury “for distribution among the sufferers.” The resolution did not make it to the Senate.
Lawsuits for damages were filed against the owners of the powder manufacturing company, Sycamore Powder Mill. One case went all the way to the Tennessee State Supreme Court, which found that “powder houses” placed in populated areas constitute a “nuisance.” During the Civil War, the memory of the 1847 explosion prompted the Nashville Dispatch to call for the removal of powder and ammunition stored downtown, a recommendation with which Federal authorities complied.
Nashville Whig, October 7, 1847, “DISTRESSING AFFAIR,” regarding an explosion at a house on Market Street where fireworks were being manufactured.
Nashville Whig, October 9, 1847, “FIRES,” regarding “several fires during the present week.”
Nashville Whig, October 12, 1847, “MORE FIRES.”
Nashville Daily Union, October 13, 1847, “TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE.”
Republican Banner, October 13, 1847, “Explosion of a Powder Magazine by Lightning,” which also includes a reprint of a detailed article from the Orthopolitan titled “DREADFUL ACCIDENT” containing a house-to-house description of damage.
Nashville Whig, October 14, 1847, “FRIGHTFUL CALAMITY, A POWDER MAGAZINE EXPLODED!!!”
Nashville Daily Union, October 14, 1847, “FURTHER PARTICULARS OF THE DISTRESSING CALAMITY,” regarding the 100-pound rock and other stories.
Republican Banner, October 18, 1847, “The Powder Magazine Below the City.”
Republican Banner, November 19, 1847, “Corporation of Nashville.” Attributes three deaths to the “Explosion of a Powder Magazine.”
Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Tennessee, at the Twenty-Seventh General Assembly, Held at Nashville, 1847-8. Pages 79 and 80, Resolution No. 26.
Republican Banner, May 22, 1851, “Suit for Damages.”
Reports of the Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee, During the Years 1851–2, Volume 1 (1853), pages 213–217, Cheatham et als. vs. Shearon, Trustee, &c.
Nashville Dispatch, June 4, 1863, “Whether justly entertained or not, there is no little uneasiness among the citizens of Nashville in regard to the large quantity of powder and ammunition of various kinds believed to be stored in the city for the military authorities.”
Nashville Dispatch, December 18, 1863, “Removal of Powder.”
Just as in our national history, the question of personal safety has arisen many times in Nashville. For at least fifteen years after our 1780 founding, not a man, woman, or child was safe. Indians devised surprise attacks again and again on the encroaching settlers, and many lives were lost – some, like Jonathan Jennings, through horrific means.
Never has there been a Nashville panic like that of February 1862. After Fort Donelson fell on February 16, it became clear that Union troops would occupy Nashville. Many Nashville secessionists quickly scattered to the winds, while others, determined to remain, hunkered down in fearful anticipation of the arrival of the invading army.
Soon afterwards, as if the Civil War had not brought enough agony, one of several vicious cholera epidemics claimed as many as 800 Nashville lives in the summer of 1866. Seven years later, in 1873, nearly 750 Nashvillians perished in another outbreak of the terrible disease.
By the end of the day on March 22, 1916, about thirty-two square blocks of East Nashville had become a wasteland. A particularly voracious fire, driven by high winds, had devoured nearly 700 buildings and homes. Not many years later, on March 14, 1933, another unwelcome guest—a savage tornado—roared through East Nashville threatening again the very foundations of the community.
During the 1960s Nashville was a highly visible stage for the Civil Rights Movement. At times it looked as though our city might self-destruct out of racial tension. Neither whites nor blacks felt safe as the pressures created by mandated integration resulted in legal battles, demonstrations, sit-ins, and riots.
Nashville was left largely to its own devices during the destructive flood of May 2010, when it received more than 13 inches of rain in two days. The fast-rising water displaced 10,000 residents, produced $2.3 billion in property damage, and caused a number of deaths. Receiving little help from outside, neighbors helped neighbors, and volunteers turned out by the hundreds to help with clean-up efforts.
Late on March 2, 2020, a category-EF3 tornado roared through Nashville and into Mt. Juliet along nearly the same path as the 1933 storm, causing five deaths, over 200 serious injuries, and $1.5 billion in property damage, including a disproportionate number of churches and school buildings. The Covid-19 pandemic had just begun to affect the health of the community as tornado clean-up got underway, and the remainder of the year was consumed by efforts to sustain schools, businesses, and healthcare facilities during a time of unprecedented illness and hardship. And then, just as new vaccines brought hope, the Christmas morning bomb blast on 2nd Avenue downtown shattered our peace once again.
Yet somehow, through these and other perilous times, Nashville has survived, and even thrived. We have always been an industrious lot, constructing landmark public buildings, universities, churches, libraries, businesses, and homes. More important, we have strengthened our collective character and have raised our children to become leaders in business, education, law, politics, medicine, and music. We have produced artists and poets, authors and publishers, factory technicians and practical nurses. We, along with our nation, have become a diversified and enriched society that must continue to mature. We have proudly earned our motto, “Nashville Strong!”
The Nashville street that connects Church Street with West End Avenue was known as Richland or Harding Pike in 1881 when Ed Buford built a house there and called it “By Ma.” He gave the house that folksy name because it was situated next to Burlington, the estate then owned by Elizabeth Boddie Elliston, Buford’s mother-in-law and widow of W.R. Elliston. As a result of the 1904 changes in street names, Elliston Street became 23rd Avenue North, and Richland was renamed Elliston Place.
A look at the 1889 Nashville City Atlas gives us some idea of the extent of the Elliston holdings, which included land now occupied by Vanderbilt University. At 23rd and Elliston Place the AT&T building now fronts where “By Ma” once stood. Burlington went up just to the west in two stages, first when former mayor Joseph Thorp Elliston bought the land in 1821 for just under $11,500. When he died in 1856 his youngest son, W.R. Elliston, inherited the property. William F. Strickland, the architect who designed the State Capitol, drew up a plan for the “new” Burlington, at least according to Elliston family lore. Strickland died in 1854, but a floor plan drawing he is said to have made for Burlington has survived.
Though not strictly historical, family legends can augment dates and surviving maps. Stories recorded in Burlington: A Memory, published in 1958 by Josephine Elliston Farrell, make the house the scene of several interesting anecdotes of the Civil War. One of W. R. Elliston’s daughters, Louise, is the star of most of the tales, but the most poignant story concerns Willie, Elliston’s youngest son. At the age of five he was taken into custody on the almost laughable suspicion of being involved in espionage. His father was able to secure his release, but not before Willie’s shoes had been cut apart and his clothing searched.
Both Joseph T. Elliston and his son W.R. were slaveholders. W.R. sided with the Confederacy and is even said to have enlisted in 1861, but he was at home in 1862 when Burlington was taken over by the occupying Federals. The family legends tell us of skirmishes on the property and of a wounded Confederate spy hiding out in the house.
The names of W.R. Elliston’s daughters read like a Who’s Who of European royalty. Maria Louisa, usually called Louise, was twenty-three when she married Dr. L.P. Yandell in 1867. Research indicates that he had been a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Josephine married Norman Farrell in 1869. A freshman at Columbia University in New York when the war broke out, Farrell booked passage for Cuba, was put ashore in Florida, and eventually joined Forrest’s cavalry.
Of special interest is the youngest, Lizinka, born in 1851. Her namesake was the widow Lizinka Campbell-Brown, herself named after the Czarina of Russia. In 1875 Lizinka Elliston married Ed Buford, another Confederate veteran.
W.R. Elliston died in New York City on July 4, 1870. He and his wife Elizabeth had traveled there to seek a specialist’s advice on his abdominal pains. In a bureaucratic irony stemming from the rules governing the census, he was enumerated on the day of his funeral. Buried with him that same day was Medora Thayer Elliston, the eleven-month-old daughter of his son Elijah, who had married Leonora Chapman.
The widow Elliston left Burlington from 1870 until the 1880s. A house at 52 N High (6th Avenue) was home not only to Elizabeth but also to the Bufords and Farrells, according to the 1880 census. Elliston descendants believe that Elijah took over Burlington for his own use. It was not until 1875 that Elizabeth bought her share of the town house, while G.M. Fogg bought the other half. Norman and Josephine Farrell moved in by 1873, and the Bufords by 1876. The year 1881 would see these families back at the old Elliston lands.
A photo database at the Tennessee State Library and Archives contains numerous images of Burlington as well as of the Ellistons, Bufords, and Farrells. In 1901 the widow Elliston posed for a group photo with her three daughters and some of her grandchildren. Seated next to mother Lizinka Elliston Buford is ten-year-old Eddie Buford, who would go on to become Nashville’s WWI flying ace.
Burlington was not destined to see the Second World War. The mansion was torn down in 1931, and Father Ryan High School, which has since relocated, went up on the site the next year. A part of the original house was saved and reconstructed on Abbott-Martin Road by Ed Buford’s daughter Elizabeth Shepherd, who died in 1955.
Land will pass from one owner to another, buildings will be torn down and new ones constructed, names will be forgotten, and stories will be embellished over time. Through all that, the Ellistons have maintained a place in history, and the importance of that family is witnessed today by a well-known Nashville street–Elliston Place.
Author’s note: We were never positive that the paper picture used here, taken from a carte-de-visite, was really Lizinka, but based on the two known images of her at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, I’d say the odds are pretty good. This one was taken by C. C. Giers at his Union Avenue studio around 1875, the year Lizinka married Ed Buford. The address on the Giers logo on the reverse side can be shown by city directories to date to 1872-1877.
Primary Source Document, transcribed by Mike Slate.
Yesteryear’s folding booklets of postcards sometimes included a few paragraphs about the featured state or city. The text below, which reads as though it might have been prepared by the local Chamber of Commerce, came from a booklet of postcards published by S. H. Kress & Co. and is hand-dated September 15, 1924. Ephemera like this can often provide both interesting data and thought-provoking interpretive possibilities.
Nashville is the Capital City of Tennessee, and the County Seat of Davidson County.
Four railroads serve the city. Forty-four passenger and sixty-eight freight trains arrive in Nashville daily.
The Cumberland River is navigable 210 miles down the river practically the year round and 352 miles up the river for about six months, and the work of installing new locks and dams will increase this practically to ten months each year. Nashville has seven bridges across the Cumberland River.
There are 22 parks and playgrounds, containing 468 acres. Centennial Park has the only replica of the Parthenon in the world. Shelby Park has a nine-hole municipal golf course. The Vanderbilt Stadium seats 22,000 people, and is the largest athletic field in the South. Nashville’s water supply is pure and inexhaustible, with more than 50,000,000-gallon capacity daily. The Tennessee State Fair, one of the largest expositions in the South, is held in Nashville each year. The Public Auditorium has a seating capacity of 5,000 persons.
Vanderbilt University, with assets of $11,000,000, has entrance requirements and a curriculum equal to any university in the United States, and has drawn students from every state in the Union and from eight foreign countries. It has an endowment of $6,850,000. The medical department has an endowment of $3,500,000, and is erecting the most complete medical school in the South and one of the finest in America.
The only Y.M.C.A. College in the South is located in Nashville.
Three institutions for women, Ward-Belmont, St. Bernard Academy, and St. Cecilia, draw students from practically every state in the Union. Ward-Belmont alone has over 600 non-resident students.
The Southeastern School of Printing has $80,000 worth of equipment, and is the only school of its kind in the South.
George Peabody College for Teachers, with an investment of $4,000,000 and 20 departments, is the only teachers’ college in the South, and the second largest in the United States. It has an endowment of $2,500,000, and in 1922-23 had an enrollment representing 36 states and 5 foreign countries.
It leads all other cities in the South in livestock, butter, poultry, grinding of wheat, eggs, and various agricultural products.
The mean annual temperature is 60 degrees; the average summer temperature is 78 degrees; and average winter temperature is 41 degrees.
The average annual rainfall is 47.2 inches, humidity moderate, and no sunstrokes are recorded.
Nashville has more than 500 manufacturing enterprises, makes more self-rising flour than any city in the world (“Goodness gracious, it’s good!”), and is one of the two largest hardwood flooring markets in the world. Its annual hardwood flooring output would pave an automobile boulevard 10 feet wide from Nashville to New York. Over 35,000,000 pounds of green coffee are roasted annually.
The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, is located near Nashville, and is one of the show grounds of America.
Three Presidents of the United States, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson, have lived in Nashville. Jackson is buried at the Hermitage and Polk on the grounds of the historic State Capitol.
William Walker, the “Grey-eyed Man of Destiny,” the most famous of all American filibusters, was born and reared in Nashville. Walker became president of Nicaragua and raised the blood-red five-point star of the United States of Central America, but he failed in his plans and was shot by a firing squad. (1997)
Notes and comments from the Nashville Historical Newsletter.
Jim Summerville, “The Battle of Nashville Monument,” NHN, March 1997
The pace is quickening at Hawkins Partners, chief contractor overseeing the relocation and restoration of the Battle of Nashville Monument. A concept plan for the new site, the southwest corner of Granny White and Battlefield Drive, is underway. By early April the firm hopes to turn over to the state architect the bid packages for all subcontracting, including the sculpting of the new 40-foot obelisk and angel that were part of the original monument. Groundbreaking may take place sometime this summer.
The Tennessee Historical Commission, which owns the monument, selected the new site in 1992. Thanks to federal, state, and local funds, as well as numerous private contributions, this great art and history treasure will be brought back to public view and appreciation.
The driving force behind the monument’s creation was May Winston Caldwell and the Ladies’ Battlefield Association. In 1911 the group secured four acres at Franklin Road and Thompson Lane, where in 1863 Union and Confederate forces had clashed fiercely. At this place the association determined to erect a memorial to mark the last major action in the western theater, the Battle of Nashville.
World War I delayed the project, and by the time the Association commissioned sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, the idea for a solders’ memorial had taken on new significance. On the battlefields of Europe, Southern and Northern young men had fought side by side, reuniting the country under one flag. Moretti expressed this idea in two rearing horses, representing the former enemies, yoked together by a youth who stood for the young men who had served on foreign fields.
Finally dedicated in 1927, the Battle of Nashville monument stood proudly for many years. Then in 1974 a tornado destroyed the obelisk and the Angel of Peace that crowned it. In the 1980s a 13-acre interchange for I-440 and I-65 pressed against the site, isolating the remaining bronze, the youth and horses, on a pinched plot of ground. For some time, acid rain has been pitting the soft marble of the base. Lately, vandals have scrawled graffiti on the stone.
This great wrong will now be righted, as the Battle of Nashville comes to its new home. In the vicinity of the new location, the Confederate line under General A. P. Stewart reached its farthest advance on the afternoon of December 15, 1864.
2. NHN: A Work of Art Needs Your Help, September 1997
Contractors working on the restoration of the Battle of Nashville Monument would be grateful to hear from anyone who possesses any fragments of the original sculpture. Pieces of the obelisk and angel would enable the careful replication of the work, which was hurled to the ground and smashed during a 1974 tornado. All fragments loaned for this purpose will be handled with care and returned promptly to the lender. Contact: The Association for Tennessee History.
3. NHN: History in Action, March 1998
Approximately $300,000 will be needed to complete the interpretive park that will be the new site for the refurbished Battle of Nashville Peace Monument. The park, located at Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive, is scheduled to open this summer. Preliminary site preparation has begun, and sculptor Colley Coleman has been producing shop drawings that will determine the proper cutting of the new granite for the Monument. The Tennessee Historical Commission is welcoming donations to the park project.
4. NHN: History in Action, May-June 1999
Giuseppe Moretti’s Battle of Nashville Peace Monument is scheduled to be rededicated on Saturday, June 26, at 10:00 a.m. at the new historical park on Battlefield Drive. The monument, a tribute to those who fought and died in both the Civil War and World War I, was damaged by a 1974 tornado and neglected for years thereafter. The renewed monument is also a tribute to those organizations and individuals who refused to allow it to lie in ruin.
5. NHN: News & Notes, July-August 1999
The restored Battle of Nashville Peace Monument, thought to be the only Civil War monument in the United States to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers, was rededicated on June 26, 1999. The principal speaker for the occasion was venerable Nashvillian Wilbur Foster Creighton Jr., a hearty ninety-two years of age. Ward DeWitt Jr., chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission, appropriately dedicated the Peace Monument to our city’s youth. The now-pristine monument – with its mighty granite base, its bronze sculpture, and its triangular obelisk – rises to thirty feet and is topped with an Angel of Peace. Fittingly located in a new park at Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive, this memorial could become, we believe, one of the most frequently photographed of all Tennessee outdoor statuary.
Would you drive across town to visit a tree? Our busy lives and priorities seldom allow such a trek. However, whether old or young, man or woman, liberal or conservative, we share this oxygenated planet with many other interdependent life forms. Although human history is the historiographer’s normal province, other species also have important stories to tell if we would but listen.
“Aesop” is the name I have given a stunning oak tree on Granny White Pike at Clifton Lane. Like his namesake, the ancient fabulist, our Aesop has contributed significantly to our lives, albeit in silence and relative obscurity. We take him for granted most of the time, but he has been honored at least twice. He was the champion chestnut oak* in the 1994 Big Old Tree Contest sponsored by the Nashville Tree Foundation, and in 1999 he was voted into the Tennessee Landmark and Historic Tree Register.
Aesop is old enough to have been present at the 1864 Battle of Nashville. Perhaps weary Union or Confederate soldiers leaned upon him, or maybe his roots absorbed the blood of the slain. Through the years frolicking children have no doubt played on and around him as their elders enjoyed his shade and admired his grandeur. He has been home to song birds, squirrels, raccoons, insects. I wonder whether a mathematician could calculate the number of liters of oxygen Aesop has provided, or the number of lungs his breath would fill.
About twenty yards northwest of Aesop stands the distinguished Battle of Nashville Monument, which, in addition to the conflict it so aptly commemorates, has its own illustrious history. Thus, two archetypes stand juxtaposed in one small park – one of natural history and one of human history.
Historians are slow to combine the various divisions of their discipline. An outstanding example is the continued segregation of the histories of white and black Americans. The relatively new field of women’s studies contains still more historical material not often integrated into the general curriculum. Clearly the wedding of human and natural history is a rare occurrence, although such works as Harriette Arnow’s wonderful books, Seedtime on the Cumberland and Flowering of the Cumberland are significant exceptions.
Although you may never read about Aesop in a history book, he is well over 150 years old, perhaps demonstrating more character and majesty today than ever before. His existence has become quite personal to me–as it has to others. I know from experience that his northwest side is an effective shelter from a slow rain. I usually visit him alone, although to be alone with Aesop is to have plenty of company. Perhaps the concept of tree spirits might be more than just a primitive or romantic notion.
Like his namesake, Aesop is a teacher. He shares his woody wisdom freely, instructing us in such values as dependability and service to others. He is a visual mantra, an environmental balm, an arboreal benediction, a monumental survivor. Gather the children or grandchildren and pay him a visit: he will greet you with open arms.
* Other experts have identified this tree as a Chinquapin oak rather than a chestnut oak. These two varieties of white oak are quite similar.