by Carol Kaplan.
The tales of political and military leaders abound at City Cemetery – these influential citizens are often the focus of our research and knowledge. However, beyond the public and civic life of Nashville, private stories show us another more personal life of love and devotion, loss and memory.
Two married couples may be found on the Foster family plot in section 29.2. The more famous pair is Ann Robertson Johnston and John Cockrill, who fell in love as they traveled with John Donelson’s party on the flatboat flotilla bringing settlers to Nashville in 1780. Ann, the widowed mother of three little girls, and bachelor John Cockrill were both 23 years old when they were married at Fort Nashborough, where Ann’s brother, James Robertson performed the ceremony. Despite the threat of Indian attacks, everyone celebrated the wedding on that spring day with feasting, dancing, fiddling, and bear meat. Both Ann and John received land preemptions, and they settled where Centennial Park stands today. The parents of eight children, they enjoyed a long life together. Ann died in 1821 at 64 years of age; John lived until 1837. They were originally buried near their home, but due to encroaching development, they were brought together to City Cemetery in the early 20th century.
Ann S. Hubbard Foster and her husband Robert C. rest nearby. They had been married 51 years, 6 months, and 12 days when he died in 1844. His vault was reopened when Ann died in 1850, so that the couple could be buried together as she had wished.
True love sometimes needs a helping hand, as Margaret Nichol discovered when she fell in love with Robert Armstrong, an aide-de-camp to Andrew Jackson. Her wealthy banker father, Josiah Nichol, forbade their marriage, insisting that the life of a soldier’s wife was not what he and Margaret’s mother wanted for their daughter. Not to be denied, Margaret and Robert eloped in 1814, asking for help from the couple they knew would be on their side: Rachel and Andrew Jackson. At the Hermitage, where the future president and his wife were still living in a log cabin, Old Hickory took command, sending for a pastor to perform the marriage and writing to the bride’s father. Jackson reminded Nichol of their own “lack of fortune” when they first came to Nashville together, and vouched for Armstrong’s character. He encouraged smiles, tranquility, and acceptance of the marriage . . . and then invited everyone to a festive dinner party at the cabin.
Two of Nashville’s prominent architects designed monuments at City Cemetery. Adolphus Heiman, just beginning his career in Nashville, carved the marker for Nancy Bailey Maynor in 1836. She and her husband, painter Pleasant Maynor, had been married only eight years. Heiman marked the stone with a butterfly, symbolizing a brief, beautiful life.
Grieving husband John W. Walker commissioned William Strickland to design a monument for his 28-year-old wife, Sarah Ann Gray. Strickland described the monument as “very elegant . . . constructed of pure white marble from Baltimore . . .. The lachrymal vase is an exact copy of vases found in the ruins of Pompeii.” It was completed in July 1846.
These stories remind us of the importance of recording the inscriptions and caring for the tombstones of City Cemetery. Without these markers, much of what we know about these people would be lost. The purpose of the monuments, as created by those left behind, was to ensure that their loved ones would always be remembered. Our care of the cemetery keeps that hope alive. (2008)
Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.
Readers will enjoy exploring the City Cemetery website for tombstone photos, inscriptions, obituaries, and much more: http://www.thenashvillecitycemetery.org/