The True History of the “Ivy Rock”

by Carol Kaplan.

The large ivy-covered boulder, so different from other grave markers at Nashville City Cemetery, has excited curiosity for more than 150 years. As the true story was forgotten, romantic tales of love and tragedy, each sadder and less realistic, swirled around “The Rock.”

The “Ivy Rock” (photo courtesy of Nashville City Cemetery Association

Did a lover’s quarrel cause a young lady to drown herself in the Cumberland River? Or perhaps a young bride was killed in a carriage on the way to her wedding. In every fanciful variation of this tragic death, the bereaved suitor or husband had the “trysting rock” where the young lovers met brought to her gravesite. The grieving young man allowed no name or date: he knew, and that was enough. One variation said the young lady was afraid of the dark, so a lantern was placed on top. Perhaps there had been an identifying inscription, but it had worn away. No one remembered who was buried under the boulder.

In 1959 a plaque was attached bearing the inscription “Ann Rawlins1 Sanders, 1815-1836.” As shall be shown, this attribution was an error.

Who was Ann Rawlins Sanders? Do her life and death reflect any part of these fanciful stories?

No, they do not. Far from being a suicide or a casualty on her wedding day, Ann was a loved and respected Nashville community member. She was married to Charles H. Sanders by the Reverend William Hume on August 29, 1832, in Nashville, and she attended the First (now Downtown) Presbyterian Church. On April 1, 1836, a local newspaper lamented her death: “A soul of bliss winged its way to mansions on high. Too pure to remain here below, it returned to its maker after a sojourn of twenty-one winters. She was a happy representative of the Church. Her lovely expression was a magnet to the lukewarm and the skeptic.” So there was no scandal or tragedy here, but just the sadness of a young life cut short. The first survey of the City Cemetery, in 1908, labeled the box tomb next to the “Ivy Rock” as belonging to Ann.

The box tomb of Ann Rawlins Sanders is adjacent to the Ivy Rock. (Photo courtesy of the Nashville City Cemetery Association)

If Ann Rawlins Sanders isn’t buried under the Rock, then who, if anyone, is?

Nashville City Cemetery Association researchers have made every effort to read and transcribe, from microfilm, all articles about the history of the cemetery. In 2013 the discovery of one story refuted all the tragic tales. On August 14, 1882, The Daily American let readers know this:

“Some months since, a part of the ivy was cut away on two sides where the inscriptions were said to be. There the rough letters were, but nearly worn away; with care and painstaking they were finally deciphered.

“On the south, the side towards her former home was: ‘Lucy Rawlins Steele / Died May 9, 1847.’

“On the east was carved: ‘1848 / THE DEAD / The only beautiful that change no more.’”

Photo courtesy of Nashville City Cemetery Association

The reporter learned the truth from the City Cemetery Sexton, who remembered that a gentleman named Mr. Steele had had the stone carried to the cemetery a year after his wife’s death. At that time Edward G. Steele was serving as Secretary of the Building Commission for the new State Capitol. For the building construction stone was being cut, by prisoners from the State Penitentiary, at a nearby quarry. According to the Sexton, “Mr. Steele had the stone brought out in a high wagon drawn by eight mules, and six convicts were taken along to aid in unloading it. He then put it there and then spoiled nature by putting that iron on the top, as I told him at the time. But there isn’t any truth in all those romances that young people are so fond of telling and believing about the ivy stone.”

With her name discovered, what more could be found about Lucy’s life? Davidson County marriage records show that Lucy was married to Edward Steele on November 24, 1832, by Reverend William Hume2. She was baptized at Christ Church, the first Episcopal Church in Nashville, on October 13, 1837, and two days later the Steeles’ baby, Albert Wagner Steele, was baptized. Parish records list Lucy’s death in May 1847.

The City Cemetery Interment book shows that Lucy, wife of E. G. Steele, died of consumption and was buried on May 6, 1847. One month after her death, Mr. “Steel” bought Lot 9 in Section 18 where Ann and Lucy are buried. As they have the same maiden name, it is possible they were sisters. The entry, deciphered with difficulty, states that Lucy died May 9, a date which is a few days different from that in the interment book. The name Steel/Steele was variously spelled in 19th century records.

Less than two years after Lucy’s death, Edward G. Steele resigned his position as Secretary of the Building Commission and left Nashville. With his departure, Lucy’s name was lost to memory.

The lantern which once adorned the “Ivy Rock” has since been taken down. (NCCA photo)

The “Ivy Rock” is now correctly marked. The cast iron ornament placed there by Edward Steele remains, but the lantern, added years later, has been removed. The “Ivy Rock” stands again as the memorial to Lucy Rawlins Steele that her loving husband intended, so many years ago.

1 Ann’s surname, “Rawlins,” is spelled “Rawlings” in several records. Sources have consistently used the spelling “Rawlins” for Lucy’s name.

2 Three months after the marriage of Ann Rawlins and Charles H. Sanders by the same pastor.

Fletch Coke’s research contributed to this story.

Funeral Customs of the 1800s

by Kathy Lauder.

Most burials in the Nashville City Cemetery took place during the 19th century. It was a period, perhaps more than any other, when people obeyed formal rules of behavior, and there were very particular rules regarding death.

Queen Victoria’s daughters in mourning for their father, 1862

When a Victorian family member died, people in the household carefully followed certain customs to honor the departed and to inform others of the death. The bereaved family would close the curtains, stop all the clocks in the house at the time of death, cover mirrors with black crepe or other veiling (in order, as some believed, to prevent the spirit from being trapped in the looking glass), and turn family photographs face-down (to prevent the spirit from possessing others in the household). Families commonly hung a black bow, a wreath of laurel, or a bundle of yew branches on the front door to let neighbors and visitors know there had been a death. Flowers and candles throughout the house lent a somber touch, but also, of course, scented the air, a particular comfort in the days before embalming – burial might not take place for as many five days after death in order to allow distant family members to arrive.

A covered mirror indicates that the household is in mourning (photo from Appalachian Mountain Roots)

The position of the body in its coffin also held significance. Coffins were carried out of the house feet first in order to prevent the spirit of the dead from looking back and beckoning someone else in the household to follow. In many cemeteries the graves are still placed with the head to the west and feet to the east to correspond with the Christian belief that the final Call to Judgment will come from the east.

For at least a year after the death, close relatives would dress in black, using stationery and handkerchiefs with a black border. Widows wore mourning for two years or even longer, and many would not leave their homes without covering their faces with a dark veil. Many widows dressed not only themselves but also their servants in black, leaving home only to attend church services. Some restricted their jewelry to what was called “mourning jewelry.” This was limited to black (primarily jet) stones and featured lockets, bracelets, or brooches woven or braided from the hair of the deceased. Men’s mourning practices were a little less restrictive. They could generally go about their lives and jobs, sometimes wearing a black arm band to signify their loss.

Mourning brooch made from human hair (from the permanent collection of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis)

 19th Century Superstitions about Death, Funerals, and Cemeteries

  • Cover your mouth while yawning to keep your spirit from escaping or prevent the devil from entering your body.
  • If rain falls on a funeral procession, the deceased will go to heaven.
  • It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head-on. If you cannot turn around, hold onto a button until it passes.
  • A clap of thunder after a burial means the soul of the deceased has arrived in heaven.
  • Never wear anything new to a funeral, especially shoes.
  • If a dog howls at night when someone in the house is sick, it is a bad omen. You can reverse the bad luck it by reaching under the bed and turning a shoe over.
  • If you spill salt, throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder to prevent a death.
  • You must hold your breath when passing a cemetery, or you will not be buried.
  • If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers will bloom on her grave; if not, only weeds will grow there.  (2009)

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.

James Thomas Callender

by Carol Kaplan.

Soldiers who died in the Civil War were, of necessity, almost always buried on the battlefield where they fell. After the War, however, a national movement arose to reinter them in a more honorable manner. Thus, national cemeteries were created for the Union soldiers who died so far from home. Confederate soldiers were more often buried in private burial grounds or brought home by their families. Young James Callender was one of the latter, returned to City Cemetery three years after his death in the War.

Photo by John Waggoner

James Thomas Callender, born in Nashville in 1841, was named for his grandfather, James Thomson Callender, a feisty newspaperman despised by Thomas Jefferson for printing unpleasant truths about Jefferson’s life. James’s father, Thomas, was a merchant and an alderman; his mother, Mary Sangster, had moved to Nashville from Virginia with her brother and sister. James had two sisters, Mary Catherine and Sarah, and two brothers, John Hill and William. He never knew Mary Catherine, who died in 1837 at 18 months, becoming the first of her family to be buried at City Cemetery. However, James lost his mother when he was six years old, and his father died of typhoid fever four years later. James, Sarah, and William were sent to Brentwood to live with their aunt Catherine Owen, who had no children of her own. Catherine and her wealthy husband James Owen lived at Ashlawn, a home which still stands on Franklin Road. Sarah married James Owen’s nephew, but died at 21 in 1859. She was buried with her family at City Cemetery.

Ashlawn (courtesy of Historic Nashville)

In 1859, when the Owen Chapel Church of Christ was organized, James and Catherine, along with James and William Callender, became charter members. The building was located across Franklin Road from Ashlawn. The congregation still meets there today in a brick building built just after the Civil War on land donated by James Owen.

In 1861, with fears of civil war on everyone’s mind, Christian Church ministers stood firm in their opposition to the war. Tolbert Fanning was jailed in Murfreesboro for speaking against slavery, and David Lipscomb was threatened with hanging for preaching that “Christians should not kill each other.” Philip Fall, leader of Nashville’s Christian Church (now Vine Street congregation), refused to pray for Jefferson Davis and, evoking his British citizenship, flew the Union Jack over his church, thus preserving its neutrality. However, their message had little impact on the young men who heard it. Fanning’s Franklin College closed as his students rushed to join the fight, and Philip Fall’s son Albert was killed at Fort Donelson, fighting for the Confederacy. When Confederate training camps were established on Franklin Road, James Callender, age 20, and William, three years younger, enlisted.

On June 24, 1863, at the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, James, a private in C Company, 20th Tennessee Infantry, was shot and killed. He was buried on the battlefield, and his funeral sermon was delivered at Owen Chapel on September 27, 1863. Brother William survived the war and returned home to Brentwood, where he married Mary Jane Zellner, whose sister Margaret was married to David Lipscomb. In 1869 Will and Mary Jane’s first child was born, a son they named James Thomas.

On April 27, 1866, this notice appeared in the Republican Banner: “The remains of James Thomas Callender will be conveyed from the residence of his brother, Dr. J. H. Callender, no. 26 South Summer St., to the Nashville Cemetery today at 3:30 o’clock pm. Services at the grave by Rev. Dr. Bunting.” Dr. Robert Franklin Bunting, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, lived next door to John Callender. James, remembered by his brothers, now rested with his parents, sisters, and Aunt Catherine Owen in the family plot in Section 8. Sadly, the only tombstones readable today are those of the parents, Thomas and Mary Callender.  (2010)

Callender lot at Nashville City Cemetery

Two Brothers-in-Law at City Cemetery

by Carter G. Baker.

Buried near each other in the same lot on Oak Avenue are brothers-in-law John Patton Erwin (1795-1857) and Thomas Lanier Williams (1786-1856). Their relationship was not always so peaceful. Erwin, two-time mayor of Nashville (1821 and 1834), was married to Thomas’s sister, Frances (Fannie) Lanier Williams (1796-1872).  Fannie is buried at Mt. Olivet with her daughters who lived to adulthood.  Four other children who died young are presumed to be buried at City Cemetery with their father.

John Patton Erwin’s grave at Nashville City Cemetery

Both Erwin and Williams left significant marks on Tennessee history. John Patton Erwin was a newspaper editor, lawyer, banker, justice of the peace, and postmaster of Nashville. He was also the secretary of the Robertson Association, which was deeply involved in the American settlement of Texas while that region was still part of Mexico. His sister Jane’s first husband was wealthy Nashville banker, Thomas Yeatman, under whom Erwin served for a time as cashier. (Their son, Thomas Yeatman Jr., was a powerful supporter of the Confederate cause.) After Yeatman’s death Jane married the Hon. John Bell, Speaker of the House of Representatives, U.S. Senator, and Union Party candidate for president in 1860.

Erwin’s brother married one of Henry Clay’s daughters, while his cousin, also named Jane Erwin, was married to Charles Dickinson, who died in a famous duel with Andrew Jackson. Dickinson’s remains, recently discovered, were moved from a long-unmarked grave near Whitland Avenue to Nashville City Cemetery on June 25, 2010. 

Thomas Lanier Williams was a lawyer, state representative and senator, and a justice on the State Supreme Court.  His most lasting contribution to Tennessee was his long period of service as Chancellor of Tennessee, during which he became known as the father of equity law in the state.  Less well known is the role he played many years earlier in the historic victory of the Tennessee Volunteers at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the War of 1812.  He and his wife’s uncle, Hugh Lawson White (an 1836 candidate for president), convinced his brother Col. John Williams (later a U. S. senator) to lead the 39th U. S. Infantry Regiment in bringing desperately-needed supplies and manpower to Col. Andrew Jackson.  Jackson would give Williams and his soldiers great credit for their pivotal role in defeating the British-allied Creek Nation at the Horseshoe. This important battle set the stage for Jackson’s success in the Battle of New Orleans and insured that Britain would never control the lower Mississippi River or the valuable ports of Mobile and Pensacola.

Horseshoe Bend from the air (courtesy of Alabama Backroads website)

Unfortunately, John Williams and Jackson later became political enemies, while Sam Houston, who had carried the regimental flag (designed by Thomas’s wife, Polly McClung Williams) in the successful charge at Horseshoe Bend, remained close to Jackson.  Houston wrote a vitriolic letter to President John Quincy Adams urging him not to appoint John Patton Erwin as postmaster.  Adams did make the appointment, but Erwin challenged Houston to a duel over the matter. Although the duel never actually took place, Houston wounded Erwin’s second.

Sometime in the 1820s John Patton Erwin declared bankruptcy, perhaps because of unsuccessful land speculation. Col. Joseph Williams, Fannie Erwin’s father, dispatched his son, Thomas Lanier Williams, to Nashville to protect his daughter’s interests and to make certain that Fannie’s future inheritance was specifically shielded from her husband.  Although this decision caused some animosity at the time, matters were eventually smoothed over. 

The Erwins’ home from 1831-1860 was named “Buena Vista.” The house was located on the hill near Rosa Parks Avenue and I-65, where the St. Cecilia motherhouse now stands. Thomas Lanier Williams stayed with the Erwins on many of his trips between his Knoxville residence and Nashville, and he eventually died in their home.

John Patton Erwin’s grave in City Cemetery is marked with a Nashville Mayors’ gravestone, while Thomas Lanier Williams is honored with a V.A. marker reflecting his military service in the War of 1812.

Thomas Lanier Williams’ grave at Nashville City Cemetery

Thomas Lanier Williams was the namesake of four other men named Thomas Lanier Williams.  The most famous of these was playwright “Tennessee” Williams, a several-times-great-nephew of Thomas I and a great-great grandson of Colonel John Williams.

The flag of the 39th, still owned by a descendant of Colonel Williams, is on temporary display this spring at the Tennessee State Museum’s War of 1812 “Tennessee Volunteers” exhibit. (2012)

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

Women to the Rescue

by Carol Kaplan.

At the end of the 19th century City Cemetery was in crisis. Once a burial place for all Nashvillians, it had been supplanted by the newer and more beautiful Mt. Olivet, Mt. Ararat, and Calvary cemeteries. The Union Civil War dead had been transported to National; the Confederates, to Mt. Olivet. Neglected and ignored, City was described by the Banner on June 21, 1868, as a ruin: “robbery, murder and lust have held their horrid orgies in it and even now nightly desecrated by being the rendezvous of lascivious love.” No wonder the cemetery was promptly declared a “public nuisance” and burials were suspended the following month. A plan quickly came together within city government to remove all the graves and make the land a public park.

Sunset at Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Rebecca Sowell)

“Not so fast! Absolutely not!” Nashville’s women spoke out forcefully against such an idea. This was “sacred ground and should never be called a park,” protested Felicia Steger, a granddaughter of Felix Grundy. Women had found a new freedom of expression with the advent of the 20th century. In 1897 their Woman’s Building at the Tennessee Centennial had been a triumph. Now they found that, although not yet allowed to vote, they could nonetheless organize and engage in “civic housekeeping” with positive results. “We shall never have clean cities until the women undertake the job” was the credo of these busy ladies. Their noble efforts notwithstanding, a Banner reporter of 1900 expressed indignation that “women were boldly wearing ankle-length skirts on clear days because they were helpful in getting on and off streetcars.”

·         Woman’s building at Tennessee Centennial Exposition, 1897 (Image #27163; Calvert Brothers Photography Studio; courtesy of Tennessee State Library & Archives)

Saving and caring for City Cemetery became the focus of several groups. In 1903 the Tennessee Women’s Historical Association was organized, its specific purpose to preserve the cemetery. Sumner A. Cunningham, editor of the Confederate Veteran, claimed credit for suggesting its formation. He was the only male member of an industrious group that included Louise Lindsley and Carnegie librarian Mary Hannah Johnson. Other civic and patriotic organizations were asked to join them “to assist in improving and preserving the old city cemetery, to dispel the spirit of vandalism and promote civic pride. The Ladies’ Hermitage Association, DAR, UDC, and Colonial Dames all cooperated under this umbrella. One of their successful projects was the construction of a Memorial Gate at the 5th Avenue entrance. Dedicated in 1909, the gate exists only in pictures now, having been destroyed in an automobile accident during the 1930s. Wishing to do their part, Cumberland Chapter, DAR, erected a sundial to mark the path leading to the James Robertson family plot.

Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Rebecca Sowell)

The South Nashville Federation of Women was another group that worked to care for the City Cemetery grounds. The guidebook All About Nashville reported in 1912 that “with the cooperation of 400 members, they have cleared away the rubbish, pruned trees, graveled the walks, and planted a line of memorial elms and lastly, are in the process of erecting a handsome memorial gateway to the heroes of another day.” These gateposts, on 4th Avenue, still stand. May Winston Caldwell, whose parents and siblings are buried at City, remembered the pre-Civil War days when her mother and Peter, the gardener, came to care for the family plot. Now May, as a member of the South Nashville Women, was proudly carrying on that tradition.

Sign at City Cemetery entrance gate (NHN collection)

These hard-working women began a program of stewardship and restoration that has resumed in recent years after a period of neglect. Today the Nashville City Cemetery Association (composed of both men and women!) is ten* years old, making it the longest-lived and most professional volunteer organization ever to protect and renovate the grounds and markers: an endowment established at the Community Foundation will support the continuing restoration of the City Cemetery in the years to come. Thanks to the $3 million allocated by the Metro Council, and with the cooperation of the Metro Historical Commission and such citizen organizations as Master Gardeners of Davidson County, the cemetery is once again prepared to maintain its status as a historically valuable resting place of our pioneer heritage.        (2008)

A volunteer from the Master Gardeners of Davidson County works in one of the family plots (NHN photo)

Previously published in Monuments and Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

* Note: This article was written in 2008. The NCCA began its work in 1998. By this time (late 2021) the organization is more than 23 years old.

Meet Nashville’s Leaders

by Kathy B. Lauder.

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.

Ann Robertson Cockrill, James Robertson’s sister, was a young widow with three little girls when she arrived in Nashville with the Donelson party in 1780. She later married John Cockrill, and they settled near today’s Centennial Park to raise their large family. She was the only woman among the early Cumberland settlers to receive a land grant in her own name, earned largely for her courage in defending Fort Caswell (later Fort Watauga) against Indian attack.

William Carroll Napier owned 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!

A former Fisk Jubilee Singer portrayed Mabel Imes in the 2008 Living History event, regaling delighted visitors with beautiful music.

Thomas Crutcher served 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 Elliott was 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.

State Representative Ben West portrayed his father, Ben West (Mayor of Nashville 1951-1963), during the 2010 Living History event.

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.

Powhatan Maxey 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)

Ghosts in Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Lynn McDonald, 2011)

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

“To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not to Die”

by Carol Kaplan.

Jeffrey Lockelier was a black man, born free in North Carolina in 1788.  A young fellow with a taste for adventure, he came to Nashville in 1807.  Because the idea of soldiering appealed to him, he joined the militia, serving under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.  He distinguished himself in the Indian Wars at Enitachopco and Emuckfau Creeks and in the deadly Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which finally crushed the Creek Nation, forcing them to turn over 23 million acres to the U.S. Government.   Lockelier served with distinction in every conflict: his obituary stated that “none could boast of a heart more devoted to his country’s cause,” for “his military services terminated only when his country ceased to have enemies.” After the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, Jeffrey Lockelier, now known as “Major Jeffrey,” returned to Middle Tennessee, where he met and married a woman named Sabina, a slave of the Sumner family in Williamson County.  He soon purchased his wife from Thomas Sumner and petitioned the court to grant her freedom in July of 1817.  The census taker spelled their entry as “Major Locklun.”

Painting of the Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran (Library of Congress at

Struggling with a heart ailment in his early 40s, Major Jeffrey “endured a long confinement,” during which he was visited by his old commanders, President Andrew Jackson and General John Coffee.  He “enjoyed, to a high degree their good opinion and friendship.”  Lockelier’s death occurred September 22, 1830, at the age of 42.  His obituary appeared in newspapers across the country, including the New York Evening Post, which marveled: “Though a very humble member of society, still it may be truly said, but few enjoyed the esteem and good will of the community to a greater extent than he did. His universal benevolence was a distinguished trait in his character; and it seemed to be the business and the pleasure of his life to serve others without even the expectation of reward.”

The admiring obituary that appeared in the National Banner & Nashville Whig 27 September 1830, ends like this: “One should not be forgotten who bestowed his best days to the service of his country; who lived a life of active benevolence, and died praising the goodness and mercy of his God.”  (2009)

Jeffrey Lockelier’s grave at Nashville City Cemetery

Jeffrey Lockelier (whose name was spelled a variety of ways in different sources) was not forgotten by the city planners who named Nashville’s Locklayer St., near the Bicentennial Mall, in his honor.  Unfortunately, the original stone that marked his grave in Nashville’s historic City Cemetery disappeared long ago, but it was replaced in 2010 as part of the cemetery’s tombstone restoration project, which had previously replaced missing stones on the graves of Sally Thomas and Angeline Brady. 

The title of this essay comes from the poem “Hallowed Ground” by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844).

Previously published in Monuments and Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

A Lovely Sunday for the Cemetery

by Carter G. Baker.

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.

British Burning Washington during War of 1812 (illustration from Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras, The History of England, from the Earliest Periods, Vol. 1, 1816)

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 Anthem a 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.

Sally Thomas  (1787 – 1850)

by James A. Hoobler.

On to Liberty (Theodore Kaufmann, 1867; Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

Born into slavery in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sally Thomas, the slave of Charles Thomas, bore two sons to John, her owner’s brother – John, born in 1808, and Henry, born a year later. Around 1817 Sally and her children were sent over 550 miles to Thomas family land near Nashville. Here her owner allowed her to take in laundry if she gave him some of the profits. Ceding control over her, he made her a “quasi-slave,” who could rent her own house, move about freely, buy, sell, and negotiate her own business contracts. Although in time her owner even stopped requiring her to share her earnings with him, Sally was still legally considered his property.

Justice John C. Catron (portrait by Chester Harding, Tennessee Portrait Project/TSLA)

 In 1827 attorney John C. Catron fathered Sally’s third son, James P. Thomas. Sally and her children lived then at the corner of Cherry (4th Avenue) and Deaderick Streets, a block from the Davidson County Courthouse.  There she ran her laundry business, saving money to purchase the freedom of her children. Sally’s oldest son, John, worked for a Nashville barge captain, even taking his last name. Captain Rapier, who had taught John to read and write, saved his own money to free John, and in 1829 his executors obtained permission from the Alabama General Assembly to use estate funds to purchase John’s freedom. 

In 1834 Sally learned that she, Henry, and James were being returned to Virginia to settle her owner’s estate. Fearing they would be sold separately, she urged Henry to escape. Hiding by day, avoiding farms where he might be spotted, Henry fled north to Louisville, Kentucky, only to be caught and jailed. Still chained, he miraculously escaped the first night in a stolen boat. Surviving a plunge over the Falls of The Ohio, he crossed into Indiana, where a sympathetic individual removed his chains. Henry eventually arrived in Buffalo, New York, where he worked as a barber; he later moved to Canada.  

Meanwhile, to keep James from being sold away from her, Sally persuaded attorney Ephraim Hubbard Foster to help her buy the child from John Martin, the Thomas relative who owned him. Martin wanted $400 for the seven-year-old, but Sally had saved only $350. Foster agreed to lend her the other $50 and arranged the sale with Martin. Although Sally soon paid off her debt to Ephraim Foster and personally held James’s bill of sale and “free papers,” under Tennessee law James was still considered Foster’s slave. Since the 1834 state Constitution required free blacks to leave Tennessee immediately or return to slavery, James had to appear to be someone’s property in order to remain in Nashville.

Senator Ephraim H. Foster (portrait by Washington B. Cooper, Tennessee Portrait Project / Cheekwood Museum of Art)

Sally purchased her own freedom with the assistance of Godfrey M. Fogg (nephew of educator Francis B. Fogg, and law partner of Ephraim Foster), who loaned her part of the money. Deeds in the Davidson County Courthouse list Sally as the property of G. M. Fogg, and James as the property of Ephraim Foster – legally Sally and James would remain slaves until the courts ruled them free and permitted them to remain in Tennessee as free persons. Regrettably, Sally died in 1850, before such a ruling was made. James, now running a barbershop in the house Sally had rented at Deaderick and Cherry, purchased a grave site for her in City Cemetery, erecting a tombstone inscribed, “Sally Thomas 1787-1850.”  On March 6, 1851, Ephraim Foster petitioned the Davidson County Court to allow him to free James. The court found in favor of the petition, Foster posted a bond, and James was free. James’s own petition to be permitted to remain in Nashville was also approved, with the posting of a good character bond. Ironically, James was the natural son of Tennessee’s Chief Justice, John C. Catron, whom Andrew Jackson had appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court during his last days in office, when the court was expanded to nine members. Thus Catron’s Dred Scott ruling that African Americans were property and had no citizenship rights applied to his own son.  (2009)

Dedication ceremony for new Sally Thomas grave marker, 2009

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.

The story of the Thomas-Rapier family is the subject of the book In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger (Oxford University Press, 2005).

The Duelists: Jackson and Dickinson

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Charles Henry Dickinson was born around 1780, the year Andrew Jackson, a scrappy 13-year-old, ran off to fight in the American Revolution. The two youngsters could hardly have been more different. Dickinson was born into wealth and privilege on a Maryland plantation; Jackson’s parents were immigrant Irish pioneers. When young Dickinson arrived in Nashville in 1801, he carried a letter of introduction from Chief Justice John Marshall. By late spring 1806 he owned a thriving law practice; had married Jane Erwin, the daughter of a prosperous Nashville family; and was the proud father of a two-month-old son. Jackson, 39, a self-taught lawyer married to the former Rachel Donelson (who had come to Nashville in 1780 with the town’s founding families), had already become a key figure in regional politics: he had been a judge and district attorney in the Mero District; had taken part in the state constitutional convention; had served in the U.S. House and Senate; was Major General of the State Militia; and had spent six years on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He also raised cotton on his plantation, The Hermitage, and bred racehorses. It was apparently a conflict over a horse race that led to Jackson’s fatal duel with Dickinson on May 30, 1806.

Horse racing in the 19th century

The details of the argument vary with the storyteller, but it seems that Jackson took offense at an insult (directed at his wife, his horse, or his integrity) uttered by Joseph Erwin, the father of Dickinson’s wife. Dickinson, who some think may have tipped the balance with a cruel comment aimed at Rachel, took up the challenge in Erwin’s stead. Jackson himself later told a friend, “I had no unkind feeling against Mr. Dickinson . . . My quarrel had been with his father-in-law, Col. Erwin.” Since dueling was illegal in Tennessee, the two men and their companions set out on horseback to Logan County, Kentucky, near the Red River. Afterward Jackson admitted to being “badly frightened” – “I knew Dickinson to be the best shot with the pistol I ever saw.  I therefore went upon the ground expecting to be killed.”

Dickinson would shoot first. To alter his profile, Jackson, who was six feet tall but weighed only 145 pounds, wore a large, bulky coat with a rolled collar, and apparently turned his thin frame sideways. Dickinson aimed and shot. When Jackson did not fall or cry out, Dickinson, startled, believed he had missed. Then, very steadily, Jackson took aim and fired. Later someone would claim that the gun had misfired and that Jackson broke the rules by re-cocking and firing again, but, in fact, the seconds reportedly accepted the second shot. Jackson himself was quoted as saying, “Under the impression that I was, perhaps, mortally wounded, and upon the impulse of the moment, I fired, and my antagonist fell.” The future president had indeed been shot as well. Surgeons were never able to remove the bullet, which was lodged near his heart. It would cause him intense discomfort for the rest of his life. (Several scholars have suggested that Jackson may finally have died, 39 years later, of lead poisoning from that bullet, so Dickinson’s shot may have been responsible for his death, after all!) Young Dickinson lingered for several hours in excruciating pain before his own eventual death. Jackson would always feel deep remorse over the outcome: in his last years he confessed to his old friend General William G. Harding that he regretted nothing in his life so much as this duel. 

Although dueling was illegal in much of the country, it was nonetheless a popular subject for artists.

Dickinson’s companions carried his body back to Nashville, where he was buried on Joseph Erwin’s estate, six miles west of Nashville, on June 1, 1806. For many years the site was marked by a large box tomb, but around 1926, as the land was being developed for housing construction, the tomb’s marble slabs disappeared, as did, gradually, local memory of the exact site of the grave. Meanwhile, Maryland historians insisted that a faithful slave had carried Dickinson’s body back to Caroline County and buried it in a lead coffin there. Decades later, when a metal casket was discovered on family property, the remains were examined by experts at the Smithsonian, who declared they were likely those of a female. 

Tennessee historians, meanwhile, were convinced that Dickinson was still in Nashville. On May 23, 2006, almost exactly 200 years after the duel, State Archaeologist Nick Fielder conducted a high-tech probe of a West End property and determined there was a “50-50 chance” that the grave was there, but no digging occurred at that time. The obliging new property owners, Mr. and Mrs. James Bowen, sought Chancery Court approval for the archaeological investigation and exhumation of any remains discovered on their land, asking permission, in so many words, for their front yard no longer to be a burial ground! On a cold December 15, 2007, neighbors and historians huddled in the sleet, watching as an archaeology team dug in several promising spots, but with no success. In a subsequent dig, in August 2009, archaeologist Dan Allen, guided by historical documents, located the angular outline of a coffin, a number of rusty coffin nails, a screw, and two small bone fragments, probably finger bones. Dickinson had been found!

A crowd gathers at the site of the first Dickinson dig, December 15, 2007.

Researchers knew that Dickinson’s in-laws, Colonel Andrew Hynes and his wife Ann, had been buried at City Cemetery. (Ann Erwin Hynes was Jane Dickinson’s sister.) On Friday, June 25, 2010, in the presence of more than 300 witnesses, Charles Henry Dickinson’s remains were laid to rest in the Hynes plot at the Nashville City Cemetery. The funeral eulogy was delivered by the Reverend Kenneth Locke, Downtown Presbyterian Church. And great-great-great grandsons of both duelists attended the dedication: Dickinson’s descendant Charles Henry Miller, along with Andrew Jackson VI and his daughter Rebekah. (2010)

The Jackson quotations are taken from “Gen. Jackson as a Duelist,” The Daily American (Nashville), February 18, 1877. 

For another look at this story, you may enjoy Betsy Phillips’s delightful article from the August 1, 2022, edition of the Nashville Scene: “On the Hunt for the Jackson-Dickinson Dueling Site.”

My gratitude to Dr. Wayne Moore, Jim Hoobler, Fletch Coke, Mike Slate, Carol Kaplan, and James Castro for their input.

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.