Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trip to Tennessee Part 3: Old Jonesborough Cemetery

Cemeteries are such moving places. Even though none of my direct ancestors are buried in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I still found visiting the old Jonesborough Cemetery very moving, and educational at the same time. I took a tour of the cemetery with local guide Gordon Edwards who is helping to restore the cemetery, and also studying the history of the people buried there. He is a fount of information about the cemetery and the people buried there. I had met him the day before in the County courthouse. He assisted me in printing my ancestors' deeds. It was raining the day of the tour, which didn't dissuade me, and a local resident from taking the tour anyway. It did stop raining soon after the tour started, but was raining heavily when we started out.
I remembered my Great-Grandmother Isis Browning-Forgey as I was listening to the history of this cemetery, and burial customs in early America. I learned something about burial customs from a letter Isis wrote in 1907, with instructions for her burial and funeral. She said she wanted to be buried in a black robe and slippers, and didn't want to be put away too quick or kept out for viewing too long. Her dearest wish came to mind seeing the stream when I headed back to town and saw the little creek again. "Now I am going to tell the wish that is dearest to my heart of anything in this world is that some sweet day I may be able to stand on the banks of the New Jerusalem and clasp glad hands with each and everyone that is near and dear to me in this world."

On the tour I learned about the burial custom of burying people with their feet facing east, because Christ was said to return in the east. They wanted to rise onto their feet facing in the right direction. Christianity influenced early burials, but these customs were later replaced by more secular customs such as Tombstones designed for more esthetically pleasing purposes, rather than only religious significance. The tombstone below reflects the emphasis on beauty rather than the early morbid tombstones showing skulls etc.. This tombstone is part of a cradle grave meaning it extends out in a cradle like form. The cradle extension can be used as a planter, as in this case. The cradle style was often used for young women, such as those who died in childbirth. It was a demonstration of the extreme devotion to someone very beloved.

The change in attitudes and styles of burial really got going during the Victorian era, beginning in 1837. Death was viewed as more of a celebration because the dead were going to their reward in heaven. This attitude led to the use of cemeteries as parks, where families would picnic and spend time relaxing. Landscaping further added to the park like atmosphere. Death was also romanticized as can be seen in some of the tombstones designed to evoke this feeling.
Joneborough Cemetery is a city cemetery, the first plot was purchased in 1803. It was never a church cemetery. Cemeteries unaffiliated with churches also influenced the secularization of burial.
This cemetery contains the graves of many prominent early settlers of Tennessee, including the first Mayor of Knoxville (1816-1817) Thomas Emmerson and his wife Catherine, and their adopted child.
Tombstone of Catherine Emmerson wife the first Mayor of Knoxville. It's being repaired as you can see.

Grave of Thomas Emmerson first Mayor of Knoxville b. 1772 d. 1837
Towns tended to be the areas where more financially well off citizens lived. Small business people and professionals lived in town. The Old Jonesborough Cemetery reflects the wealth of the town. My ancestors who died during the 18th and 19th centuries are mostly buried in unmarked graves, or graves marked much later. Farmers, such as my ancestors, were often buried on their farm with graves marked by stones (by the way it's still legal in Tennessee for someone to be buried on their property). Marking graves has always been expensive. A craftsman had to be paid for the skilled work they performed, and the materials could be costly. After the railroad came to town fortunes increased enormously, which is also reflected in the elaborate monuments. Train transport also meant tombstones could be shipped in from mass producers. Tombstones could be purchased through the Sear's catalog.

This is another interesting tombstone for a cadet at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He drowned during boating exercise apparently? The stone shows a little hand reaching up towards a small boat and oar. I've seen others who have drowned with similar tombstones, depicting someone with arms up stretched.

When I first saw this large cemetery with two slopes I didn't think anything of it other than it was a large cemetery. When I took the tour I found out it's a segregated cemetery. One slope was for whites the other blacks. Before the African American cemetery was founded slaves and freed slaves would have been buried in the ditch between the slopes along with paupers.

The African American cemetery is still active. The white cemetery isn't.

Looking toward "colored" slope of Cemetery
African Americans also had their own church in Jonesborough. When I first saw this evidence of segregation I thought this confirms the Southern stereotypes I learned. I then remembered that Forest Lawn in Glendale, California began as an all white cemetery. Interesting many famous African Americans are now buried there like Michael Jackson. California was as segregated as much of the South before the Civil Rights era. Before getting overly sanctimonious we have to remember racism was everywhere in America before the Civil Rights era, and has been seriously diminished but not completely eradicated to this day.
Deed setting aside land for burial of colored persons and other strangers
The African Methodist Church can be seen in this pic on the other side of the railroad tracks.

It is wonderful to see volunteers are restoring this beautiful cemetery. There are still some tombstones lying flat. One of my own ancestor's stones is also lying flat in another cemetery. I found out that isn't good for the stone, and may eventually lead to it's complete destruction. Below you see a tombstone being replaced on it's base.
Maintaining the cemetery is expensive. Mowing that much lawn on a frequent basis is very expensive too. I'm hoping the cost never leads to the abandonment of this cemetery. Going on the paid tours is a good way to support the cemetery.
Like I stated earlier cemeteries are such moving places. Places where we remember our history, and loved ones who have gone before us. I've seen stones that say something like, "I was once up there where you now walk." That reminds me that I have a meeting with my Great-Grandmother Isis Browning-Forgey on the banks of the New Jerusalem, but hopefully not too soon!  
For further information about this cemetery here is the contact information: Heritage Alliance, 212 East Sabin Drive, Jonesborough, Tennessee (423-753-9580).

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