Thursday, July 31, 2014

Elizabeth Jane Whitsitt Whitsitt, The Last Interment at Winchester Cemetery 1888 Broke the Law

On February 11, 1879, the ordinances for the City of Memphis were published in the Memphis Daily Appeal.  The headline read "Ordinances. Offenses Affecting Good Morals and Decency, Public Peace, Quiet, Safety and Property, and in Relation to Misdemeanors and Nuisances Generally."   Under Article II "Offenses Affecting Public Peace and Quiet" the city fathers specifically addressed the issue of Winchester Cemetery which had become a nuisance attracting criminals and vagrants.  Not to mention that since the demise of the owner, William R. Smith in 1867, the cemetery had fallen into disrepair with headstones being broken, knocked over, stolen and the grounds overgrown.

"Winchester Cemetery.  Sec. 2. The burial of dead bodies in any portion of the grounds known as Winchester Cemetery be and the same is hereby prohibited."

It is commonly believed and even says on the sign at Winchester Park "The last burial there was in 1874." However, that's not correct.

On February 1, 1888, Elizabeth Jane "Eliza" Whitsitt died.  She was born about 1814 in North Carolina making her 74 at the time of her death.  Eliza Whitsitt and her family moved to the "Chickasaw Bluff" and shortly after purchased a lot at Winchester Cemetery.  Winchester Cemetery was founded in 1828 which means that the Whitsitt family came to the area prior to 1828.  The Memphis Appeal reported that the family was "wealthy, refined and cultivated, and ranked as the social leaders."  She married her first cousin William W. Whitsitt, also seen as Willie/Wiley, on November 28 1832 in Shelby County Tennessee making her Elizabeth Jane Whitsitt Whitsitt.    The couple had two children: William James Whitsitt and Wilie H. Whitsitt.    
The 1850 Census mistakenly identifies her husband as H.H. Whitsitt.  His occupation was printer and his personal estate was valued at $5000.  Eliza and the two children, William and Willie, are listed as well.  Her husband died October 28 1853 of apoplexy and was interred at Winchester.

In the 1860 Census, Eliza Jane and her sons are living at the boarding house of her mother-in-law, Jane Whitsit who is 72 years old.  Eliza's combined real and personal estate was valued at $29,200. The elder son, William, was working as a "butcher packer."  Eliza's mother-in-law, Jane Harden Whitsitt, died April 2 1876 and was interred at Winchester.

During the Civil War, son William James Whitsitt, was elected Lieutenant of the Memphis Light Guards of the 154th Senior Company CSA.  He was later promoted to Captain when then Captain Genette received a promotion.  According to the retelling of his death in 1888, he died from wounds received at the Battle of Belmont and that "wrapping the battle scarred flag around the form of the slain leader" his body was sent home and that later, when his mother became destitute she sold the flag to the Confederate Historical Association for the sum of $15.  I think the real story can be found in the obituary that appeared in the Memphis Daily Appeal on March 8, 1862, which said he died of erysipelas.  Sometimes memories of war and those that died gets embellished through the years. This may be the case with William James Whitsitt.  In addition to the differing cause of death for William, the 1888 article also says that Eliza Jane and William James were the only two surviving family members and then the war broke out.  But that isn't true either because son Wilie H. Whitsitt was alive and doesn't die until 1871!  After his death, Eliza Jane does seem to be alone.  In 1880 she has her own boarding house on Market Street.

Toward the end of her life she began to dwell on the family vault at Winchester and was concerned she would be buried away from her family due to the ordinance..  With that in mind she received assurances from David P. Hadden, President of the Taxing District and future mayor of Memphis, that when she died she would be interred with the rest of the family at Winchester.  True to his word, he wrote a letter to Chief of Police W.C. Davis requesting cooperation from the police in allowing for the interment of Elizabeth Jane Whitsitt at Winchester Cemetery.  The lady being destitute at the time of her death, contributions were given for a proper burial.  And that was the last burial at Winchester Cemetery.
Transcription of obituaries and article:

The Memphis Appeal February 2 1888, page 3
GONE TO HER FINAL REST--The Estimable Mother of A Gallant Son Passes Away.--Mrs. Eliza Whitsitt and Her Reverses of Fortune--Her Persistent Wish To Be Interred in Winchester Cemetery Granted--Call for Contributions.

Old Winchester cemetery, as a burying ground, is a thing of the past, having been closed and condemned years ago. To make this new order of things more securely permanent, the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting burials in that cemetery, and in case of surreptitious violations, making it incumbent upon the president of the Taxing District and chief of police to have the corpse removed.  There has never been a violation of this ordinance or protest against the enactment.  On the contrary, public sentiment approved the course most heartily.  There is a wealth of tender memories clustered around the old city of the dead, which additions at this day would seem to disturb. Bones of pioneers rest there, sacred from every rude touch, and head and foot stones, bearing unpretentious inscriptions, mutely tell of the periods when a few struggling souls laid the foundation for the present city of acknowledged greatness and mammoth possibilities.

Among the foremost of this noble band were a family of several members named Whitsitt.  They were wealthy, refined and cultivated, and ranked as the social leaders.  Shortly after their location on the Chickasaw bluff, they purchased a lot in Winchester cemetery, built a substantial and commodious vault, and mutually resolved to make its walls their protectors in the final sleep.  One by one family ties were broken, and as the links fell from the chain, they were sorrowfully laid away within the vault.  At last they had all fallen but the mother and one son.  The war broke out, the latter responded to the call upon the south's chivalrous manhood, and in the sanguinary conflict at Belmont, fell while leading a company in the One-hundred-and-fifty-fourth regiment, Tennessee volunteers, to the thickest of the fray.  His company carried a flag which the loyal hands of the captain's mother had made, and after the battle a beautiful but melancholy departure was resolved upon by the bereaved command.  Wrapping the battle scarred flag around the form of the slain leader, they sent both to the heartbroken mother, that thus they might be deposited in the family vault. Doubly imbued with the spirit of patriotism, now that her last pride and support had been sacrificed to the struggle, the mother poured out her soul in tears over the remains, laid them away, but without the flag. This she returned to her deceased son's company, but again it came back, accompanied by the urgent request that she keep it as a cherished memento of the times and their tenderest devotion.

The afflicted but beloved woman's name was Mrs. Eliza Whitsitt.  To her the war brought severe bereavements and reverses, as it did to hundreds and thousands of others.  Slowly but surely her snug fortune began to slip from her grasp.  From affluence she gradually descended the scale of worldly possessions until a few years ago she struggled against oppressive poverty.  Reduced to the direst straits she was compelled to say farewell to the long cherished and, indeed, sacred relic of the bloody battle of Belmont.  Reminded of her poverty, the flag found its way to the local Confederate Historical association, and Mrs. Whitsitt realized $15.  This small sum was drawn upon as sparingly as the poor old lady's necessities would permit, and after it had been exhausted she subsisted chiefly on Christian charity's gifts. Being a member of the Court Street Cumberland Presbyterian church, that body of religious people took it upon themselves to supply every temporal want.

At last, and only a few days ago, Mrs. Whitsitt sickened, and on account of extreme old age knew her hours were numbered.  During the last illness her mind seemed to dwell continually upon the family vault in Winchester cemetery, and she impressed upon her faithful attendants that there she must be deposited after death.  Years ago she exacted a promise from President Hadden that the ordinance governing the cemetery should be violated to this extent, and with this fact she acquainted her friends.  Yesterday the good soul passed away, satisfied with the promises given and also with her future estate.  After her death two devoted ladies who had taken charge of her burial called upon President Hadden, informed him of the circumstance, and the following letter was written and given them:

February 1, 1888,
W.C. Davis, Chief of Police:
Dear Sir--many years ago the Whitsitt family built a large vault in old Winchester cemetery for the interment of themselves.  All save one of this family are interred in this vault.  This one, Mrs. Eliza Whitsitt, the wife and mother, died today. When I first went into office, six years ago, Mrs. Whitsitt exacted a promise of me, namely, that if she died during my term of office that I would permit her remains to be laid to rest in this particular vault--(she then expected to die in a few weeks).  I am well aware of the fact that the ordinances make it your duty and mine to prevent any interments in this closed and condemned cemetery, and that we shall remove any bodies buried there since it was closed.  None have been buried there during my term of office.  But in this particular case you will let the burial of this old and highly esteemed lady be not interfered with, and you and I will trust to the enlightened sentiment of our good citizens to approve our action in executing a promise made years ago to one of the mothers of our city.  Very truly,  David P. Hadden, President.

Such an interment as that granted the late Mrs. Whitsitt, in generous compliance with a longing desire felt by her for years, can hardly be realized in other than a metallic burial case.  She died, however, possessed of nothing wherewith this costly case could be secured, and it devolves upon the charitable people to provide it. The amount should not fall short of $100, and this should be promptly contributed.  All offerings to this eminently worthy cause may be left at the counting room of The Appeal, where it will be thankfully received and promptly applied to the purpose.

Memphis Daily Appeal March 8 1862
Death of Capt. W.J. Whitsitt--It is our sad duty to have to chronicle the death of Capt. W.J. Whitsitt, of the
senior company, "The Memphis Light Guards," of the senior regiment of the State, "The 154th."  Capt. Whitsitt was well known and highly respected in this community.  he had been secretary of the Butchers' Association and foreman of No. 3 Fire-engine Company.  he was also a member of the Sons of Malta and other benevolent societies in this city.  he was elected lieutenant of the Light Guards, and, on the promotion of Capt. Genette, he was promoted captain of the company.  So earnest and able was his discharge of his military duties, and so zealous his attachment to the cause of the South, that he was appointed to the very important post of provost marshal of the city of Columbus, which position he held up to the evacuation of that place.  He died on Wednesday evening last, at Union City, of erysipelas, and will be buried on Sunday. The funeral procession will start from the residence of his mother, at the southwest corner of Market Square. Capt. Whitsitt was a gentleman of kindly disposition and of many virtues.  He was greatly esteemed by a very wide circle of acquaintances and friends, and profound regret is felt at the loss of a citizen and soldier, whose future career promised to be so glorious to himself and so useful to his country.  He was born and always resided in this city.

Memphis Daily Appeal September 30 1871
DIED- Whitsitt-In this city on the 28th inst., in the 27th year of his age, Wilie H. Whitsitt, son of Mrs. Eliza J. Whitsitt.  The friends of the family are invited to attend his funeral, from the residence of his mother, Mrs. Eliza J. Whitsitt, No. 36 market street, on this (Saturday) afternoon, at 3 1/2 o'clock.  Services by Rev. Mr. Ransom.

1 comment:

  1. I'll sadly assume the Whitsitts are still there. Should'a moved to Elmwood. :-)