Today I’m finishing up my series on Fairview Cemetery in Eufaula, Ala. This burial ground is just different, I’ll be up front about it. The stories, the grave markers, the bricks…so many things. I could probably spend a few months looking into the lives of these people and not get bored. It truly grabbed my attention.
In this last installment, I’m going to talk about epitaphs. The inscriptions written on grave markers and monuments. Much of the time, people stick to names and dates to keep it simple. Not to mention it’s less expensive. But in previous decades, people put much more thought into what was going on a loved one’s marker. Some of what I read at Fairview definitely lingers in my mind.
Down With the Ship
Sometimes an epitaph doesn’t have to be lengthy to catch your eye. In the case of William Stratton Jones Rivers, it was one word. Drowned. I apologize for the poor quality of the photograph of his grave but it is well worn and the sun was bright that day.
The son of Dr. Richard Henderson Rivers (a reverend) and Martha Bolling Cox Jones Rivers, William was born in Alabama in 1847. He married Sarah “Sallie” Dandridge Nickels in September 1866 in Montgomery, Ala. Together, they had several children.
Rivers was serving as a clerk on the steamship “George W. Wyly” (I’ve also seen it spelled Wylly) when it struck the Fort Gaines bridge across the Chattahoochee River in Clay County, Ga. on April 11, 1883. According to his Find a Grave memorial, his body was never found. But he has a marker at Fairview and there is a brick outline where his grave would be. So I’m not totally sure that’s true.
William’s wife Sallie was left to raise their six children on her own. I found a newspaper article that said the citizens of Columbus, Ga. took up a collection of $608.30 to help her. Captain S.J. Whitesides, managing owner of the Central Line of Steamers that the George W. Wyly was part of agreed to match that amount. She also received $2,000 from a life insurance policy William had through the Knights of Honor, a popular fraternal order of that era.
Sallie and her children, who were living in Florida at the time of William’s death, did the best they could without him. She never remarried. When she died in 1897, she was buried in Jehu Cemetery in Wewahitchka, Fla.
A Son’s Fateful Death
There’s a sad postscript. William and Sallie’s son, Thomas, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a steamship engineer. He died on March 14, 1901 when he was shot twice by deckhand Theo Jackson aboard the steamship “J.W. Hires” who then threw his body overboard. Thomas was only 22 when he died. His remains were discovered weeks later, identified by the clothes he was wearing and contents of his pockets.
An article reported:
Rivers’ body was found a month later near Pitts Landing, 30 miles below the place where he went overboard and seven miles below Eufaula. The body was brought to Columbus and placed in a casket, purchased by the Federation of Marine Officers Association to which he belonged, and later interred at his home in Wewahitchka, Florida.
Theo Jackson was tried before Thomas’ body was located in early April and convicted of voluntary manslaughter, receiving a sentence of 10 years. I couldn’t find anything more regarding where he ended up after that. Thomas was buried beside his mother in Jehu Cemetery.
A Family of Substance
The Shorter family made its mark on Alabama history over the years. They have their own cemetery in Eufaula and I hope to visit the next time I’m passing through. John Gill Shorter (1818-1872), who served as governor of Alabama from 1861 to 1863, is buried there.
His brother, Eli Sims Shorter (1823-1979), was no slouch. He was elected to represent Alabama’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1855 to 1859. He also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. An attorney, he served in the Confederate Army as colonel of the 18th Regiment Alabama Infantry.
Eli shares a monument with his wife, Marietta Fanin Shorter, and two of his sons, Clement Clay Shorter and William Augustus Shorter. Each has an interesting epitaph that I’d like to share.
Born in 1851, William Augustus Shorter was the second child of Eli and Marietta. He studied law at Lebanon Law School in Tennessee before working as a lawyer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He later practiced law in Atlanta before becoming president of the Georgia Dept. of the Grangers Life and Health Insurance Co. based in Rome, Ga. A bachelor, the role William relished most was as associate editor of the Rome Courier.
“I am Free from Pain and Wish to Go to Sleep”
William was only 27 when in late September 1877 he became ill with “congestion of the bowels”. He suffered for five days, gradually weakening. I suspect he might have had an intestinal blockage but in those days there were few ways to diagnose it. One of his last words to a friend were, “I am free from pain and wish to go to sleep.” He died soon after on Sept. 28, 1877.
William’s epitaph is a testament to his maturity despite his young age:
Although called to his reward
While yet so young, he had won
And merited a reputation for
Integrity of character, oratory
And scholarship seldom equaled
By one of his years.
William’s father, Eli, died only two years later after an illness of several weeks on April 29, 1879 at age 56.
His epitaph is actually briefer than his son’s:
Scholar. Lawyer. Friend. Soldier. Patriot. Statesman. Christian.
William’s younger brother, Clement Clay Shorter (born in 1856) followed in in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a law career before jumping into the political ring. He served in the Alabama House of Representatives fro 1882 to 1888 when he finally reached his goal of becoming Speaker of the House at the age of 33. He was the youngest person to attain that rank in Alabama.
A “Trumpet Like” Voice
According to his obituary, however, Clement differed from his father and brother in that he was short of stature and struggled with health limitations they did not. But his speaking voice was noted as being “trumpet like” and easily captured the attention of listeners, making him a good fit for his new role.
Clement died of typhoid fever on June 16, 1890. I did not get a good photograph of his panel on the Shorter monument but I saw a better one on his Find a Grave memorial. His epitaph, focusing on his spiritual and leadership strength, reads:
He loved his God and trusted Him.
He loved his people and was signally honored by them.
His life completes a bright chapter in Alabama’s history.
William and Clement’s mother, Marietta, survived their father for several years after his death. She died while visiting friends in Atlantic City, N.J. on April 18, 1898. Her remains were sent back to Eufaula for burial at Fairview in the family plot.
Marietta’s epitaph is somewhat typical for a woman of that time, emphasizing traditional feminine traits:
Her warmth of heart, sweet gentle nature, and brilliancy of mind made her easily adorn every position.
While her holy consecrated life, so pure and faultless, makes Heaven her eternal home.
Eli and Marietta did have two other children. Son Eli Sims Shorter, Jr., who is buried nearby with his wife, Wileyna Lamar Shorter, died in 1908. The Shorters’ eldest child, daughter Annie Shorter Leftwich, died in 1900 of pneumonia at age 51. She is buried with her husband, Col. Alexander Leftwich, in Presbyterian Cemetery in Lynchburg, Va.
“Not Slothful in Business”
Other epitaphs are interesting for what they focus on about a person. The epitaph for Eufaula banker Edward Brown Young (1802-1879) grabbed my attention for its mention of the word “slothful”. That’s not a word I often see on a grave marker. Edward was president of the Eufaula National Bank so being remarkably focused on his task and lacking in sloth-like qualities would be expected.
Edward is described as:
Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
Death of a Young Wife
The epitaphs for wives who die young are often heartbreaking. Born in North Carolina in 1823, Mary Ann Rebecca White married a man 16 years her senior. A veteran of the Indian Wars, Major Jefferson Buford was from South Carolina. They married in 1839 and had four children together, one dying in infancy.
Mary died on July 16, 1852 in Eufaula at age 29. She shares a monument with Major Buford, although he married a second time in 1858 to widow Lizzie Juett McNeil. They had a daughter, Caro, in 1861 but she died in 1867. She is buried in the Buford plot at Fairview. After Major Buford died in 1862 from heart disease, Lizzie remarried. I’m not sure where she is buried.
Mary’s portion of the Buford monument is on top and features an epitaph I have not seen anywhere else. The picture was taken in full sunlight so I had to play with the editing a little to make the words readable.
Her epitaph reads:
None but he loser knows the worth of a true heart.
In That Home of Love
I’ll close out this post with three little words I saw on the back of the shared monument of Col. John Wallace Comer (1845-1919) and his wife Caroline “Carrie” Gertrude Seay Comer (1847-1888). It’s quite a grand monument, which isn’t surprising because of Col. Comer’s prominence as a Confederate veteran and businessman. He was also the brother of Alabama Gov. Braxton Bragg Comer, who served from 1906 to 1911.
Carrie died at age 44 in 1888 and Col. Comer never remarried. They had no children. I have to wonder how he handled the next decades without her. He died in 1919 at age 74. On the back of their monuments you can see this.
There are a number of hymns that include the words “some sweet day” in them. One is called “Some Sweet Day” and was written by S.H. Chord in 1892. Some speculate that S.H. Chord was the minister Spencer Howard Chord (1857–1929), who is buried in Coffey Cemetery, Ellettsville, Ind. Perhaps this is the hymn this epitaph refers to. The first verse goes like this:
Some sweet day when life is o’er,
We shall meet above;
We shall greet those gone before,
In that home of love.
Next time, I’ll be posting about my January 2019 adventures in Florida.