Say not Good night, but in some brighter clime
Bid me Good morning.
— From the poem “Life” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld
One thing I neglected to mention earlier is that Old Gray Cemetery has a receiving vault. These storage areas were used to hold human remains before the advent of refrigeration. In the event there was a cold winter and the ground was too hard to dig, cemetery sextons would put coffins in a receiving vault until the weather improved. They’re much more common up North where winters are harsher. Nearby Greenwood Cemetery, however, has one as well.
Tennessee Governor William “Parson” Gannaway Brownlow’s family plot features a large obelisk. Born in Virginia in 1805, William Brownlow’s parents died when he was 11. Brownlow spent the rest of his childhood on his uncle John Gannaway’s farm. At 18, he learned carpentry from another uncle, George Winniford.
From Carpenter to Fighting Parson
After attending a camp meeting, Brownlow gave up carpentry and studied to become a Methodist minister. He spent the next 10 years traveling Southern Appalachia on horseback competing for converts with ministers from the Baptist, Presbyterian, and other Methodist churches.
Brownlow could be combative with his fellow circuit preachers if they didn’t see eye to eye. In 1831, Brownlow was sued for libel by a Baptist preacher, and ordered to pay his accuser $5. He was well on his way to earning the moniker “The Fighting Parson.”
Brownlow quit the circuit shortly after marrying Eliza Ann O’Brien in 1836 in Carter County, Tenn. It was at this time he began getting involved in journalism and politics. In 1845, Brownlow ran against Andrew Johnson for the state’s First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He accused Johnson of being illegitimate, suggested Johnson’s relatives were murderers and thieves, and stated that Johnson was an atheist. Johnson won the election by 1,300 votes, out of just over 10,000 votes cast.
Freed Tennessee’s Slaves
Brownlow was appointed by President Millard Fillmore to carry out congressional provisions in 1850 and as a journalist he established The Whig newspaper in Knoxville. He also became an agent for the U.S. Treasury. As the Civil War was ending in early 1865, he (with Tennessee Unionists ) created their own Constitutional Convention and proceeded to free the state’s slaves.
In April 1865, Brownlow was elected the 17th Governor of Tennessee. While in office, he worked on the state’s reconstruction, ruling with a stern hand. The emerging Ku Klux Klan marked him as one of their greatest enemies but Brownlow brushed off their threats.
Running For Senate
Following re-election in 1867, Brownlow chose not to seek a third term but successfully sought the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David T. Patterson, Andrew Johnson’s son-in-law, in 1869. By the time he was sworn in on March 4, 1869, a persistent nervous disease had weakened him considerably, and the Senate clerk had to read his speeches.
After finishing his term in the Senate in 1875, Brownlow returned to Knoxville and was a partner in establishing the Weekly Whig and Chronicle newspaper. He died at age 71, cause of death being listed as “paralysis of the bowels”. Eliza lived until the age of 96, dying in 1914.
Lady With a Rifle
Their daughter, Susan Brownlow Sawyers (1837-1913), caused a stir thanks to a story in an 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly. Susan was a young widow, her husband Dr. James Sawyers having died only four months before the death of their daughter, Lillie, in 1858. Susan and Lillie were living with her parents when the incident took place.
According to the story in Harper’s:
When a mob of secessionists attacked her father’s house in his absence and insisted on the Union flag being hauled down from where it floated, this young lady seized a rifle and told them she would defend it with her life. The first who approached would be shot. They threatened her for some time, and tried in every way to frighten her. But she was firm, and after a time the ruffians withdrew, leaving the flag still flying.
Susan remarried to Dr. Daniel Boynton in 1865 and they had several children. She died in 1913. Both she and Dr. Boynton are buried in the Brownlow plot at Old Gray.
Henry Marshall Ashby’s marker got my attention because it looked like he had died in his 30s. The cause of it was not a lingering war wound but the explosive end to a simmering feud.
Born in Virginia in 1836, Ashby attended the College of William and Mary but never graduated. He worked as a trader in Chattanooga but was visiting his uncle in Knoxville when the war began.
Elected Colonel of the Regiment
After enlisting in the Confederate Army, Ashby’s company was assigned to the 4th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion which became part of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Ashby was elected colonel of the regiment on May 24, 1862. The 2nd Tennessee Cavalry operated in East Tennessee in 1862 and 1863, usually in the brigade of Brigadier General John Pegram. Ashby was wounded during one of three raids into Kentucky made by his regiment during 1862.
Ashby was present at many strategic battles during the war, including Stones River (Tenn.), Brown’s Mill and Chickamauga (Ga.), and Monroe’s Crossroads (N.C.). Ashby actually had his horse shot out from under him at Monroe’s Crossroads. Although sometimes referred to as an acting brigadier general, Ashby ended the war as a colonel. After a visit to New York, he returned to Knoxville.
Bitter Enemies Clash
Union Major Eldad Camp had a score to settle with Ashby. During the war, a number of Camp’s men were held as prisoners of war under Ashby. Camp felt they had been treated abominably in atrocious conditions and held Ashby personally responsible. After the war, Camp pressed charges of war crimes and treason against him. Ashby fled Knoxville but returned when the charges were eventually dropped in June 1868.
On July 9, 1868, Ashby encountered Camp on the street. Ashby hit Camp with his cane while Camp fought back with an umbrella. The following day, Ashby appeared at Camp’s law office near the corner of Walnut and Main Streets. The two went outside where Camp drew his revolver and fired. Henry Ashby was hit in the chest and killed.
While Camp was arrested and charged with murder, all charges were dropped. In examining the various newspaper accounts, the spin put on the event depending on the affiliation of the owner/editor is telling. As you can imagine, Confederate papers tended to support Ashby while those with Union leanings proclaimed Camp an innocent victim acting in self defense.
E.C. Camp went on to a successful business career, building Greystone Mansion. It still stands today as the studios of TV station WATE-TV. He died in his 80s and is buried within sight of Ashby’s grave at Old Gray Cemetery.
There’s one last stone that I wanted to share for a man that’s not even buried at Old Gray. His marker is a cenotaph. But the story of his life is worth reading.
From Knoxville to Korea
Born in Derbyshire, England in 1856, Heron was the son of the Rev. E. S. Heron, a minister of the Congregational Church, and Elizabeth Ayrton Heron. The Herons came to America in 1870 when John was 14. In 1881, he was admitted to the University of Tennessee Medical School and graduated in 1883.
After training at New York University Hospital, he refused the offer of a professorship from the University of Tennessee but instead became a medical missionary (sponsored by the U.S. Presbyterian Church) to Korea. He married Harriet “Hattie” Gibson shortly before he left and she accompanied him.
The Herons arrived in Seoul on June 1885 and John started work in Royal Government Hospital, Chejungwon. In 1887, he became the superintendent of the hospital. He also worked for the royal family while still traveling to rural areas to care for patients. He started Chejungwon Church, which later became Namdaemoon Presbyterian Church. He and Harriet had two daughters in Korea, Sarah and Jessie.
In the summer of 1890, Dr. Heron treated the sick and suffering amid epidemic dysentery and became infected himself. He died on July 26, 1890. Dr. Heron is thought to be the first medical missionary sent to Korea by the U.S. Presbyterian Church and was buried at Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Center in Seoul.
Hattie married Canadian missionary James Gale in Korea in 1892. She died in 1908 and is buried with her first husband in Seoul.
The Rev. E.S. Heron died of cancer in 1888 in Knoxville and I found a record of Elizabeth’s death in September 1898. I’m not sure who erected this cenotaph to Dr. Heron but it was probably Elizabeth or one of Dr. Heron’s siblings. Neither of his parents have a stone at Old Gray Cemetery but their graves may be unmarked.
I could have written much more, but I’ll leave those nuggets of history for others to write about. Old Gray Cemetery has many of them and I’m happy to have shared just a few.