In my last post, I introduced you to Knoxville, Tenn.’s Lebanon in the Fork Cemetery and some of the history surrounding its establishment in the 1790s. Tennessee was just emerging as a state and coming into its own.
Out of the 77 recorded memorials on Find a Grave.com for this cemetery, 18 of them are Ramseys. It’s not surprising, considering how many Knoxville pioneers are buried here. The Ramsey family is up there with the Whites, Blounts, and Seviers.
Francis Ramsey Builds a Home
Born in Pennsylvania in 1764, Francis Alexander Ramsey was the son of Reynolds and Naomi Alexander Ramsey. Reynolds Ramsey took part in the French and Indian War, serving with George Washington at Trenton, Princeton, and Valley Forge. His mill on Marsh Creek supplied the Continental Army with food. He joined his nephew James Gettys in founding the town of Gettysburg in 1806 and became the first village treasurer.
Son Francis is thought to have fought alongside Washington during the Revolutionary War. He moved to Greene County in what would become Tennessee in 1783. He and other pioneers began surveying and exploring the Knoxville area. He discovered a game-rich beaver dam pond which he named Swan Pond. He was issued a grant for Swan Pond and its surrounding land in November 1786.
Col. Ramsey (his military title was honorary) didn’t move to Swan Pond until 1792, after being appointed clerk for the newly formed Southwest Territory. By then, he had married Margaret “Peggy” McKnitt Alexander in 1789. Ramsey built their house on a peninsula in the pond, although due to malaria concerns, he drained the pond before construction began. London-trained architect Thomas Hope designed the house and it was built between 1795 and 1797.
Historic Ramsey House still stands today and is located very close to the cemetery, something I found out later. The house is made of Tennessee Marble (from a nearby quarry) and Blue Limestone.
One of Col. Ramsey’s claims to fame was being a founding trustee of Blount College, later called the University of Tennessee. The Rev. Samuel Carrick (he’s in Part I) was the first president. Ramsey also donated the land where the first Lebanon-in-the-Fork Presbyterian Church building was built and the cemetery.
Around 1808, his parents Reynolds Ramsey and Naomi moved to Knox County to be with their sons. Naomi died on Sept. 10, 1813 at age 76. Reynolds would die in March 1816. They share a marker at Lebanon in the Fork Cemetery.
Several of the Colonel and Peggy’s children died before reaching adulthood. All of their surviving children were college educated including his daughter, Eliza Jane. Peggy died in 1805 at the age of 39, having suffered poor health the last 18 months of her life. Ramsey remarried in 1806 to Ann Agnew, who gave him one son, John. She died in 1815 at age 43. Her name is inscribed on one side of the box grave of Col. Ramsey.
Col. Ramsey would marry a third time to Margaret Christian Russell Ramsey on April 13, 1820. Like Ramsey, she had also buried two spouses before marrying him. Col. Ramsey died almost seven months later on Nov. 5, 1820 at the age of 56. Margaret lived another 34 years, dying in 1854 at age 76. She is buried at the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in downtown Knoxville.
The top of Col. Ramsey’s box grave reads:
Sacred to the Memory of Col. Francis Alexander Ramsey, in his 20th year he was Secretary of the Franklin Convention and held civil and military appointments under that and the Succeeding Federal and State Governments till his death.
He was one of the founders and Elders of Lebanon Church. The old stone church was erected by munificence and consecrated by his prayers. These grounds were his gift to the Presbyterian Congregation which in commemoration of his liberality and his private and public virtues, has erected this monument to his memory.
Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey’s “Annals of Tennessee”
Col. Ramsey and Peggy’s fourth son was Dr. James Gettys McGready (J.G.M) Ramsey. Born at Swan Pond in 1797, Dr. Ramsey received his education at Washington College near Jonesboro, Tenn. and later the University of Pennsylvania, where he attended medical lectures. Dr. Ramsey married Margaret “Peggy” Crozier in 1821. He is best known for writing “The Annals of Tennessee,” a historical documentation of the state’s early years. It was published in 1853.
Dr. Ramsey joined his father and younger brother William Blaine Alexander Ramsey in banking, and was an early advocate for building railroads to connect Knoxville with Charleston, S.C. over developing water transportation routes from Knoxville to New Orleans. William became the first citizen-elected mayor of Knoxville in 1838 and later served as the secretary of state for Tennessee (1847-1855). He died in 1874 and is buried in Nashville City Cemetery.
Dr. Ramsey built his own home, which he called Mecklenburg, near Ramsey House. His wife, Peggy, was born in Mecklenburg, N.C. He was a secessionist and a friend of Jefferson Davis. Ramsey became treasury agent for the Confederacy and served as an Army surgeon during the Civil War. His sons were Confederate soldiers as well.
When Union troops advanced on East Tennessee in 1863, Ramsey fled. Mecklenburg was ransacked and burned to the ground. Along with the house, 4,000 books in Dr. Ramsey’s library that included his journals of Europe and historical documents about the state were destroyed. Dr. Ramsey was devastated by the loss. Judy LaRose, executive director of the Historic Ramsey House, said, “I think he was a beaten man after that.”
The Ramseys suffered other tragic losses. Their youngest son, Arthur, died from battle wounds in 1864. Daughter Charlotte died in 1863 at age 24 from typhus fever she contracted while traveling through Knox and Sevier counties gathering supplies for the Confederacy. Federal authorities banished daughter Susan, 16, from Knoxville for “disloyal” actions. Those acts, her father said, included refusing to walk under an American flag or sign an oath of allegiance to the U.S. government.
“My Child of Promise and of Hope”
There are two Ramsey brothers that are on a marker but are not buried at Lebanon in the Fork. The first is William Wilberforce Alexander Ramsey, born in 1826 at Swan Pond. He became an attorney and was close to his father, Dr. Ramsey. In 1850, Dr. Ramsey sent him and his brother, Francis Alexander Ramsey, out west with the East Tennessee Gold Mining Company. William, already ill from a lung infection, died during excavation efforts in Volcano, Calif. on Nov. 16, 1850. Dr. Ramsey wrote this about his death and burial there:
He (Wilberforce) sank quietly to his grave in peace with his God and his fellowmen. He was the first man buried in a coffin at Volcano Diggings, Calif. Strange to say, poor Wilberforce had a Christian burial in these wilds. A Presbyterian minister, Reverend Davidson, originally from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, performed for him the last funeral rites. He was, if I had a favorite, my favorite son, my child of promise and of hope.
Son Francis Alexander Ramsey made it home to Tennessee safely. He would later marry Nancy Presley, and moved to Texas in later years. He died in Lake Victor, Texas in 1925 at the age of 96.
I could not find a memorial for William on Find a Grave in the three Volcano, Calif. cemeteries, although there are burials of other men who died during these gold mining quests. But he is remembered on this cenotaph at Lebanon in the Fork Cemetery.
Gen. John Crozier Ramsey’s name is also inscribed on the same marker with William. But I don’t think he’s actually buried at Lebanon in the Fork. He died in Knoxville on Jan. 1, 1869 at the age of 44. Newspaper articles indicate his funeral was held at First Presbyterian Church and burial at Old Gray Cemetery. But no memorial exists for him there on Find a Grave. I believe this is a cenotaph as well.
Death of Dr. Ramsey
Dr. Ramsey and Peggy spent most of the rest of the war in the Charlotte, N.C., area. President Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1865 but the family didn’t return to Knoxville until the early 1870s. When Dr. Ramsey died in 1884 at age 87, the flag over the state capitol flew at half mast. He shares a monument with Peggy, who died five years later at age 87.
Next time, I’ll be moving down the road to Asbury Cemetery. I hope you’ll join me for more stories from the Volunteer State.