It’s time to wrap things up at Oxford Memorial Cemetery but I have a lot more to show you before I’m done.
When I looked at my photos from this cemetery, I noticed the profusion of oblong-shaped grave markers with open centers. Some of them are plain. Some of them are wood-themed, with little nubs on them. It’s not like I haven’t seen this style before. But not so many and not over such a long time span. If you look below, you can see an example of the West family plot. These are plain round circles. You can even see one that is smaller for a child.
Sometimes the family plots featured a larger surname marker with individual rings, the Falkner family has that kind of set up.
These circles did afford a family the opportunity to plant flowers inside the ring if they chose to. I have seen that done. But I didn’t see that happening here, probably because the graves are older and there’s nobody left to care for the flowers regularly.
Segregation in the Cemetery
Like many cemeteries, Oxford Memorial Cemetery used to be segregated. I don’t know when that changed but there’s definitely an area for black graves. I use the term “black” and not “African-American” because in looking at the dates on some of those graves, the deceased were potentially native-born Africans who were enslaved part of their lives. I mentioned William Faulkner’s family servant, Callie Clark, in Part I of this series. She is buried in this area of the cemetery.
This is the grave for Anna Seward. I could find nothing about her beyond the fact she was thought to be 60 years old when she died on Sept. 15, 1893. That would have made her date of birth around 1833, so it’s possible she was born in Africa. While her marker rests on the ground, she does have a “woodsy” style circle around her grave but it is filled in and not open.
I’ve featured wood-themed and tree-shaped markers in many of my past blog posts. The 1890s were a prime time for this theme so it’s not a surprise you’d find it here at this time. Part of me wonders if it came sometime later. I suspect the marker was there first and the circle came later.
Then you have the nearby grave of Tamar Patton, born at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Born in Tennessee, she was first married to a man with the last name of Orange. By 1900, she was widowed and in 1910, had remarried to Steven Patton. She spent the last three decades of her life in Lafayette County where Oxford is located.
Tamar died in the later half of 1923 at age 58. She must have known her death was near because she prepared a will in March of that year. It was probated in June 1923. Her will tells us she had eight children and she bequeathed what funds she had (after paying for her grave, funeral, and debts) to those children. Two of those children, Joseph and and James, were minors when she died. Steven Patton is not mentioned at all but I suspect he may have been deceased already.
Tamar’s marker has the same wood-themed circle as Ann Steward, but she has a square with her name incorporated into it.
I also photographed the graves of William Hair and his wife, Nancy Jane Wheeler Hair, buried across the way. They were white. According to U.S. Census records, it looks like both William and Nancy were born in the 1850s in Mississippi. They wed in 1888 in Layette County. I don’t think they ever had any children but a nephew was living with them in 1910.
William died at age 70 in 1927 and Nancy died in June 1934 at age 77. You can see that their grave circles are plain with the square at the base.
Accident With a Winchester Rifle
In some cases, I found a circle with an attached monument. This pair was made for Eugene Gaither Smith (1868-1901) and his wife, Annie Carter Smith (1873-1958). Annie outlived Eugene by 57 years. I knew there had to be a story there.
I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. The sun going down cast shadows and as you can see, that made an impact.
Born in Mississippi in 1868, Eugene married Annie Carter in Panola County, Miss. on Dec. 18, 1895. Their daughter, Gaither, was born on Oct. 27, 1898. The family moved to Memphis, Tenn. and Eugene got a job inspecting railroad cars for the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad. They had a second daughter, Pauline, in 1900.
Sometime in May 1901, Eugene fell ill with malaria. He was out of work for several weeks but after recovering, returned to work on June 14, 1901. Later that morning, he was found dead from a gunshot wound from a Winchester rifle found nearby leaning up against a wall in the corner of the car inspector’s shed.
The above article detailed that while at first Eugene’s death was thought to be a suicide, this was later ruled out. Co-worker James Matthews owned the Winchester and kept it in the corner of the shed. Eugene had a habit of going into the shed every morning to borrow some tobacco out of the jacket Matthews kept with his rifle. The conclusion was drawn that Eugene continued his habit that day, but this time jostling the rifle and accidentally setting it off.
All the same, it was a terrible tragedy. Annie remained in Memphis with Gaither and Pauline, sharing her home with her half-brother, Nathan, who was a machinist, and a boarder. By 1920, Nathan had moved out. But Gaither and Pauline were both working as stenographers to support the household, along with a fellow stenographer who boarded with them. Gaither married James E. Rogers on Oct. 6, 1920.
By 1930, Annie had moved to New Albany, Miss. with Gaither and her family, which included a grandson. Pauline married and remained in Memphis. Annie returned to Memphis at some point to live with Pauline and her family. She died at the age of 85 on July 19, 1958. Her body was sent home to Oxford for burial beside Eugene.
While it is difficult to see, Eugene’s marker has a number of symbols on it. An anchor signifying hope since he was never a sailor or worked in the maritime trade. A sunrise, which I’m not sure about in terms of what it means. There are also the three links of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), signifying friendship, love, and truth. He was a member of that fraternal order.
So what can we conclude from all these grave circles? I can only guess that the major stone mason in the area from the 1880s to the 1920s offered these to his Oxford clients and they bought them. It may have simply been a regional trend because I found more at the next cemetery I visited down the road.
Oxford’s District Judge Robert A. Hill
Judge Robert Andrews Hill (1811-1900) has no grave circles of any kind in his plot, which he shares with his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. But I was intrigued by his career and his family so I wanted to feature it.
Born in Iredell County, N.C. in 1811, Hill was the son of David Hill and Rhoda Andrews. The Hills moved to Tennessee when Robert was young. He wed Mary Andrews in 1833. They would later have two children, Robert (who died in childhood) and Marietta “Metta”.
Hill was elected a constable in 1834 and later became a justice of the peace. He resigned in 1844 to take up the practice of law, doing so in Waynesboro, Tenn., until 1847, when the legislature chose him as a state district attorney general. He held that position until his defeat in an 1855 popular election. That year, he moved to Tishomingo County, Miss. to form a law partnership with John F. Arnold. In 1858, he was elected probate judge of Tishomingo County, a post he held until 1865.
A Whig before the war and a Republican after it, Hill favored the Lincoln-Johnson plans for constitutional measures for the restoration of the South. He served as a delegate to the 1865 Mississippi constitutional convention.
In 1866, Pres. Andrew Johnson appointed Hill to the federal judiciary for the two districts that made up Mississippi. The court moved from Pontotoc to Oxford, where Judge Hill took up residence. In 1875, he publicly called on the voters of Mississippi “of both races and all parties” to peaceably register and vote in congressional elections and thereby show “to the world that, though composed of different races and entertaining different opinions, we are capable of self-government and can live in peace.”
I do think Judge Hill must have had a sense of humor. I found this anecdote about him in the newspaper.
Hill was elected president of the Mississippi State Bar Association in January 1889 while a sitting federal judge. He retired from the federal bench in 1891 and continued to live in Oxford, where he served as a trustee of Ole Miss. His wife, Mary, passed away on Dec. 12, 1898. Judge Hill died at age 89 on July 2, 1900.
Judge Hill left the bulk of his estate to his daughter, Metta, who married George Hill. George also worked in the courts. They had two children, Myrtle and Robert Jr. Judge Hill’s will singles out Robert Jr., leaving him his gold watch, his gold-headed cane, and money for law books and law school tuition. He clearly thought much of him and his future.
A Sad Footnote
Sadly, Robert Jr. would die only three years after his grandfather. On Aug. 1, 1903, he married a young lady named Bessie Dismukes while “sitting in a buggy at Gallatin, Tenn.” according to his obituary. His parents were reportedly very displeased at this. Despondent over their reaction, Robert overdosed on morphine at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. five days later and died on Aug 6, 1903 at age 26.
Robert’s death took a toll on his parents. George Hill went into a decline and died in Biloxi, Miss. on July 17, 1907 at age 72. Metta died a few years later on Nov. 8, 1910 at age 67. The three of them are buried together. Myrtle, who never married, died in 1938 and is also buried with them, but her marker is much smaller and in the back corner behind them.
Later that night, Sarah and I went into downtown Oxford to have dinner and walk around. It has a beautiful town square with plenty of shops and restaurants for visitors and college students alike.
Next time, I’ll be at Barbee Cemetery near the Mississippi/Arkansas border.
Greg Hodges said:
I only occasionally have spotted a ‘circle grave’ in a cemetery….and usually just a singular one. And “Bem” is a name I have never come across…..until now.
Enjoyed the visit to this cemetery.
Apparently “Bem” is short for “Liedbem”. And I also learned there’s another Bem Price who lived in Birmingham, Ala. who was a well-known architect. I never thought I’d run into two Bem Prices!
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