From the Vertical Files, Tennessee Room, Jackson-Madison County Library


By Jonathan K. T. Smith

            Late in 1998 Jack D. Wood, Tennessee Room Librarian, Jackson-Madison County Library was informed of the existence of an old burial ground just west of the West Jackson Baptist Church on Oil Well Road in Madison County, Tennessee. He visited the site, made notations as to its layout but found no intact tombstone there. He informed the present writer (Jonathan Smith) about this abandoned cemetery, who has made an attempt to identify it by name.

            More precisely stated this cemetery is located on a spur of land, properly a small ridge, between a "dry" drain and low-lying woods;about . 1 mile due south of Oil Well Road and about . 1 mile south of the junction of this road with Pleasant Plains Road. This part of the tract is heavily wooded, virtually hiding the cemetery from far-view.

            The several graves are lined up, north-south, facing the east. The northernmost graves, at least two of them, were marked by evergreen trees, one still living, the other evidenced only by a ground level stump and at the latter of which is the beveled base of a small tombstone with its brick-lined grave. A thorough search was made at, near and distant from this base as the tombstone itself might have fallen or been dragged off and eventually covered with leaves and grass but the tombstone was not to be found, indicating that it had been removed at one time. It was not found in or along the "dry" drain or the woods on the east side of the ridge.

            About eight feet south of the tree-marked graves located just south of the tombstone base begins a line of graves marked with fieldstones, one of which, at least, has a footstone of the same material. There are at least four graves running south, separated one from the other by several feet. There are three fieldstones marking graves to the east of the long line of graves. Probing with a metal rod did not disclose other graves although due to the considerable age of the cemetery an exact count of graves seems problematical. Although the graves, but one, were not marked with conventional tombstones it is quite evident that care was taken in the laying-out of these resting places.

            The present writer has made a search of the public records in an effort to identify the "family", broadly speaking, whose deceased members lie buried here long forgotten. Conversations with local persons familiar with the area have been conducted about the cemetery as well.

            The records of the Madison County Assessor of Property reveals that the 18.5 acre tract on which the cemetery is located was conveyed in 1999 to the Jackson District of the United Methodist Church by the Methodist Church Extension Development Corporation. (Madison County Deed Book 598, page 402)

            On May 3, 1994 Vern C. Thomsen sold to the Methodist Church Extension Development Corporation "the western 35.099 acres" of his property, "beginning at an iron pin in the south margin of Oil Well Road, said point being the northwest corner of tract no. 2 of the Vern C. Thomsen property . . . and runs thence east with the south margin of Oil Well Road, 680 feet to an iron pin; thence south 01 degrees 23 minutes 16 seconds east 2163.22 feet to an iron pin in an existing fence line and the south line of the said Thomsen tract; thence south 86 degrees 22 minutes 45 seconds west, with the south line of said Thomsen tract and along an existing fence line, 720 feet to a 36" oak tree, said point being the southwest corner of said Thomsen tract;thence south 00 degrees 21 minutes 32 seconds west, with the west line of said Thomsen tract and along an existing fence line, 2208.10 feet to the point of beginning. "This tract had been laid off by survey in April 1994. (Madison County Deed Book 540, pages 106-107)

            In this deed it is recorded that this real estate was conveyed to Vern C. Thomsen and his wife, Ruth, the latter of whom had died when her husband sold the tract of land to the Methodists in 1994, having acquired it by an instrument recorded in the Madison County Deed Book 169, page 230. The Thomsens bought two tracts of land, eleven and one hundred and sixty-six acres, from R. C. McAlexander on June 1, 1954, the latter and larger tract having been identified as the SECOND tract; indicating it began at the northwest corner of a tract of land once owned by John Conrad. R. C. McAlexander acquired this acreage, with the same calls, from T. Lamar Spragins on January 26, 1953 (IBID. Book 166, page 150); the 166 acre tract, of importance in tracing the ownership of this property, was bought by Spragins from John Aycock on January 1, 1946 (IBID. Book 144, page 6), who in turn acquired it from Lynch Parker on February 6, 1943 (IBID. Book 135, page 240); who in turn acquired it from W. D. McKinnie, county trustee, on February 25, 1930 (IBID. Book 86, page 627). This 166 acreage having been bought and owned by Mrs. De Etta Vandiver, from R. L. Walker on November 23, 1915 (IBID. Book 86, page 540); who in turn had bought this acreage, listed then as 164 acres, along with an additional 14 acres, by R. L. Walker on October 26, 1915, the same having been recently acquired from Joseph D. Griffith; who had in turn gained ownership of this real estate on January 5, 1901 in a sale ordered by the Madison County Chancery Court. (Madison County Chancery Court Minute Book 20, pages 33-34)

            In the late summer of 1900 the chancery case, Mary L. Duncan and others v George Brown and others, was filed, the particulars of which are contained in File Docket 4454. It appeared that on October 3, 1867 JAMES BROWN conveyed his homestead consisting of two tracts, 164 and 32 acres, to his daughter, Caroline Brown, along with some livestock and household furnishings, the land to be held by her during her life-time after which the land was to be divided among his children and/or their lineal heirs. Brown held control of the property for the remainder of his life, assuring his spinster daughter the property for a livelihood and residence. He signed the document with an "x." (Madison County Deed Book 25, pages 278-279) The 164 acres (of which the adjusted 166 acres of the Thomsen tract consisted) was acquired by Brown from Andrew Caradine who had in turn bought it from an O'Riley, which deeds will be cited later.

            It appeared that Caroline Brown remained unmarried and died in Madison County on February 17, 1900, soon after which the heirs of her father sought distribution of her landed property through the Chancery Court. With testimony of several local farmers, including F. A. Ward, J. D. Griffith and F. Blount Howlett (being acquainted with the local land values), that it would be impossible to divide the land itself among the numerous heirs as it was of such variable quality throughout. The court then ordered the sale of the two tracts (which on survey were found to contain 177 and 13 acres, rather than 32 acres in the smaller tract) which was done on January 5, 1901. Marcus L. Bevill first bid on the property but defaulting immediately the tracts were sold to Joseph D. Griffith, who paid for them on the installment plan. Subsequent sale of a part of this land reduced the "second" tract to some 166 acres.

            In the court brief it was recorded "that when Caroline Brown died, James Brown had no living child of the thirteen children which were born to him & that of those children, eight died without and five died with issue; that Anthony Brown was the male and that his children /were/ Mary Ewell; Emily, wife of Marcus L. Bevill, Madison County; Ann, wife of A. C. McRae, Benton County, Tennessee; George Brown and John Brown of Ark.; R. Henry Brown of Lexington, Van Buren County, Arkansas; Samuel Brown, a "lunatic", mentally ill patient at the asylum in Bolivar, Tennessee; a grandson, Bedford Bumpass of Missouri.

            That one of the daughters of James Brown was Jane Duncan who was survived by a daughter, Mary L. Duncan of Milan, Tennessee. Another daughter, Sarah Mitchell, had daughters, Julia E. and Georgia A. Mitchell of Evansville, Indiana. Another daughter, Eliza, wife of Thomas Barnett, had children Albert F. and Leonidas C. Barnett. Another daughter, Mary, wife of Enoch Rollins, had a surviving son, Benjamin F. Rollins (whose name was corrected from Thomas to Benjamin F. in April 1903) of Deport, Texas and two grandsons, Benjamin and Edward Shelby, also residents of Texas. These heirs received their modest "shares" of the purchase money paid by Joseph D. Griffith (after legal fees were paid) for their ancestor's former lands.

            In the deposition of F. A. Ward dated November 20, 1900 the Brown tract was crudely sketched:

            In Madison County Deed Book 13, page 137 is recorded the deed executed on December 15, 1849, when James Brown bought from Andrew Caradine, for $832, the 164 acres mentioned previously, beginning at the northwest corner of 226 acres of long-ago John Conrad. Samuel Dickins, acting as agent for James C. O'Riley, had sold this same tract to James and Andrew Caradine on November 3, 1828 but James Caradine conveyed his interest to Andrew Caradine, to whom O'Riley, then living in Maury County, Tennessee, made a clear deed for $541.50 on June 9, 1843. This property, 164 acres, lay in Surveyor District 10, Range 1, Section 10. (Madison County Deed Book 9, page 282)

            This property was located in Civil District 10 of Madison County and remained so until the realignment of the civil districts in the second decade of the 20th Century. James Brown was listed in this district, on October 14, 1850 by the census-taker (Madison County, 1850 Census, page 309): James Brown, aged 65 years, native of Virginia; farmer; real estate valued at $1500; Mary D. Brown, aged 56 years, native of Virginia; Jane Brown, aged 32 years, native of N.C.; Elizabeth Brown, aged 34 years, native of Virginia; Caroline Brown, aged 19 years, native of N.C.; Julia A. Brown, aged 17 years, native of N.C.; Mary Rollins, aged 27 years, native of N.C.; along with several Rollins youngsters. On August1l0, 1860, James Brown's household was enumerated in the census of that year (page 148): James Brown, aged 70 years, Virginia; Mary Brown, aged 68 years, Virginia; Julia Brown, aged 26 years, N.C.; Caroline Brown, aged 24 years, N.C.; Mary L. Duncan, aged 5 years, Tennessee. The disparity in the ages as given in the two censuses will be noted, leaving one to wonder just how old these individuals really were when visited by census-takers.

            In Madison County Court Minute Book 18, pages 428-429, it is recorded that James Brown died in Madison County in May 1868 and among his heirs were Julia A. Anderson, Sarah Mitchell, Mary Rollins, John L. Brown, Anthony Brown, Caroline D. Brown and Jane Brown (deceased with daughter, Mary L. Duncan) and Elizabeth Brown (who had died leaving sons).


Photograph caption, photograph too poor to scan
snapshot of the base of the one tombstone in the Brown Cemetery

Photograph caption, photograph too poor to scan
Line of graves marked with fieldstones, looking from south to north in the Brown Cemetery


            It has been demonstrated that the basic "166" acre tract conveyed by V. C. Thomsen to the Methodists in 1994 had been in the ownership of the James Brown family, 1849-1901. Further investigation revealed that no evidence has come to light indicating that any of the owners of the tract during the 20th century ever buried their dead there but were in fact, principally, absentee-owners; some were local farmers who acquired additional farmland. A thorough survey of black cemeteries in this area makes it quite clear that the burial ground on the tract was not designated as one for black folk. None of the few remaining white families, long-time residents of this area, ever recall hearing of burials there and in fact, none remembered hearing about the cemetery's existence. This includes Mrs. Eunice White Pafford, born in 1912, native of the area who has lived most of her life in this community, knowledgeable in its past/heritage, and whose ancestral residence is only a short distance north of the Brown tract. None of this Brown immediate family appear to be buried in any of the area cemeteries. Among their long-time neighbors were Howletts, Harrises, Gooches, Glenns, Hickses and Moores and members of those families are buried in other cemeteries in the area. It is not remarkable at all that the presence of the cemetery on the tract, in the Chancery case of 1900, plus, was not mentioned in the proceedings; very often cemeteries were not mentioned in such transactions/court proceedings as it was felt that these "God's Half Acres" would not be vandalized and that decent people would "leave them be."

            Although there is no recorded information stating that the abandoned cemetery on the Methodist property is that of the James Brown family, strong circumstantial evidence suggests that it is and can hardly be otherwise, common sense serving as the trump in the case; that James Brown (died 1868), his wife, Mary D. and others of their family are buried there, including a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Anthony Brown, who died north of Jackson in August 1878 (TRIBUNE and SUN, Jackson, August 30, 1878) Furthermore, it is likely that the missing tombstone was that of Caroline D. Brown who died early in 1900 and presumably hers would have been the last interment there. It was a long time ago that she died, a century has passed, long enough for the Browns, their property and their cemetery, to have left the conscious memory of local people.