By Jonathan K. T. Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1992


(Page 2)

            The permanent county seat for recently-created Madison County, Tennessee was established by the state legislature, August 17, 1822 and was at the same time named Jackson although it had been laid out in April of that year as Alexandria (by the several commissioners appointed especially for the purpose of locating the new seat, which they did on the north bank of the South Fork of the Forked Deer River, roughly in the center of the county.) The eastern portion of this town site was acquired from Dr. William E. Butler and associates and the western portion from Thomas Shannon.

            Jackson grew gradually, a stable community. It was governed by the aforementioned commissioners (and their successors in office) until 1837, at which time a mayor-aldermen form of government succeeded them; even so, it was only some years later, in December of 1845, that Jackson gained a new, more comprehensive city charter.

            By means of the August 1822 legislation, it was understood that grounds would be purchased and set aside for burial purposes in Jackson. On the Shannon tract, that part conveyed to Samuel Shannon (brother of Thomas) by his father, David Shannon, a small graveyard was located, having apparently served more nearly as a family burial ground, as there was a decided need for such a place to be set aside for use of the community.

            John H. Gibson, for whom a neighboring county would be named, through state legislation, October 21, 1823, a respected officer in the Tennessee militia that served in the famed Battle of Chalmette near New Orleans during the War of 1812, had settled on a farm about three miles north of Jackson, shortly before his death in 1823. Years later, Jesse Russell wrote about Colonel Gibson's burial near (now, in) Jackson, "Having been requested to state the circumstances attending the burial of Col. Gibson in this place, and anything connected therewith, to the best of my recollection, after a period of nearly half a century, I will state that I moved to this place [Jackson] the 1st of January, 1823, being then twenty years of age. Col. Gibson then lived about three miles north of town and died shortly after I came here. . . I think in the summer of 1823. When the news of his death was announced, there being several soldiers living here, of the war of 1812, they determined to bury him with the honors of war. I volunteered as one to make up the [burial] company. We went out what is now Market [Highland Avenue] and waited until the hearse bearing his corpse arrived and we fell in behind. His horse was next to the hearse, having on saddle and bridle, with holsters and pistols, his boots in the stirrups with spurs upon them, and some kind of garment-perhaps an overcoat -tied on behind the saddle. The horse was led by some person. His remains were conveyed to a burying ground northwest of town. I think the first settlers were buried there before the town was laid off. We fired our guns over the grave. . . . Two or three years later the citizens thinking it not a suitable place for a burying ground, selected another, southwest of town and several had their friends removed thereto. Whether the remains of Col. Gibson were removed I do not recollect, if I ever knew. After changing owners several times,


(Page 3)

the first graveyard was used as a brickyard and several bones were dug up and deposited in the present [Riverside] cemetery. Col. Gibson's friends may have had his remains removed. . . . If they did not, his remains now repose in the present [Riverside] cemetery, among others and could not be distinguished." Russell's comments were published in the WHIG-TRIBUNE, Jackson, May 4, 1872.

            Back in the previous winter an article had appeared in this newspaper (December 23, 1871 issue), entitled, "An Old Grave Yard." It read, "About four years ago Messrs. Ramsey & Ferguson purchased a lot from Dr. W. F. Still in the western suburbs of the city and established upon it a brick yard. For several months past they have been digging up human skeletons, evidencing a fact hitherto unknown to them, that their brick yard had been a burying ground. One of the skeletons dug up had on spurs, the make of a half a century ago and about the skull of another was found two well preserved tortoise shell combs; about ten or twelve skeletons in all being exhumed by the workmen. These facts coming to our attention, we interviewed several of our oldest citizens . . . as to who was buried in this almost forgotten spot. . . . However, in an interview with Mrs. Jessie D. Russell, a daughter of Maj. Charles Sevier, one of the first settlers, we learned the following interesting facts.

            "The graveyard mentioned was established about the year 1821, before the incorporation of the town of Jackson and some thirty or forty persons were buried there. When the town was incorporated, many of the bodies were removed to the present [Riverside] cemetery, yet several were left behind in their rude resting place with only rail pens to mark their graves. Among them Mrs. Russell remembers Col. [John H.] Gibson, a distinguished officer in the war of 1812, under Gen. Jackson, who was buried with military honors and Mrs. Shannon, the wife of Thomas Shannon, the first sheriff of this county. These were, doubtless, the skeletons which excited special attention as mentioned before and accounted for the spurs and the combs."

            A worthwhile farmer living in northwestern Madison County at that time (now in Crockett County), Ezekial B. Mason, responded to this article, one presumes (WHIG-TRIBUNE, Jackson, February 3, 1872), commenting, "In the first settlement of the county there was a neighborhood graveyard on the Shannon tract of land and with common consent those living in and around Jackson buried their friends at that place. . . . Soon after Jackson was incorporated the mayor and aldermen procured the present site for a graveyard, the old one not being eligible, nor could the land be procured for that purpose." He repeats what Mrs. Russell had stated, that some of the bodies were then removed to what became Riverside Cemetery, ". . . no one at that time supposing that your growing city would extend its limits to the Shannon branch, near the present foundry."

            Mason then wrote of the burial places of several early local leaders and he remarked that Colonel "Thomas" Gibson" was buried on his farm two and a half miles northwest of Jackson." He claimed that several other trustworthy citizens had told him as much.

            Nancy D., wife of Jesse Russell, died late in December of 1872, so that her widower replied to Mason's claim. The latter man had an interest in history but he tended to get his accounts confused. (He once sent to the Tennessee Historical Society a kettle that he claimed had been brought by an ancestor of his to America on the Mayflower; to which he was gently answered, explaining how it would not have been so.) He failed to get Colonel Gibson's given name correct, calling him Thomas


(Page 4)

instead of John H. He made no response in print to Jesse Russell's account, appearing as it did after his. His own claim was apparently discounted as Russell was himself a member of the party that had buried Colonel Gibson many years before.

            Jay Cisco, knowledgeable in the area's local history, and a respected Jackson newspaper editor for years, later wrote "The first cemetery in Jackson was [located] in a Chestnut grove on Johnson street, northwest from the stone bridge on Poplar Street. Colonel [Samuel] Taylor and a number of other persons were buried there." (THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, "Madison County," volume 8, #1, January 1903, page 27)

            About 1912, Thomas M. Gates, whose father had also been a local newspaper editor, wrote in an article for the JACKSON SUN that "the village graveyard was situated on Sand Branch near the stone bridge and where the brick store of Mr. Lanier now stands was the entrance to the graveyard. This graveyard extended as far [north] as the residence of Mrs. Jake Smith."

            The small map, here displayed, shows the general location of Jackson's earliest burial ground. Henry W. McCorry acquired a tract of ground, on which this graveyard had been located, in 1842; he sold the small southern part of the tract to Lorenzo Goodell in August 1849 and the larger part, several acres, above and around it, to Dr. T. C. Gayle in October of the same year; who sold it to Dr. William F. Still in September 1851. (See Madison County deed books 8, page 332; 25, page 501; 25, page 566.)

            A survey of the deeds relative to these tracts reveal that the lower portion, owned by Goodell and numerous others over a period of time, was the location of the old iron foundry, established first by Joel R. Chappell, presumably at this location and it was subsequently owned by other local capitalists. Deed records and city directories confirm the location of the foundry lot, Lanier's store, etc. (At this writing, this acreage is used as a parking lot for THE JACKSON SUN personnel and visitors.)

            The northern part of this old tract, owned by Dr. Still (the obvious reason this area was called Still Hill), was subdivided by him and the lot (number 47) on which the skeletons were disinterred, winter of 1871-1872, was sold by him to G. H. Ramsey and Julia Mylar (and she to C. W. Furguson), May 4, 1868. (Madison County deed book 26, page 51; other deeds relating to this site: deed books 26, page 121; 30, page 152).

            The location of this first graveyard was unsuitable, topographically, for a cemetery. The ground lay on a gentle slope above what was then called Shannon Branch, even later Sand Branch. It was subject to overflow at times; there was little expansion "room" for a cemetery.


(Page 5)

            In 1956, the Tennessee Historical Commission, in cooperation with the Riverside Cemetery Improvement Association, placed a historic metal plaque on the south side of the Riverside Cemetery entrance gate, on which it is stated that Riverside Cemetery dated to 1830. This claim was made, in all probability, based on Gates' well-known comments and mentioned by me in a previous paragraph; and to the presence of several 1830s tombstones on these grounds. This is surely "about" accurate. Of Riverside Cemetery, Thomas M. Gates wrote "that it had been used for burial purposes as far back as 1830."

            Judging from Jesse Russell's comments, the Shannon Branch graveyard was abandoned for the most part before 1830. The oldest surviving tombstones now in the cemetery date from 1826. [Mary Jane Butler, Sept. 12, 1824; see Vol. I, p. 3] It is actually of little importance, now, when the older graveyard was abandoned as the remains of the people buried there were moved to Riverside in the winter of 1871-1872 if they hadn't already been removed there years earlier.

            The newer cemetery was established on what had also been a part of the old David Shannon tract of 171 acres and was a short distance southeast of its predecessor. A deed of November 1832 seems to refer to this location, "one acre conveyed to the town corporation for a graveyard," by Samuel Shannon (deed book 3, page 276); and again, as the graveyard lot when Henry W. McCorry acquired 97 acres in this locality, July 1842 (deed book 8, page 332).

            On October 26, 1850, Samuel Lancaster sold to John H. Day, in the latter's capacity as chairman of the county court, "for & in consideration of the sum of five dollars . . . certain tracts or parcels of land . . . within the corporation of Jackson, one certain piece or parcel of land for the use of said Sam'l. Lancaster & George Snider's families as a family burying ground and for no other purpose. Beginning at a stake marker on the north line of the new burying ground. . . on the south side of the fence, the fence of the new burying yard being on said Lancaster's land." Reserved were also the lots Lancaster had sold/conveyed to William H. Long, Amos W. Jones, Asbury Pegues, Sanders Brown and William W. Gates (father of Thomas M. Gates), all of which lots ran from west (Lancaster/Snider) to east, between seventh and eighth streets of the cemetery, as designated now. Also reserved was a space for Lancaster's servants, near his own reserved lot. (Madison County deed book 14, pages 154-155; registered November 16, 1850).

            At some point in time, inferentially about 1826, the town's new cemetery was located on what is now known as the south slope of Riverside, its southernmost area. As people died, they were buried in available spaces in this cemetery. Lancaster was simply making certain that his and the other persons' family lots were properly registered with the city so that random burials would not be made thereon. He sold a few other lots near his own lot over the years. The cemetery's northern boundary, well-defined in his 1850 deed, was what is now called seventh street. To the west of this tract ran a major thoroughfare called McClanahan's Levee Road, which ran from Jackson, south; it was later called the Bolivar Road and for years now, it has been officially called Riverside Drive. Likely the entrance of the cemetery opened onto this road.

            The "new" cemetery was originally part of the old Shannon tract, variously owned for years and acquired by Samuel Lancaster and others. It was SAMUEL SHANNON who set aside an acre for use as a town cemetery, although the deed in which he did so was not recorded properly.


(Page 6)

            Figures published in the October 14, 1871 issue of the Jackson newspaper, the WHIG-TRIBUNE, showed that the population of the city had increased from a reported 2500 persons right after the Civil War to 7000 persons by the fall of 1871. This was in large part a growth attributable to the influx of people (and their families) associated with the railroad industry. There was a distinct need for an expansion of the cemetery grounds, to the northward, taking in a big cornfield. The acquisition of this extra acre and a sixth has been described at length in MY RIVERSIDE CEMETERY TOMBSTONE INSCRIPTIONS SCRAPBOOK, part one.

            Suffice it to say, here, that the north margin of the cemetery by 1870 was roughly the south side of fifth street within the grounds. The city bought from Thomas L. Robinson the extra acre, plus, for $1340.75 on June 3, 1872, to be paid for by installment. Lot and grave spaces were sold and/or used immediately in the new section although due to a minor litigation, it was only in January of 1879 that the city gained full and complete title to this acreage (as shown in deed books 30, pages 202-203; 29, page 244; see also, chancery court minute book 8, page 300; the TRIBUNE-SUN, Jackson, February 10, 1872 and February 9, 1877).

            Called simply the CITY CEMETERY for many years, this burial ground was renamed RIVERSIDE CEMETERY in the spring of 1879. (TRIBUNE-SUN, Jackson, May 8, 1879) Thomas M. Gates, who was living in Jackson at the time, later wrote that Benjamin Davidson, a local cotton merchant, had suggested the name Riverside as the grounds were close to the Forked Deer River.

            Sextons were employed by the city to maintain the cemetery for many years. The cemetery was surveyed and remapped several times, with a new register being purchased and a map of the "old" cemetery (south slope and Lancaster ridge) obtained in 1878;a new gate and fence for the entire grounds were also erected that year (as shown in the city's published council minutes, in TRIBUNE-SUN, Jan. 31, 1879). An entrance of the cemetery, in the 1870s had probably been located on the east side of the cemetery but the gate was permanently relocated to open on the old road (now Riverside Drive).

            Early in 1903, Samuel C. Lancaster, city engineer, re-surveyed, platted and renumbered the burial lots although those on the south slope may have remained unnumbered. The last survey to date, that of Earnest R. Dike, was made in 1937. The Riverside Cemetery Improvement Association was established in June of 1918 to furnish some basic maintenance funds and beautification for the cemetery. From that year, formal sexton funds/reports ceased, with the city assisting labor and maintenance as requested by the aforesaid association.

            In the summer of 1882 the county court appointed a committee of their number to take bids for the placing of an iron fence around the courthouse grounds in Jackson; further negotiation for this work was continued in the fall of that year and the fence was erected by R. H. Anderson & Co., agents of E. T. Barnum & Co. early in 1883 for $2364.35. (County Court Minute Book 16, pages 150, 191, 282)

            In 1898-1899, the Madison County quarterly court agreed to sell this fence to the city of Jackson, provided the city would replace it with an appropriate stone curbing, which was agreed upon. (A portion of this fencing was sold to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church.) Henry D. Burnell was paid "at 12 1/2 cts. per foot" to erect this iron fence on the north border of Riverside, with a lovely walk-through gate on the northeast corner of the cemetery, which contract he fulfilled in summer the of 1902. (Jackson City Recorder's Minute Book H, page 492, ditto, I, pages 227, 235, 239)


Continue with The Riverside Cemetery Improvement Association


Return to Contents