Sunday, November 13, 2011

Murder, Death Certificates and a Cemetery Mystery Solved

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X marks the spot of the Williams Family Cemetery
Since I first began researching my ancestry, I have been trying to find the graves of my second great grandparents, George D. Williams and Martha Jane Watridge. Now that has uploaded some Haywood County, TN death certificates from his time period, I have been able to find the confirmation I needed.

I already knew the likely location of their graves was in a patch of trees in the middle of a field behind the farm of my Dad’s childhood friend, Milton Booth.

My father remembered riding horses in the area with his father, “Daddy Bo,” and him pointing to that area as the location of his grandfather’s grave. His grandfather was George D. Williams.

Last year, Milton took me back to visit the site and all that was left was pieces of an old iron fence that did appear to be from an old cemetery.
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Last winter, when it was easier to explore the area, which is overgrown with vines and bushes, my Dad and I, along with my brother-in-law Alan and nephew, Caleb, searched the area for any signs of headstones. We found nothing.

Last week, my cousin, Betsy whose mother, Betty Brantley Sullivan was a sister of my grandmother, Virginia Brantley Lovelace, emailed me the death certificate of our ancestor, Maggie Williams Sullivan she had found on

Maggie was George D. Williams’ niece through his brother, Edward. According to her death certificate she was buried in the “Williams Cemetery.” The undertakers were listed as “Castellaw and Watridge.”

I immediately went online and checked and found that George’s death certificate was also now there and his place of burial was listed as “family burial ground” with “Castellaw and Watridge” also listed as the undertakers.

Late last week, Betsy confirmed with a senior family member that the location suspected was indeed once referred to as the “Williams Family Cemetery.”

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Death Certificate of George D. Williams
About George Williams
Although everyone seems to have forgotten even where he was buried, and his headstone seems to have been long plowed under, George D. Williams was an interesting and important part of his community just a little over 100 years ago. He was named after his grandfather, George Williams who was a pastor of the Holly Grove Baptist Church in Bertie County, NC and moved to Haywood County, TN in 1836 to be one of the first pastors of Zion Baptist Church.

Pastor George Williams’ son was named George Solomon Williams but went by the name of “Sol.” In 1860, Sol was living in Haywood County with his wife Catherion Arthur Nowell and children, Elizabeth (age 15), my direct ancestor George (age 11) John (age 9), Edward (age 7) and William (age 2). Sol died in 1864 at the age of 44. While I have not yet been able to confirm he died in the Civil War, there were several George S. Williams from Tennessee who fought in the war, and the timing would certainly work.

Sol’s son, George D. Williams was born 27 Nov 1846 “professed religion” at Zion Baptist Church in 1862 and was baptized there in 1864. At the age of 22, he married Martha Jane Watridge whose family was among the original settlers of Haywood County.

The couple had six children before Martha Jane’s death on 22 Dec 1888 when she was 37. Her youngest son, my great grandfather, William Lafayette Williams was just 10-months old.

Martha Jane Watridge Williams Obituary
Martha J. Williams died 22 Dec 1888 wife of G.D. Williams and daughter of James Watridge and granddaughter of Bro. Decaon W. Watridge. Married George D. Williams 17 Dec 1868. She was born 27 Aug 1852. Leaves husband and 4 Children, one and infant babe.
Source: Zion Baptist Church Book of Obituaries, pg. 5

The other children of George and Mary Jane were E.L., James Solomon, John, George T., and Elberta. E.L. likely died young as he does not show up on the 1880 census with the others.

The location of her grave has not yet been determined and she is not listed in the Cobb Family Cemetery, Zion Cemetery or Holly Grove Cemetery so it’s very likely she was buried in the family cemetery.

Around 1890, George began writing obituaries for members of Zion Baptist Church and helped write obits for Bet Cobb, Christian C. Rooks, Mary Watridge, Henry Day Brantley and many others that can be found in Nicholas Cobb Descendants by Joe H. Cobb.

At the age of 53, in 1899, George married 39-year old Virginia Estelle Cobb who was the daughter of John Charles Warren Cobb and Penelope Trottman White, early Haywood County settlers. Together, they had a daughter, Mary Lorene.

In the 1910 census, George and Virginia are living on a farm between the homes of the families of his brother John W. Williams, George and Mary Castellaw and Champ C. Watridge.

I believe it was George Castellaw and Champ Watridge who performed the task of undertaker when George died on 2 Apr 1919 at the age of 72, most likely from prostate cancer.

George’s obituary was a little light on the details, which is ironic considering he wrote so many obits for other people.

George D. Williams Obituary
G.D. Williams died 2 April 1919, born 6 Nov 1847. Professed religion 1862 at Zion Church. Baptized by Rev. G.E. Thomas.

Source: Zion Baptist Church Obituary Book, pg. 88
The other person that was possibly buried in this cemetery was Maggie Williams Sullivan, George’s niece from his brother, John.

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About Maggie Williams Sullivan
My cousin, Betsy has done a lot of research on Maggie Williams Sullivan who is in her direct line.

Maggie was born in Haywood County on 21 Apr 1881. When she was 17 she married Ellis B. Sullivan. Their union was destined to be a rocky one and by April 27, 1905, they were in court where Maggie was seeking a divorce.

In the court document, it states:
“the defendant is guilty of such and cruel and inhumane treatment of complainant as to make it unsafe and improper for her to habit with him and be under his dominion and control…he has offered such indignities to her person as to render her condition intolerable and thereby forcing her to withdraw.”
Maggie received custody of the couple’s three sons: Emory (age 5), Raymond (age 3) and Calvin (age 1).

Life was hard for even large farming families during that time. It must have been really difficult for a 24-year-old woman with three small children.

A few years later, Ellis may have seemed to have changed his ways or perhaps age had mellowed him enough that Maggie decided it was worth the risk but, regardless of the reason, on 14 Sept 1909, Ellis and Maggie were remarried.

After their remarriage, in 1910, they had a baby, Loran, who died either at birth or within the first year. Another, Alonzo, was born in 1912 and died just three years later. Their last two children, Alma Catherine who was born in 1915 and George Washington who was born 22 Feb 1916, lived to adulthood.

On July 4, 1917, Ellis came in from the cotton field and Maggie shot and killed him.

The funeral home entry for Ellis states that he was “killed by Mike Holbrook after he spit tobacco juice all over Mr. Holbrook.” However, it was determined that was just a story the family created to keep her out of trouble.

Maggie was eventually indicted by the Haywood County Grand Jury and found guilty of his death. She was sent to serve time at both the State Penitentiary in Nashville and Western State Hospital in Bolivar, TN but was released early after her brothers introduced some "new evidence" to the court.

Maggie died on 28 Apr 1921 at age the age of 40, likely from cancer.

Their children were split up and raised by a variety of family members.

Visit my Blog Home Page or the Haywood County Line Genealogy Page.

1 comment:

  1. You need to hire a few metal detectors and a ground penetrating radar and make a week of it out there and find those graves dude. It's disappointing, bordering on messed up, that in such a young country as the United States you can lose graves of ancestors so short after their death. My country is only a wee bit younger than yours and that just is NOT allowed to happen, there are numerous societies and communities that go out and restore, replace, and renovate old headstones the country over. How can your nation, with all it's plethora of tax free churches raising so much money not have the worlds largest groups of caretakers voluntarily assisting in maintaining the graves of the dead?