Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Great-aunt Jo Williams, Walter Mondale, James K. Polk and Dancyville, Tenn.

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My Dad and I in the Genealogy Room at the Brownsville Library

The last time I was in Haywood County, Tenn., My dad and I stopped by the Genealogy Room at the Elma Ross Library. I was glad he was with me because he noticed something I likely would have missed. My great-aunt, Jo Williams, who died last year, is featured in a little display because she was a delegate at the 1984 National Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Calif.

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Box of Artifacts from Jo Williams

I don't believe I actually ever met her. She was married to Dempsy Williams, the half-brother of my grandfather, Bo Williams. My grandfather's mother died when he was four and his father later married Eva Overton. Together, they had eight children including Dempsey.

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Jo Williams at the 1984 National Democratic Convention

You can tell from looking at the pictures, Jo Williams had a great time at the convention.  In 1984, the convention was held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. History was made that year when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be nominated by either party for the Presidency or Vice-Presidency. 

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Jo Williams at the 1984 National Democratic Convention

Walter Mondale, who had been Vice President in the Carter administration, was nominated for President at the convention. His opposition had included Jesse Jackson and Senator Gary Hart. Mondale was later defeated by one of the largest landslides in U.S. history by Ronald Reagan.

Mondale was later appointed United States Ambassador to Japan by President Bill Clinton.

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Jo Williams at the 1984 National Democratic Convention

Mario Cuomo, who was Governor of New York at the time, gave the keynote speech which has since been celebrated as one of the top speeches in U.S. politics.

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Jo Williams at the 1984 National Democratic Convention

As Vice President of the United States, "Mondale expanded the vice president's role from that of figurehead to presidential advisor, full-time participant, and troubleshooter for the administration.

Subsequent vice presidents have followed this model in the administrations in which they serve."
Paul Kengor, Wreath layer or policy player: the vice president's role in foreign policy (2000) p 85

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Jo Williams' Buttons from the 1984 National Democratic Convention
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Spell Something Right in Memphis

So I can sort of understand someone misspelling "Haywood" but there's really no excuse for misspelling the word "County." At least they got her name right. 

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James K. Polk and James C. Jones Historic Marker

On the way back to my parents' house, we went through Dancyville, Tenn. because of construction on I-40. Dancyville is on the southwestern edge of Haywood County, right at the line of Fayette County, Tenn.

Coincidentally, it turned out this was where Jo Williams had been buried so I wanted to stop and check it out. 

First, right outside the Dancyville Methodist Church Cemetery is a historic marker that commemorates another political event that took place way before 1984.

On June 23, 1841, James K. Polk debated James C. Jones in Dancyville as part of the 1841 Tennessee Governor's race.

James' nickname was "Lean Jimmy" because he was 6'2" and weighed 125 pounds. He defeated Polk and served as Tennessee Governor for two terms. He went on to become the president of Memphis and Charleston Railroad and served in the United States Senate. He spent the end of his life on his farm near Memphis and was buried there in Elmwood Cemetery.

James Polk went on to become the 11th President of the United States and served from 1845 - 1849. 

Most applicable for me, he oversaw the opening of the Smithsonian Institution and the ground-breaking for the Washington Monument. I drive past both every day. 

Polk is considered one of the strongest presidents in U.S. history and is celebrated for many accomplishments including increasing the size of the United States by a third. He died of cholera three months after his term ended and is buried on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

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Dempsey and Jo Williams Headstone

Jo Williams was buried in the Dancyville Methodist Cemetery. The oldest graves in the cemetery date back to 1830 and is full of veterans of wars gone by, politicians, and even a slave or two.

The most well-known individual buried there would likely be Burchett Douglass who established the Bank of Fayette County and was president until his death in 1849. He was elected to the Tennessee House and Senate, serving as speaker of the house for two sessions. He also was a presidential elector in 1840 on the Whig ticket.

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Dancyville Methodist Church

The Dancyville Methodist Church, which sits just behind the cemetery, is a historic landmark. The first church was built of logs in 1837 and the present building was built in 1850. It's the oldest United Methodist Church in West Tennessee.

You know the oldest church in a town called Dancyville would be Methodist. No Baptist would plant a church in a town with "dance" in the name.

According to "Goodspeed's History of Tennessee," published in 1887, Dancyville, was named after Isaac Dancy, the earliest settler.
"Legend has it that when a couple of merchants bought their first merchandise in St. Louis, they were asked where it should be shipped. There was no post office and the community did not have a name. When the merchants told this, they were asked if there were any kind of businesses in the community. 
They answered, 'Nothing except a blacksmith shop run by Isaac Dancy.' The wholesalers replied, 'We will call it Dancyville and ship the goods there.' 
So that is how the boxes were addressed.. Dancyville, Tennessee.. and they went by boat down the Mississippi and up the Hatchie River to Lowery's Landing. From there they were hauled by ox cart to what became known as Dancyville."
One of the things I love about never know what unusual things you are going to learn when you start exploring.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.

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