The People of Old Stone: Too much to bear

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By Morgan Donnally Bunn

Cemeteries are repositories of stories filled withboth triumph and tragedy, and the Old Stone Cemetery in Lewisburg, West Virginia, holds many such stories.

One family’s story in particular holds more tragedy than any family should have to endure. Standing on Church Street and looking down into the cemetery one can see halfway down and off to the right the family plot of the Jacksons of Greenbrier County. The curbed plot holds six family members, memorialized on five grave markers, and each stone tells a tale of sorrow and loss – a tale of too much to bear.

James Walker Jackson was born in Greenbrier County around 1830; his father emigrated from Ireland sometime prior to James’ birth. James married Elizabeth Margaret Hogshead, sometimes seen now as Hogsett, whose family was among the earliest settlers of Monroe County and the Augusta County, Virginia, areas. Over a period of 18 years, James and Elizabeth had six children and ran a very successful farming operation three miles northeast of Lewisburg.

The first crack in their strong family foundation struck in February 1875 when the fifth Jackson child, Anna Wilson, whose health had always been fragile, was stricken with pneumonia. Her obituary describes her as being of superior intellect and far beyond her years. She seemed conscious of her own mortality, and had the foresight to ask, “Mama, will you go with me to the grave-yard?” Elizabeth assured her daughter that she would and Annie, satisfied with her mother’s answer, died a few days later. Little Annie, not yet seven years old, was the first member of her family to be buried in the Jackson plot.  Her grave is marked by a simple marble stone with a lamb, one of the symbols for a child’s grave. Ten years would pass and broken hearts would heal before a second tragedy would occur.

Robert Jackson, the fourth child and second son of James and Elizabeth Jackson, had farmed beside his father since he was a boy. In June 1863, during the height of the Civil War, Robert, who was probably exempt from military service to grow grain for Confederate troops, was sent on the routine chore of having a sack of grain milled at Caldwell’s Mill at the Greenbrier Bridge.  While descending a flight of stairs, Robert lost his footing at the top of the stairs on the third floor and fell head first to the floor below, breaking his neck and dying within minutes. Robert had left home pursuing the duties of the day and was returned home a corpse to parents who were left to grieve yet another child. Twenty-two year old Robert was laid to rest beside his little sister. His grave, like that of his sister’s, was marked with a simple marble headstone.

Eight years passed following the death of Robert and the Jacksons saw two of their surviving children marry and the births of several grandchildren.  Their youngest child, James William, a farmer like his father, ventured to Augusta County, Virginia, in August 1893 on the joyful trip to marry and begin his own family. Accompanied by his cousin and best man, Samuel Robinson Jackson, the two arrived in Staunton to secure a hotel room and a wagon to carry them to the country home of his bride to be, Bettie Echard.  The morning of the wedding, James and Samuel purchased tickets to return to Greenbrier County on the six o’clock evening train and then proceeded to the bride’s home. James and Bettie were married at eleven that morning and celebrated with a luncheon. Shortly after lunch was over, James, feeling unwell, went to alert his cousin that he needed to lie down and rest. Requesting a glass of water, James lay down but refused the water that Samuel fetched. James told his cousin he believed he was too ill to recover and insisted Samuel take his money and important papers. Shortly thereafter, James lost consciousness and doctors were sent for, but found James was too far gone. They concluded that James had suffered from a paralytic stroke and would not recover. The bridegroom, who married at eleven in the morning, died a mere twelve hours after saying “I Do.”

Instead of welcoming a newly married couple home to begin a life together, James and Elizabeth met the young widowed bride along with the coffin of their second son. The following day James was laid to rest in the family plot by his sister and brother. Like his brother Robert, James was just 22 years old at the time of his death. Marcellus Zimmerman, who worked at the Greenbrier Independent, the premier Lewisburg newspaper at the time, and a local historian who surveyed the Old Stone Cemetery beginning in 1885, lists James’ cause of death as a poisoning and, given the accounts of the events, it would appear that some horrible tragedy did indeed befall James on his wedding day. Today his grave is marked by a simple marble headstone that has suffered far more damage than the stones of his brother and sister. The inscription on the stone is wearing away at a faster rate than nearby stones and most of the information contained on the stone will be completely illegible in a few short years. Given the three stones are made of the same marble and lie within feet of one another; it remains a mystery why James’ stone has suffered such unique damage.

Two years after James’ tragic death, the oldest Jackson daughter, Mary Jane, who had married and moved to Augusta County, Virginia, died suddenly following the birth of her fifth child. Her husband, Rudolph McGlamery, returned her body to Lewisburg and she was buried in the family plot alongside of her little sister and brothers.

James Walker and Elizabeth Jackson buried four of their six children and were later buried in the family plot with these children. Their two surviving Jackson children, Matthew Jackson and Joanna (Jackson) Ott, along with their spouses and some of their own children, are buried on the far, opposite side of the cemetery near Court Street.

Do you have relatives buried in the Old Stone Cemetery? Want to get involved with the ongoing restoration efforts or just learn more? There are over 100 tombstones in critical condition and in the weeks and months ahead; opportunities will be available to adopt-a-tombstone. Watching for details or learn more about the restoration efforts on Facebook at Friendsofoldstonecemetery.

There are more tales to tell of heartaches and tragedies, tales of adventure and triumph, and tales of everyday life and extraordinary times.  Every tombstone tells a story and these Old Stones are ready to do some talking…