Sunday, December 31, 2017

Moses P. Swett & the pie-shaped family plot

It's a little too chilly (minus-9 degrees) to chase tombstones this morning, so I'm going to revisit an old favorite in the Chariton Cemetery --- the octagonal stone at the center of a pie-shaped enclosure that marks the final resting places of Edward Ames Temple (1831-1909), founder of what now is known as the Principal Financial Group, headquartered in Des Moines, and his extended family. Among those buried here, in addition to Edward and his wife, Elizabeth (Swett) Temple, is his father-in-law, Moses Porter Swett, whose brief obituary I found last week in the Davenport Daily Democrat & News of July 23, 1860, republished there from a long-vanished edition of The Chariton Patriot.

There's not much to it --- obituaries tended to be briefer in the days of hand-set type; but it does provide the information that Moses died at age 53 of cholera, a great killer of the 19th and earlier centuries, generally caused by contaminated drinking water. Here's how it reads:


At his residence in Chariton, Iowa, on the 27th day of June, A.D. 1860, of cholera morbus, MOSES B. SWETT, aged 53 years, 1 month and 12 days. The deceased was born in Springfield, Mass., on the 15th of May, 1807.

The above, taken from the Iowa Patriot, published at Chariton, tells of the death of another of the Pioneers of Iowa. It is pleasant to speak of the virtues of the truly good. By her, the partner of his bosom for more than a quarter of a century; by the large family of children he has raised, and who early learned to honor and love him; by his neighbors and all who became acquainted with him, is his loss most deeply felt. A true friend, a kind and affectionate husband and father, a sincere Christian and a valuable citizen. "Who shall not say a good man has gone?"

Moses, who was a tinner by trade and had lived previously in Fairfield, died before the Chariton Cemetery had been established, so would have been buried in one of two earlier graveyards, either Douglass Pioneer just southeast of town or the cemetery on Columbus School hill that was evacuated after the new cemetery was opened.

Others buried in the Temple enclosure in addition to Edward Ames Temple and Moses include Moses's wife, Abby, died 1865; their daughter-in-law, Matilda E. (Weaver) Swett, died 1877; little Porter George Swett, a grandson, died 1880; and their daughter, Elizabeth, also died 1880.

The innovative arrangement of graves probably originated when the remains of Moses P. and perhaps other family members were moved from other locations, but there's no way of telling when that might have occurred.

Edward Ames Temple was an especially devout Episcopalian and the stone, loaded with symbolism, probably reflects that. Each inscription is accompanied by a symbol, in Moses's case a shock of wheat. Although there's no way to prove this, other than excavation (frowned upon), it may be that Edward had the deceased arranged facing the central cross so that on that great resurrection morn they would arise facing it.

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