Monday, May 17, 2021

A young man with "kindly nature, sympathetic soul"

I've created a virtual tombstone this morning for a young man with "a kindly nature and a sympathetic soul" named William Thomas Musgrove who died in Chariton during late February, 1875, and was buried on the 28th in the Chariton Cemetery. The only record of his passing is a brief item in The Chariton Patriot of March 3, 1875. 

I have no idea exactly how old Mr. Musgrove was, who he was related to or where he came from originally. But sparse reports suggest that he had lived in Lucas County before, then gone south to Texas to teach formerly enslaved children and returned to Iowa after white Texans demolished that state's new public education system to ensure, in part, that black children were not educated equally. There is no death record, no probate record and no entry for his burial in cemetery records.

The latter is not surprising. He most likely was buried in Potters Field and there are no records of any burials there until after the turn of the 20th century. Cemetery owner James Eddington Stanton said during 1902, however, that there had been 78 interments since 1864 in what then was a remote area some distance south of the main burying ground.

Here's The Patriot report of Mr. Musgrove's death, published under the headline, "Dead and buried."


We were pained to learn on Sunday afternoon that the funeral procession of Thomas Musgrove, who has been for some time acting as night watch for the town, had just passed out to the cemetery. Mr. Musgrove was a young man of more than ordinary intelligence, and possessed so many good traits that it seemed hard to learn of his long illness and death, at a hotel, with no one but strangers to administer to his wants.

He had been sick, we learn, for several weeks, but from some cause, many of those who would have exerted themselves to attend to his wants were ignorant of his sickness, and he was compelled to lie, and suffer, and die, without a relative to soothe his sufferings, or the attention that friends would have given him if they had known of his sickness.

Mr. Musgrove has taught several terms of school in this county, and for some time was a teacher in the colored schools of Texas, and in the interest that he took in the welfare of the colored people, he showed forth a generosity and magnanimity of disposition that marked him in our estimation as a young man of rather rare parts.

He was poor in the world's goods and without relatives entirely, so far as we know, but he had a kindly nature and a sympathetic soul, and for those things we liked him and, on our own motion, announce with sadness his death and burial.


I found two other references to Mr. Musgrove in The Patriot. On Dec. 31, 1873, its editor reported that "W. T. Musgrove gave us a call Monday. Mr. M. was formerly a resident of this place but for the past four years has been living in Texas engaged in teaching. But since the abolition of the free school system of that state by the Democratic Legislature, school teaching is rather dangerous employment for northern men. He found among the colored children many very apt scholars."

And then on May 27, 1874, The Patriot reported that "The City Council lately employed Wm. Musgrove as night watch. He makes an efficient officer."


While there's no way to tell for sure, it's possible that Mr. Musgrove had been among northern teachers recruited after the Civil War by the American Missionary Alliance to teach in Freedmen's Bureau schools in Texas. By 1870, there were 88 of these schools --- designed specifically to educate the formerly enslaved and their children --- and 85 teachers, 44 of whom were black. 

The Reconstruction Legislature in Texas facilitated the work of these schools by legislatively ending public segregation in the state and, during 1870, creating a unified statewide public education system.

As southern Democrats regained control in Texas during 1873, however, segregation was formally reinstated and most legislation passed by the Reconstruction administrations was repealed. That would have been about the time that Mr. Musgrove returned to Iowa.

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