Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bethel Cemetery: Volume, Chapter & Verse (Part 1)

Looking northwest in Bethel Cemetery toward the woodland that encloses three sides of its oldest section, "Volume 1."

Appreciating an old cemetery is like reading a book --- each grave has a story waiting to be told. While some of the stories are worthy of chapters in their own right, many work better as passages in longer chapters devoted to family or other larger groups.

In the case of Bethel Cemetery, located in Section 16 of Cedar Township, its stories are bound into a four-volume set. 

Volume 1, the most northerly section of the cemetery, is a quarter-acre strip bounded on three sides by rugged woodland where the oldest graves are located. William and Nancy McDermott, Cedar Township's first settlers, thought that they owned this strip when the first burial was made there, but it actually was purchased from the U.S. government a few years later by my great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Rhea) Rhea-Etheredge-Sargent, and her second husband, Thomas Etheredge. Elizabeth and her third husband, Edward E. Sargent, deeded it to the Cedar Township trustees in return for $1 on Dec. 8, 1873, nearly 24 years after that first burial in January of 1850.

Volume 2 is a half-acre strip immediately to the south that ends at a grassy lane bisecting the cemetery from east to west that can be entered, if necessary, by a field gate located just north of Bethel Church. William and Nancy McDermott did own this land when it was opened for neighborhood burials. The McDermotts deeded this "volume" to the township trustees in return for $1 on Aug. 22, 1871.

South of that lane is Volume 3, another half acre, located due west of the Bethel churchyard. It was added  to expand the original burying ground as the earlier sections filled. Township trustees paid Francis M. and Mary E. Schuler $10 for this piece of land on March 30, 1889.

Volume 4, a triangular area southwest of the church with angle paralleling the public road, was added much later when the original acre and a quarter threatened to overflow. Many of Bethel's newest graves are located here.

The land marked "Charles L. Drake" on this 1895 Cedar Township map constitutes roughly 120 acres of the original 160-acre purchase made by William and Nancy McDermott. The road west from here to Chariton was Lucas County's first surveyed "public highway" and the jog in it around what now is Bethel Cemetery and Coulson pasture seems always to have been there. E.E. Sargent, third husband of my great-great-great-grandmother, had inherited a third of her land by his time. The northwest corner of the cemetery once formed the southwest corner of the Etheredge-Sargent farm. Note the original location of Bethel Church on the Chas. Hollingshead farm in Section 15.

I'm going to tell a couple of stories from Volumes 1 and 2. There are many other stories out there that have been told, or could be. If they were gathered, a comprehensive history of the neighborhood and its people would emerge.

But my focus will be on "firsts" with a sideways foray into the history of Bethel Church toward the end.

This has not always been known as Bethel Cemetery. Nearly everyone knew it as either McDermott or Sargent during the 19th cemetery, before the church was built alongside it. Although the church then gave the cemetery its name and many of its members are buried here, there never has been a formal relationship between the burying ground and the building and congregation next door.

The three southerly sections of the cemetery were taken from the original 160-acre land claim of the McDermotts, who settled in Cedar Township during September of 1847. So they form Chapter 1, Volume 2, of the Bethel set. Their cabin was located west of the cemetery, on the west side of the ravine that has caused the road to curve out around Bethel for so long as there's been a road.

My family, the Rhea-Etheredge-Sargents, forms an early chapter in Volume 1. Their home was located some distance due east of the oldest part of the cemetery, located in the extreme southwest corner of their 160-acre farm.


Chapter 1, Volume 1,  however, belongs to Nelson Lowder, a young man whose demise during January of 1850 is usually considered to be the first of a permanent settler in Lucas County, a somewhat dubious distinction. This may or may not be, but Nelson's death is the first that can be confirmed by public record.

Nelson was a son of Joel and Didema (Laxton) Lowder, born about 1831 in Guilford County, North Carolina. He settled in Cedar Township during the late 1840s with his parents and five siblings --- Sarah (who married Samuel Payne in Lucas County), John, Milton, Elizabeth and Martha. The Lowders, in fact all of Lucas County's earliest settlers, were drawn by the fact its land could be purchased from the government for $1.25 per acre.

Another of Nelson's sisters, Asenath Licena, who had married Nathan Love during 1843 in North Carolina, remained behind, but the Loves joined the Lowders in Lucas County after the Civil War as Nathan, a Confederate veteran, sought greener pastures. Nathan and Licena were the parents of my great-uncle, Alpheus Elkanah Love --- but that's another story.

Dan Baker, who played a little fast and loose with the facts sometimes when writing Lucas County's 1881 history, misidentifies Nelson as "William Louder" when reporting his death, but does add the information that Nelson was a veteran of the recent Mexican War. Because of that, he may have arrived with a warrant entitling him to free land. His father, Joel, most likely was a veteran of the War of 1812.

The mortality schedule attached to the 1850 census of Lucas County confirms that Nelson, age 29, born in North Carolina and a farmer, died during January 1850 of Dyspepsia (indigestion, but obviously something far more serious) after an illness of 18 months.

Nelson's estate was the first to enter probate in Lucas County --- during October of 1850 with his father, Joel, as administrator. The young man's sole asset was 160 acres of Cedar Township land.

Dan Baker goes on, in the 1881 history, to recount the circumstances of Nelson's Lowder's burial: "The generous (William and Nancy McDermott) gave the ground in which young (Lowder) was laid, which afterwards became a permanent cemetery --- the first in the county."

As pointed out earlier, the McDermotts did not actually own the land where Nelson was buried. Later surveys would show the property actually lay just north of the McDermott farm on land not yet claimed from the government.

And the three Lucas County cemeteries along the Mormon Trail where LDS pioneers reportedly are buried --- Salem in Benton Township, Douglass just southeast of Chariton and Last Chance in Union Township --- all are older. 

Nelson's grave at Bethel is not marked, so no one knows exactly where it is. And it is quite possible that both of his parents are buried with him, also in unmarked graves, since the family contined to live in the neighborhood until after 1870, when Joel was enumerated in the Cedar Township census of that year as a widower. His year of death often is given as 1872.

Looking from the oldest sections of the cemetery toward Bethel Church. The gate accessing the grassy lane that divides "Volumes 1 and 2" from "Volumes 3 and 4" is visible behind the church.


norm prince said...

Appears on the map that there was a Bethel Church located in the NW corner of the SW 1/4 of Section 15. Did they move the church or build a new one next to the cemetery ?? Any reason for the church to change locations ??
Thanks for another history lesson, I do enjoy them even if from another area of this great state.

Frank D. Myers said...

The congregation built a new church next to the cemetery. The old church in Section 15 had been a schoolhouse previously --- and was worn out.

Mary Ellen said...

Mike Zahs, a grave "witcher" from Washington Co gave a wonderful talk a few years ago at the Wayne Co Hx Soc annual meeting. I have been wanted to see if he would come and help find the graves on my property (infant relatives of Jane). Maybe we could collaborate and he could also visit Bethel. mem

Frank D. Myers said...

Mary Ruth Pierschbacher and Darlene Arnold, of Chariton, are the queens of witching.