Monday, April 19, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday - or Is It?

When is a tombstone not a tombstone?   In the Buffalo Ridge Cemetery (Washington County, Tennessee) it's when the stone is put up more than a century after death.

This monument commemorating early Baptist preacher Jonathan Mulkey was put up as part of an effort to mark significant spots in Baptist history.  Behind the scenes was a genteel jockeying for position for the designation of oldest church in Tennessee.  Buffalo Ridge and Cherokee Creek Churches in Washington County and Sinking Creek Church in Carter County each lobbied for the designation, parsing language in ways that would make the most meticulous of lawyers proud.

The dates on the marker for Jonathan Mulkey are correct according to current research.  Some will argue whether he was the first preacher in Tennessee, but he was certainly one of the earliest.  And he was buried in the Cemetery.

But the wives, the wives.  On the bottom of the marker are the names Nancy Howard Mulkey and Anna Lacey Mulkey.  No dates, just two names, neither of which appeared on his original tombstone.  Their names were extracted from Baptist histories more concerned with religious content than genealogical accuracy.  My grandmother and great-grandmother were involved in placing this monument.  I asked Grandmother about the wives' listings and she said they were not the point of the monument.  I asked her if there was any evidence that they were buried there and she said she assumed they were since their husband was.  Really big assumption.  I now wonder if there were two unmarked graves nearby that were thought to be his wives.  I should have asked.

This monument with it's names etched in stone has been referred to more times than I can count as "evidence" that Jonathan had two wives and as "proof" they are buried in the cemetery.  It is neither.  

No evidence of Nancy Howard as Mulkey's first wife exists that I am aware of, beyond an early reference to his marrying a Howard daughter and a strong family tradition.  Some Mulkey descendants point to a family Bible naming his wife Sarah, making Anna Lacey Mulkey (the only wife for whom there is a marriage record) possibly his third wife.  Further research has supported this theory, though it has not been proven.  My pet theory is there were three wives, and that an unknown Sarah married him before 1788 following his first wife's death and died in 1813, according to the family Bible.  But that's not the point.  Regardless of how many wives predeceased Jonathan, I know of no evidence proving where they are buried.  And there is evidence that his widow Anna Lacey Mulkey did not stay in Washington County.

Anna Lacey bore at least two children following Mulkey's death.  Thomas Anderson of Maries County, Missouri named two daughters, born in 1832 and 34, as his illegitimate children of Anna Lacy in his will written in 1854, probated in 1860.  He names both daughters as being known by the surnames Anderson, Mulkey, Baker or Lacy.  The girls were raised in Mississippi by their paternal aunt from a young age, suggesting their mother had died or given them up.  They eventually settled in Maries County near their father.  Whenever and wherever she died, it seems unlikely that her body was returned to Washington County to be buried near Jonathan Mulkey.

Such a rant.  I truly hadn't intended on writing so much.  We all have our hot buttons.

Sources:  Philip Mulkey Hunt's book The Mulkeys of America published in 1982 is still the best single source I know of for information on Jonathan Mulkey (pp. 72-81).  It is available on microfilm through the Family History Library.  Information on Thomas Anderson's family is from History of Maries County by Everett Marshall King (Cape Girardeau, MO: Ramfre Press, 1968), pp. 219-223.  Photograph by Daryl and Cookie Smith, from Scott Harp's website The Restoration Movement.  

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