The following article appeared in July 7, 2017 issue of The Doddridge Independent.
Our Pioneer Cemetery at Blockhouse Hill
I tend to write about whatever I am researching at the time, so a few of my upcoming articles will be related to the Old Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery on Blockhouse Hill in West Union. This is essentially Doddridge County’s pioneer cemetery, where many of our founding fathers and earliest residents were laid to rest. I have already written about several of them, but I still have many more stories to share with you.
My plea for help last week was not the first time such a call to action has been made for the same reason. In 1983 Alton Childers made a similar request about the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. He said:
“Many of our landmarks have disappeared - for various reasons - one by one. McConnell’s Flour Mill, Old Ruley House, Doc Smith’s Blacksmith Shop, the Old Covered Bridge and others. Too soon the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery could join them.
“Let’s not let it happen. I wonder if enough of us could find time - (and the time would not be too much if many could help) to go to the cemetery, cut and pile the brush? ...
“... As you know much of this cemetery was in a neglected, advanced state of deterioration, overgrown with brush and trees. These were breaking and pushing over retaining walls, as well as damaging gravestones. Vines and roots were also doing much harm. In general much of the cemetery had a sadly neglected appearance.”
In 1983 Alton Childers and several other civic-minded individuals breathed new life into the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. A perpetual commission was then set up to ensure that this cemetery would never again be neglected.
In 1983 all three cemeteries on Blockhouse Hill were suffering from neglect. Right now the IOOF section, the upper area closest to the entrance, is in pretty good shape. The nearby Catholic section needs a lot of stone work, but the vegetation is under control. It’s the Old Seventh Day Baptist section at the foot of the hill that is in urgent need of attention. The main difference between what was done in 1983 and what needs to be done now, however, is that this is our last chance to clean, identify and record dozens of what will soon be unreadable headstones. This will provide future generations a permanent record of all presently known burials, with their specific locations within the cemetery.
The effects of the elements in the years since 1983 have not been kind to the headstones. Many are already virtually unreadable. Fortunately we have three reliable cemetery readings from previous attempts to document all the burials at Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. One was done by the WPA in 1933, one by Wes Cochran in 1990, and one by Doddridge County native Donald Ramage in 1998. With the help of these readings, we can piece together what some of the otherwise unreadable gravestones are trying to tell us.
John J. Ingle & Gamble Shannon
For example, the only readable letters on the headstone to the right are GLE, the position of which indicates the end of a word or name. There are no other identifiable marks on the stone. After reviewing and analyzing the cemetery readings, we were able to determine that this stone belongs to John J. Ingle. His was the only name on the lists that ended in GLE. But who was John J. Ingle?
John J. Ingle was born in 1819 in Pennsylvania. He moved to Tyler County with his parents sometime between 1830 and 1840. His father Ezra was an accomplished gunsmith. In 1840 John married Mahala Inghram, daughter of Thomas Inghram and Martha Wells Ankrom from Tyler County.
John and Mahala moved to Doddridge County sometime between 1841 and 1847. In 1850 John was a physician in West Union. He died in 1855 from fever. After his death, Mahala became proprietress of a boarding house. She died in 1892 and is presumably buried next to her husband.
Another example is the headstone to the left. My partner and I uncovered this stone last summer. Only a few square inches were not completely covered with dirt and grass. Looking directly at the headstone, which is lying flat on the ground, you can make out only a few letters. You can vaguely see GAM on one line and NN on another line. With the help of the cemetery readings were we able to identify the person. This headstone belongs to Gamble Shannon (1798-1850), whose remarkable family I wrote about earlier this year. I have no family connection to him, but discovering the grave of this early pillar of our community was unexpectedly meaningful to me.
Esther Fitz Randolph & Mary Jane Davis
At least forty stones have been knocked from their pedestals or pulled up from the ground and need to be remounted. In many cases the bases and headstones are partially or even completely buried. In the photo to the right, the stone lying on the ground is that of Mary Jane (Davis) Bee. Her mother’s stone to the right cannot be seen in the picture, but the only thing it needs is to be leveled and cleaned. The small headstone leaning against the BEE base belongs to Mary Jane’s sister, Artilia. This leads to another story.
Mary Jane and Artilia’s mother was Esther Fitz Randolph. In 1827 Esther married John S. Davis, son of Nathan Davis Jr., founder of West Union. John and Esther had ten children, but only three lived to adulthood. In less than five months Esther and John lost five children:
Elizabeth, age 14
Saphronia, age 2
Artilia, age 6
Francis G., age 4
Harriet, age 1
Carol, age 17.
The state of Virginia, of which we were a part at that time, did not require that deaths be recorded at the county court house until 1853. Five of the children died in November and December of 1852, so they have no official death records. But when Carol died on March 27, 1853, her death record stated that she died of scarlet fever. We can only speculate that the others probably died from scarlet fever also.
But Esther’s pain was not over yet. For some unknown reason, her husband John decided to travel out west. In 1855, two years after losing six children, John S. Davis died in Clark County, MIssouri.
Then Esther suffered another loss. In 1857, her three-year-old daughter Lucy died. We do not know Lucy’s cause of death because Doddridge County death records for the years 1856, 1857 and 1860-1864 are missing.
Esther never remarried and lived another 37 years after the death of Lucy. She died in 1894, having survived the deaths of her husband and seven children.
Esther’s oldest daughter, Mary Jane, married Josiah Bee, son of Ephraim Bee, in 1845. They had eleven children, but three-year-old Wirt and seven-year old Mary died in 1855, and 23-year-old Stinnett died in 1873.
According to an article in the Winter 1991, Goldenseal magazine, the Josiah Bee family:
“Moved from Doddridge to Wirt County and lived there between 1872 and 1883. They operated the Kanawha Hotel, located on the banks of the Little Kanawha River at Elizabeth. The hotel was a popular stop-over for boats hauling passengers and goods between Parkersburg and the interior regions of West Virginia. Josiah died there in 1876 following an injury inflicted by a horse. A few years after his death, Mary Jane sold the Kanawha Hotel and returned to `Doddridge County where she died" in 1903.”
Buried at the Blockhouse Hill Old SDB Cemetery are Esther, her seven young children, her daughter Mary Jane, at least three grandchildren, and her mother-in-law Catherine Bee, first wife of Ephraim Bee.
These gravestones are the only physical objects that remain of Esther’s family. Her story is not unique. Several families buried in the same cemetery suffered similar fates, while other led less tragic but extraordinary lives in our county’s formative years. We owe it to all of their memories to keep their final resting place something that they would be pleased with, and that we can be proud of.