Monday, June 9, 2008

Madison's First Burials--the Springdale Myth

There’s a large stone at the entrance to Madison’s Springdale Cemetery bearing the date 1810. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the date the cemetery was established.

Because, even if there may have been some burials in the plain before Springdale was established in 1839, the person who was supposedly buried there in 1810 wasn’t even born until 1824.

The claim is that Fanny Sullivan who died in 1810 was the first known burial. However, this Fanny’s identity is well known—she was the teenage daughter of noted Madison lawyer Jeremiah Sullivan. In fact, when the DAR published in Jefferson County Cemetery transcriptions in 1941 it showed the following: “Sullivan, Francis E., May 2, 1824 - Oct 7, 1839, d/o Jer. & C.R. Sullivan”

In a letter published in the Courier of April 21, 1879, Richard C. Meldrum, a former Madison, gave a string of reminiscences in which he mentioned “the first burial in Springdale Cemetery (Fanny Sullivan), a sweet young girl… “ (Meldrum was born about 1821/)

Former Madisonian Ruth Hoggatt put together a solid list of facts about the land’s history. These included a deeded dated Nov. 28, 1848, between Milton Stapp and wife Elizabeth and the city of Madison which noted the city had completed payment under a bond dated 1838 and that the east side of a tract set off to Stapp had been conveyed to the City.

Certainly, the 1839 date was recognized local. In the Madison Courier of June 2, 1859, a paragraph transcribed by Ms. Hoggatt noted: "Springdale Cemetery was purchased and located in 1839, almost twenty years ago. Mr. Grayson, the sexton, informs us that there have been buried in the twenty years in Springdale three thousand three hundred and thirty-two bodies — about one-third of the present number of the inhabitants of the city."

The date was again reported later in the 1800s. One of the more interesting accounts in the newspapers attributed to Fanny the statement that she believed she would be the first period buried there.

There certainly is a possibility there were burials on the Springdale side of Crooked Creek before the cemetery was formally organized. Many church cemeteries in Jefferson County, for example, grew out of family cemeteries that preceded the founded of the religious bodies.

The DAR transcription of Springdale burials, published in 1941, shows a Jozebad Lodge (1767-1830), buried there. But the transcription shows no other death date inscriptions from the 1820s and only a handful in the 1830s earlier than 1839.

Where was the first burial in Madison? In an account published in the Madison Courier in 1874, James Lewis said that before the Third Street Cemetery (now the site of John Paul Park) was established in 1817, "the burying ground was up in Fulton, above Greiner's Brewery." Fulton, which was briefly an separate town bordering Madison on the East at Ferry Street, was also cited by an author identified as "The Wanderer" in a series of reminiscences published in 1889. He cited the first burial as a Mrs. Slack who was buried, "in the pioneer graveyard on the bank of the town near the corner of Ferry Street in what is now Madison.”

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