A Family Cemetery Passes Away

On a cool February day in 1889, John Wyatt Threadgill sat down to write his Will. Often referred to as “JW”, John Wyatt lived in Wilcox County, Alabama for over fifty years. He and his wife, Mary, raised a large family in the area. Five generations later, there are many descendants of John Wyatt and Mary.

During the almost eighty years of his life, JW accumulated a large estate. When he wrote his Will, he had significant assets to bequeath to members of his family.  JW’s final Will covers ten full pages. 

Preserving the Threadgill family legacy was on JW’s mind as he wrote. Some of the first words of his Will formalize the family cemetery and set aside land and funds for its ongoing maintenance.

John Wyatt wrote:

 “I desire to be decently interred in my family graveyard, on my own lands, by the side of my deceased wife, and I hereby reserve [two?] acres of land to include said graveyard, together with a right of way through any of my lands from the nearest public road to the same. Said right of way is to be sufficiently wide for the passage of all vehicles to and from the same. The said graveyard so [illegible] to be a burial place for my children and their posterity, and for no other person or persons, unless it be such as my Executors or Trustees may permit – on application – and I for this reserve and set aside five hundred dollars to be invested in Alabama State interest bearing bonds, or such other instrument as will be perfectly secure, to be determined by my trustees or Executors with the approval of any court of the state of Alabama having jurisdiction of the same under the statues of the said State. The interest on the said investment to be applied to the beautifying and keeping in good order the said grave-yard and the right of way to the same, under the direction of my said executors and trustees or the said court or under the order or direction of the same. The said five hundred dollars to be a permanent fund for the purposes herein stated.”

Later in the Will, JW returns to the subject of the family cemetery and includes instructions for a monument.

“I desire a suitable monument erected over my grave and that of my deceased wife, one monument to cover both graves, with such inscriptions as are consistent and usual, and for the carrying out of this request I hereby direct my executor or executors to expend two hundred and fifty dollars out of my estate, or not over that amount. The said monument to be erected under the management and direction of my said executors or executor in a reasonable time after my demise.”

In late 2020, I began a search to find the location of the Threadgill Family Cemetery. After reading JW’s Will, it was obvious to me that the establishment and maintenance of a family cemetery had been important to him. I wanted to know to what extent his final wishes had been carried out.

A Find A Grave (FAG) volunteer with deep family ties to Wilcox County visited the location in 2015 and, thoughtfully, set up a cemetery profile on the website. At that time, the FAG volunteer recorded only one grave memorial in the cemetery. The grave appeared to be that of a child – “Little Lillie”. The volunteer described the location and state of the cemetery as he found it: 

“Located just to the right of the dead-end dirt road off County Road 32 in the northeast corner of T.13N.-R.5E. Section 33. I am told that, as of about 10 years ago, there was an iron fence around the cemetery and 5 or 6 headstones were visible. As of March 7, 2015, the fence is gone and the headstone pictured is the only one that is still visible.”

I enlisted professional genealogist, Tonya Chandler, to further research and survey the cemetery. Her report, in its entirety, follows. 

Threadgill Family Cemetery
Arlington, Alabama
Date of Survey:  21 March 2021

The Threadgill Family Cemetery was documented in March 1952 by William M. Cook II, his wife Josephine Aldrich Harris Cook, and their two daughters, Garland Wingfield Cook and Jean Lindsay Cook. Their typed account and hand-drawn map were used to locate the Threadgill Cemetery in March 2021, 69 years after the Cook family’s visit.

As in their account, a right turn from Alabama State Highway 5 onto County Road 32 leads towards Arlington, Alabama. A dirt road (Robinson Road) leads off to the right of County Road 32. There is no longer a gate at the entrance to the dirt road. The Threadgill Family Cemetery was said to be located on the right-hand side of the dirt road in a stand of pine trees, an unspecified distance up the road. Pine trees are now prevalent all along the road. The road is unpaved, rough, and rocky. The right side of the road has many changes in elevation, with pits and hills. There were 2-3 occupied private trailers and homes on the right side of the road, with heavy growth in surrounding fields. In a wooded area of relatively level land, approximately .2 miles after turning onto Robinson Road, there was a gray stone just visible from the road within the trees (near utility pole 30Y8533). This proved to be the headstone of “Little Lillie.” There was no path from the road to the cemetery area, which was reached through heavy foliage and brambles. The cemetery is located about 15 yards from the road into the woods.

The iron paling fence around the cemetery described in 1952 is no longer present. Only two of the short iron fence fixtures were visible in the leaves, apparently marking off two corners of a rectangular area.

Only one headstone was visible, the stone that was seen from the road. This was a large simple headstone engraved with “Little Lillie.” There may have been additional words at the top of this stone, but the upper part of the stone is almost entirely flat. No dates were visible on the stone. The stone for “Little Lillie” leaned against a short piling of red brick, which may have once been the lower part of a monument.

There was only one other stone found, which was a small rectangular stone the size of a brick, near but at a 45-degree angle to the headstone of Little Lillie. This was likely a footstone, but it was unclear to which grave it belonged. It may have been the footstone for the brick base, as the stones appear to match and they were at roughly the same angle. There were no visible initials on the footstone.

A survey of the remaining area did not find any other stones. Due to heavy piles of leaves and debris, these were the only two stones found. The graves of John Wyatt Threadgill, Mary Threadgill, and Ardella were not visible.

Based on the 1952 Cook account, graves were present then that are no longer visible. Combining the information provided in 1952 and that seen in this survey, the following graves are known to have been present in the Threadgill Family Cemetery. Existing stones are bolded:

M. J. S. (footstone only)
Ardella, wife of Joe Robinson, born May 13, 1850 died Aug. 18, 1887
J. W. T. (John Wyatt Threadgill)
M. T. (Mary Threadgill)
Little Lillie
Unknown, footstone only

—End of Report

What happened to the monument?

There is a handwritten note in the Cook family account that states:

“After talking with Ella May Cook Kilpatrick (Mrs. John Y.) I learned that there had been large marble tombstones in the Threadgill Cemetery, but that they had been stolen during WWII by men in trucks who went around gathering marble slabs from old uncared for cemeteries!”

This may explain the absence of the monument JW asked to be placed over his and his wife’s graves.  The note is unsigned.

One hundred and thirty years after he wrote his Will, time, circumstances and nature will soon obliterate the action John Wyatt Threadgill took to preserve the Threadgill Family Cemetery in Arlington. The $500 JW set aside in 1889 is equivalent to about $14,300 in 2021; the $250 he set aside for a monument is worth approximately $7,100 today. It wasn’t enough.

Photos of the Threadgill Family Cemetery by Ms. Chandler can be viewed at:

Threadgill Family Cemetery, Arlington, Alabama

Sources:

Alabama. Probate Court (Wilcox County) 1820-1934, “Last Will & Testament, John Wyatt Threadgill,” February 21, 1889, Salt Lake City, UT, FamilySearch.org. Film #2.321.516.

“Threadgill Cemetery, ID 2571895,” Find A Grave, GPS coordinates:  32.055117, -87.574689, accessed April 11, 2021,
https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2571895/threadgill-cemetery.

Appreciation to:

Tonya D. J. Chandler, M. A.
Southern Roots Genealogical Services
Birmingham, AL 
Email: tonya.d.chandler@gmail.com
Website: www.findmysouthernroots.com

Martin Sheffield
Birmingham, AL

Garland Cook Smith
Birmingham, AL

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