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In my last post, I talked a bit about how the Great Separation of the Quakers and the subsequent reunion created a  number of ‘orphan’ burial grounds, it should be noted that not all meetings ended up dividing into two factions – some were left intact and simply disappeared off the records as the membership dwindled. Such was the case with the Nantmeal Friends Burial Ground in East Nantmeal township.

The meeting was established in 1740 and was finally laid down in 1845. Never a particularly large meeting, Nantmeal’s meeting house stood to the east of the old burial ground along Fairview Road. The property, excluding the burial ground, was sold years ago and the meetinghouse is long gone, but a plaque on the inside wall of the burial ground notes its former existence.

There is a small gate in the eastern wall of the graveyard, but it is very easy to miss the gate that leads to that eastern wall and there is no driveway available anymore, though there is a spot to pull over on the opposite side of the road. The main gate is a bit creepy:

Finding these old burial grounds is always fun, as there are usually some very old stones.

Though the Great Separation that divided the Quakers in 1828 has long since been ended, in the middle part of the 1800’s, that division caused a fair number of alternative meeting houses to be built for whichever branch did not retain the original meetinghouses and burial grounds. Since the breech has been healed, many of these old meeting houses are now private residences or have long since been torn down after falling into disrepair, leaving behind a number of cemeteries that often go unidentified. Modern day records from the Quakers generally only show the currently active meetings, so finding information about these older burial grounds can be a real challenge.

One such old burial ground belonged to the Orthodox branch of the Friends meeting at Fallowfield, and just to confuse matters more, the area was also called Ercildoun. The meetinghouse has been gone for decades and there are no markings on the gate into the cemetery, enclosed within a sturdy stone wall. Because there is a modern Church of Christ now located on the same corner, it is probably assumed by most that the graveyard belongs to the newer church. history tells us otherwise. The original meetinghouse for the Fallowfield meeting, retained by the Hicksite branch,  sits on the southeast corner of the intersection of Rte 82 and Buck Run roads, while the Orthodox portion of the meeting established themselves across the road between Doe Run Road and Wilmington Road.

A bit more information will be found here: http://pachester.usgensites.com/content/fallowfield-friends-meeting

Meconkey Mysteries

For starters, you have to know that various spellings appear for the family name, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll go with MECONKEY, since that’s how it appears on some of the stones found at Oaklands. In the middle of the 1800’s. David Meconkey was one of the more prosperous members of West Chester society, having made his living as a real estate conveyancer. He had married the beautiful Catharine W. Jones in 1839 and they soon had two sons, Elbridge Meconkey and Richard Jones Meconkey. Catharine died in 1843 and eight years later, David married Sarah Brinton, daughter of Joseph Hill Brinton and Sibbilla Kirk.

Meconkey plot

Both David and his first wife Catherine are noted at the monument as well as having markers on the ground. Sarah, along with her mother, Sibbilla, have markers near the base of the monument, but there is another marker, completely unreadable as the top portion has crumbled away between Sarah’s marker and that of her mother. Sarah and David had no children together, Sarah’s father is buried at Birmingham-Lafayette and Elbridge is buried in Harrisburg, so the damaged stone may well belong to David’s son Richard.

There’s a hint of mystery involved with both of David’s sons. Elbridge, the older son, though possessed of a successful career and lovely family, shot himself to death in his office in May1887:

Death of Major Meconkey

A Useful Life Ended in an Unexpected Manner

Harrisburg Patriot of Tuesday.
The saddest event of recent years in this city was the death yesterday morning of Major Meconkey, by his own hand, in the office of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society about 11 o’clock. For some time, the Major has been despondent, the result of protracted ill health, and recently evidences have disclosed the fact that his reason was unseated. But no one who knew him apprehended such an issue of his troubles and the entire community was shocked when the news of the sad occurrence spread as it did with lightning rapidity throughout the city.

Major Meconkey was in every respect one of the most estimable citizens of the Commonwealth. Endowed by nature with a wonderfully strong physical and mental system, his education added to his acquirements and marked him as a man of remarkable parts. He was born in Chester county forty-nine years ago and enjoyed all the advantages of wealth and position. He was a student of Yale College and afterwards graduated from the law school of Harvard University. At the breaking out of the war he entered the army and became an officer on the staff of General McCall who commanded the Pennsylvania Reserves. His military record is radiant with brilliant services and his civil life is marked by a devotion to every duty that devolved upon him and a faithful performance of every work.

At the close of the war, Major Meconkey, having been previously admitted to the bar of Chester County, married Miss Berghaus and located here for the practice of his profession,. Subsequently he removed to Quincy, Illinois but soon returned to Harrisburg. He served as one of the reading clerks of the House of Representatives in Congress with marked success and during the session of 1875-76 and ’83 was resident clerk of the House of Representatives of the Pennsylvania Legislature. In this important office he manifested a zeal and ability in the discharge of his duties that won the respect and the admiration of the entire state.

Since abandoning the practice of his profession Major Meconkey has devoted himself to business pursuits. He was for some years the Secretary of the Harrisburg Gas Company and the Corresponding Secretary of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society. I the latter office he exhibited a knowledge and versatility that made him an invaluable member of the society. His work was as much a labor of love as a duty to the society, and he was early and late in the harness.

Few men were blessed with the amiable characteristics that made Major Meconkey universally popular. He had a phenomenally strong and accurate memory, and his store of reminiscences was wonderfully large and well-filled. Gifted with the faculty of entertaining narrative, he was always a genial and pleasant companion, Devoted to his friends, generous, manly and correct, his attachments were sincere, honest and constant. In the whole course of his life he never willfully wronged a man and if by inadvertence harm had come from his actions to any living being he never rested until full reparation had been made.

The deceased leaves a wife and four children, two sons and two daughters, to mourn his untimely death: The oldest of the children, John, a manly and estimable young fellow, is employed in the machine department of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Altoona. He arrived home last evening. The second son, Charles, is a pupil at Yale College and is expected home this evening. The daughters, accomplished young ladies are in the city. The funeral, which will be private, will occur tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 5 o’clock.

David’s son Richard is a bit more of a mystery to solve as there is very little information about him to be found. He attended Philips Exeter Academy as a teen, where he became friends with Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son, and they went on to become classmates at Harvard. It is his Harvard class of 1864 Secretary’s Report, published in 1874 that tells a bit more of Richard’s story:

*RICHARD JONES MECONKEY. He remained at home on his father’s farm (West Chester, Penn.), his health slowly but gradually improving, until towards the close of the year 1872, when a change for the worse took place in his condition. It soon became manifest that he would again have to be removed to an asylum, in which he had been placed soon after leaving Cambridge in 1864. He begged to be allowed his liberty a little longer, promising not to injure himself or others. On the afternoon of February 5, 1873, however, he managed to escape from his attendant, and was soon found alone in the reservoir, into which he had thrown himself. All efforts to resuscitate him proved fruitless.

Five years earlier, David Meconkey had passed away at age 68, four years after Richard’s troubles began when he left Harvard. With Elbridge’s suicide in 1887, only Sarah remained of the original family. A little more than a year later, she was gone as well, a wealthy woman living alone in the mansion on West Chester. Said to be rather eccentric, her estate was valued at over $800,000, a sizable amount to be sure for 1888. Perhaps it is not surprising then that a would-be claimant stepped forward:

He Wants The Widow’s Estate
[by telegraph to the Herald]

West Chester, Pa, July 13, 1888 . Some time ago, Mrs. Sarah Brinley McConkey, an aged lady, died here, leaving a fortune estimated at $900,000. which she willed to her nephews. Now Emmanuel Johnson, of Meyersdale, Somerset county, Pa., lays claim to the estate, asserting that he is Mrs. McConkey’s adopted son. Today Johnson came here and was shown the will in the Register’s office. He looked it over carefully and then said:

“She left me everything. I will investigate this thing. They are trying to keep this away from me, but I’ll show them. I have served on the farm she left me in Somerset.”

“When did she leave it to you?” asked the Deputy Register.

“The very night she died. It was by secret communication.”

“Then you are a Spiritualist, are you?” asked the Deputy Register. Johnson left the office without making answer and has not been seen since.

Source: New York Herald, 7/14/1888

David’s sister Mary was my great-great-great-grandmother, and very little is known about her either, so it must go with the territory. Sigh…

Where Do They Belong?

I know that a lot of folks who visit cemeteries and take lots of photographs, simply turn around and upload those pictures to one of the many places that encourage doing so, but that would be way too easy for me. I’m not quite happy until I’ve figured out where they belong in that grand scheme of inter-related families in southeastern Pennsylvania. You see, I’m one of those lucky genealogists whose ancestors didn’t wander too far from where they started – the vast majority of them stayed in Pennsylvania, Delaware or Maryland. Most of them stayed fairly close to their religious origins as well, so the bulk  of them are found in the cemeteries of the Quaker, Presbyterian or Church of Christ denominations.  So these are the cemeteries that I concentrate on photographing and because of this, the odds are fairly good that those stones that I photograph will belong to someone who is related in some way to others that I have already researched.

This process of relating as many pictures as possible to existing families does get rather challenging at times, and I always end up with a few that I just can’t place – yet. Most of the time, these unknowns will eventually find a place in my database, since research always turns up new names to place, so I just hold those pictures to one side and revisit them later. Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few genealogy references and they really come in handy when tracking down down the families of some of these illusive gravestones. One of those helpful references is a classic for Chester County researchers, the History of Chester County, by J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, known to many local researchers simply as “Futhey & Cope”. Both of the authors lived in West Chester, and J. Smith Futhey was buried at Oaklands, so I’ll post his stone in honor of his work that has been so helpful to me.

J. Smith Futhey

A Beginning…

Since my husband and daughter are both quite fond of teasing me about my hobby of photographing gravestones, I figured it was time to set up a site specifically talking about those stones. The other day, I traveled up to Delaware to do a little history researching, and when I got back, my daughter repeated to me the conversation she had had with my husband before I returned.

Daughter: So where did she go?

Hubby: Delaware.

Daughter: So, what’s in Delaware? Oh… nevermind…dead people, right?

Hubby: Yep.

The family really is quite tolerant of my little foibles, to the point that when hubby and I were married a few years ago (not the first time around for either of us), we spent a little bit of time on our honeymoon wandering around cemeteries – three to be exact. I mean, after all, we were in Chester County and it is the place where lots of my ancestors were buried. Like I said, I have a very tolerant family and I cherish the notion that someday my daughter may actually catch the genealogy bug too.

In my last post, I mentioned that my husband and I had visited three cemeteries in Chester County while on our honeymoon there a few years ago. One of those three was the Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester, on Route 100 just north of the borough boundary. At some point in its history, the Borough disallowed burials within the borough limits and any and all graves were relocated to outside of town. Oaklands was first opened sometime in the mid 1800’s and was designed to be a peaceful, non-denominational cemetery, with easy access to the borough residents. It sprawls over quite a few heavily wooded acres in the hills north of town, and while still quite striking in many ways, it is a bit messy, to put it mildly.

The first time I saw Oaklands was about four years ago. My cousin Patrick had invited the history buffs in the family to a gathering at his place to share information and pictures and various other family memorabilia and told us a bit about his own adventures with Oaklands, his mother having been buried there just the year before. She had requested to be buried near her grandparents in the family plot there, so when she passed, Pat called the Oaklands office to set up arrangements. Apparently, the record keeping there is a bit hit-or-miss, and they couldn’t find any listing for a family plot under any of the names he gave them. Ultimately, he suggested that they meet him there at the cemetery and he would show there exactly where the family plots were, as he had been there many times over the years. That afternoon, we went over to Oaklands and I could begin to understand why there might be confusion about where plots are located – it’s a very crowded place!

Winding paths and lots of trees and lot and lots of gravestones!

While most of the stones are in reasonably good shape, the undergrowth in many areas looks ready to take over at any moment.

There are lots of designated family plots, mostly surrounded by low walls such as seen in the picture directly above, and there are quite a few tall monuments which at least help to serve as points of reference when looking for individual stones. I have quite a few photos from Oaklands that I’ll be sharing in later posts, but I wanted to give an overview of the cemetery itself first. Stay tuned, as they say!