A Tale of Three Cemeteries

Frog Branch Road, Paint Lick, Kentucky

by John Paul Todd

Cemeteries mean many different things to different people. There was a time not too long ago in our American society that they were much more a part of our regular family activities. I have been told by many of the older generation of  picnics fondly remembered in which large extended families would gather in the cemetery to celebrate one of the annual civil holidays or perhaps an important family anniversary.

In those days, especially in rural areas, the family cemeteries were likely to be often in the thoughts and affections of the living as they paused to remember and honor the memories of loved ones no longer present in person. These old cemeteries were an essential part of the old homestead once established since sickness and dying was always close by for the young as well as for the aged. Many a grieving mother was able to look from the porch to a not too distant hillside  and have their thoughts drawn to the grave of a little child given up too early in life. Children’s lives in turn, were often graced by thoughts of loving parents whose tired bodies “lay-a-molden” in their graves in these same parcels of sacred earth.

Such was the case at the old Boatwright homestead that served at least three generations of Boatwrights and Todds before the house was torn down and the old logs sold off. Elizabeth Blackburn Boatwright, a widow who left the grave of her husband behind in Virginia, would see one of her married daughters placed in an early grave at age 34 on the hill she could see from her kitchen window, and then the same year, a daughter-in-law who died at age 29, just one month after giving birth to Elizabeth’s lovely granddaughter, whom the widow and her grieving son would be left to raise.

By the time Elizabeth herself would be laid to rest in this cemetery in 1862, her brother James Blackburn III and his wife, Nancy, also would be buried nearby. They would not survive to see a few years later both Union and Confederate armies march along Paint Lick Creek and stop at the old Gum Springs, just down the hill from the cemetery. In 1881, another married daughter, Martha Gill Kelly, would be brought by loved ones to the family burial site, and then in 1885, Elizabeth’s son Alexander Allen Boatwright would be laid beside his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Joplin Boatwright, and mother. His only child, Eliza Ann would- together with husband William Letcher Todd- raise her family nearby but they would move their burial plans to the Manse Cemetery in Old Paint Lick and begin a new family remembering-site there.

Another of Elizabeth Blackburn’s brothers, William Blackburn, married Isabella Mitchell, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Mitchell, homesteaders across Paint Lick Creek at the old Mitchell place. Her mother, Elizabeth Leavell Mitchell, was the daughter of Isabella Miller, the first child born to William Miller and his wife at Fort Paint Lick in 1781. Both William Mitchell Senior and William Miller were born in the same year (1747) and in the same area of Virginia .These two generations of Mitchells were buried in their own family plot on the Mitchell farm along with several other relatives. Isabella’s mother was buried there in 1863, the year following the death of Elizabeth Blackburn. Isabella’s husband’s sister, and her father died and was buried in the same cemetery in 1888.

In 1871, almost in a straight line up the branch that ran in front of the Mitchell place before emptying into Paint Lick Creek, the funeral for another of Elizabeth Blackburn’s siblings was observed in yet a third family cemetery. Rhoda Ann Blackburn had married John Patterson,Jr, back in Virginia, and then raised quite a family of second generation Kentucky Pattersons on part of the Patterson homestead. Rhoda Ann herself had attended the graveside services of her brother and sister, James Blackburn III and Elizabeth Blackburn Boatwright (both died in 1862), as well as relatives in the two cemeteries nearby. But it would be the Patterson Cemetery that would turn out to be the largest of all and the one that now, all these generations later, would become the object of loving efforts from many grateful descendents to see it restored and cared for.

One personal story will serve to illustrate the place these cemeteries were able to hold in the minds and hearts of living family members even hundreds of miles away. My great-uncle, John Todd, was born and raised in the old Boatwright home. He married a third cousin who was orphaned at an early age and then raised by John’s parents. Permelia Gates was the daughter of  Agnes Patterson and James Gates, both buried in the Patterson cemetery. Agnes was the daughter of John Patterson Jr. and Rhoda Ann Blackburn, also buried in the same cemetery. John and Permelia’s first two children died in infancy and are buried there. Later they moved their family to Afton, Oklahoma and raised a large extended family. Descendents tell how often Permelia would talk of the cemetery back in Garrard County, Kentucky where her little babies, her parents, and grandparents were all buried.

The Mitchell Cemetery no longer has any of the head stones “above” ground. The Boatwright Family Cemetery is smaller and tended to by a few of us who are direct descendents on behalf of most of the Boatwright clan that moved on west and southwest. This cemetery holds an added significance to this writer because my Grandmother Todd’s parents, John and Miriam Hunt were among the last to be buried there in the early 1900’s.

There is something very special about these old family plots and the lives that came to their earthly end there. God has often blessed our lives with their memories and the heritage He has passed on to us through each one. It is not only a joy to thankfully honor their memory when we have opportunity, but it gives us a perspective reaching back generations and reminds us that we are all standing on the shoulders of some pretty remarkable people.  In these three cemeteries there are among others, a few Virginian families represented that contributed to our lives and the Paint Lick community- Blackburns, Boatwrights, Mitchells, and Pattersons.
Rev.John Paul Todd is a member of the Paint Lick Family Cemetery Preservation Committee of the Friend’s of Paint Lick. He may be contacted at e4unity@cs.com. This article first appeared in Paint Reflections.


7 Responses to “A Tale of Three Cemeteries”

  1. Alesia Boatright Jackson Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this beautifully written piece by you. While reading it I felt a powerful connection to the history. Thank you for preserving this legacy, lovingly tending to this resting place and sharing this article with me, long lost Boatright descendants living miles away out west. It’s a pleasure to know you and to be connected through you to our ancestry.

  2. Linda Caldwell Says:

    Just got around to reading this. Beautifully done. I hadn’t known of the Blackburn connection to the Mitchells, but I am not surprised. Thanks for writing.

  3. Toddy2 Says:

    2010 Update: These Virginia pioneers that settled Paint Lick no doubt passed what is now Tazewell County, Virginia, on their way to the Cumberland Gap. Did you know there is a Paint Lick Mountain in this area and ancient indian paintings on the mountain? Other names of interest are Crab Orchard and Frog Level. I linked to the site on our blogs roll.

    Tazewell County is reached by taking US 460 from Pikeville, Ky., southeast into Virginia. Town nearest Paint Lick Moutain is Tannersville, VA.

  4. Stephen Nicholson Says:

    Great Story. Any Nicholson folks out there? 4th Great Grandparents were from Garrard Co Ky. William Nicholson and Penelope Moore.

  5. John Paul Todd Says:

    Another interesting article linked to these cemeteries is the interview with William Champ re. indian wars in the Paint Lick vicinity.

  6. Cole Todd Says:

    Rev. Todd
    John Todd is my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Through his fourth son Louis Field Todd. Thank you for the very interesting article.
    Cole Todd

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