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Sitting Up With the Dead, an Appalachian Custom

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The word Appalachia is an old Indian word, and it means “endless mountain range.” The Cherokee Indians who lived there thought the Appalachian Mountains went on forever and ever. Covering thirteen states today, gazing out the windows of a car or stopping at a look-out site give the same sense of forever to these mountains. Their beauty is breath-taking.

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Pioneer Ulster Scots and Scots-Irish settled the mountains of Appalachia during the 18th century. Proudly, they brought their heritage with them, which included an allegiance to family, friends, and faith, the Presbyterian faith. Gravitating to the rocky terrain, so like their homeland of Scotland, they sought new lives. Independent and self-reliant to the core, they also were protective of each other. Their helping hands reached out to kith and kin.

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Sitting up with the dead, also called a wake, is one of the ways they stuck close to each other. It showed respect for the person and his life. It might have been adopted from the Jewish tradition of sitting with a dead body until burial. Called in Hebrew shemira, which means guarding or watching.

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Their lives were hard, and a home funeral brought comfort to the bereaved. These wakes could last for days, as mourners traveled from many hollers. Generally, the guests paid their respects to the dead, then went into another room for sandwiches, coffee and a long visit. Some pulled up chairs beside the handmade coffin or leaned against the walls.

The women in the family prepared the body. It was an open casket, and usually a handmade quilt covered the body, along with flowers and sweet-smelling herbs. The body was dressed in the Sunday-best clothes, which might have been clean overalls and never left alone.

In describing the Appalachian people, John Muir said “You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.” When my husband’s family left the mountains of Erwin, Tennessee, to take jobs in the cotton mills of South Carolina, they brought their culture with them.

Just like their Appalachian forebearers, wakes were still part of the grieving process into the twentieth century.

Oliver Edward Ingle, my husband’s father, passed away on December 6, 1968 at the Wallace Thompson Hospital in Union, South Carolina. Though embalming was the funeral home’s job then to prepare the body, the family still held a wake at his home. In the living room, John and his brothers greeted their father’s siblings, cousins, and neighbors all through the night, while their mother slept sedated, overcome with the shock. They pulled the sofa in front of the fireplace, because it was the only heat in the house, and brought in the solid oak, kitchen chairs for extra seating.

The percolator kept them plied with coffee, and the women of Allen Memorial Baptist had filled the table with food. Emotions were high, as the reality of loss crept in the door. There were times during the night that only the sons sat steadily before the fire. These stoic brothers, still in shock from their father’s sudden death that day, passed the night sharing memories, tears, stories, and laughter.

For almost twenty-four hours, Tom, John, Buck, and Jim Ingle kept a vigil in the house their father had built.

When a ship moves across the water, it leaves a wake in its path. It is a concrete sign that shows the ship’s passage, and it can be followed. Sometimes it spreads out and touches other ships or a shoreline.

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At a funeral wake, people talk about how they have been touched by a life, remember stories about the person, and even think about how different life will be without that person. Sharing these memories affirms a life and what has been left in his wake. And even though we can’t see them anymore, we won’t and can’t forget.

As Navy veterans, the Ingle sons celebrated the wake of their father’s life that night and into the days that followed.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Philippians 1:3 ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson – the Mother of President Andrew Jackson

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Brave Elizabeth is a biog­ra­phy of Eliz­a­beth Jack­son, the mother of Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son.

I believe that envi­ron­ment and hered­ity influ­ence a per­son, and it was fas­ci­nat­ing to me to research the mother of one of our Pres­i­dents. Here is a snip­pet of her life.

Andrew and Eliz­a­beth Jack­son were liv­ing in Boney­be­fore, Ire­land, in 1764. They were ten­ant farm­ers and not mak­ing enough money from their crops and sheep to make ends meet. Taxes con­tin­ued to go up, and the weather con­tin­ued to cast blights on their har­vests. The Scots-Irish cou­ple worked hard, but life under the British rule was a hard-scrabble exis­tence. Dis­re­spect and prej­u­dice for their Pres­by­ter­ian reli­gion was also challenging.

A new life in a new land cap­tured their thoughts.

In April 1765, Andrew and Eliz­a­beth Jack­son crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies with their two chil­dren. Hugh was two, and Robert only a babe. The eight week voy­age from Larne, Ire­land, was uneventful.

They bought land close to Elizabeth’s fam­ily and erected a small one-room cabin. They planted crops and started over. Hap­pily for two years, the Jack­sons worked hard and strug­gled to eke out a liv­ing in this red clay, but in March 1767, while chop­ping wood on a cold, spring day, Andrew Jack­son had an acci­dent and died shortly there­after. Eliz­a­beth, nine months preg­nant with their third son, was a widow at thirty with all the respon­si­bil­i­ties of a sin­gle mother in eighteenth-century America.

Though small in stature, Eliz­a­beth was strong and resilient in spirit. She adapted to life’s changes and dis­ap­point­ments and put oth­ers’ needs before her­self. Work­ing hard and push­ing for­ward through chal­lenges was the model she set for her sons.

After Andrew’s death, her sis­ter and brother-in-law, Jane and James Craw­ford, asked Eliz­a­beth to move in with their fam­ily. Jane had been sick for sev­eral years and needed help with the house­keep­ing. Their eight chil­dren needed more super­vi­sion than she could give, so the Jack­sons joined the Craw­ford household.

Busy with the daily chores of plan­ning and prepar­ing meals for four­teen indi­vid­u­als in a fire­place, tend­ing to the needs of eleven chil­dren and her ail­ing sis­ter, mend­ing, spin­ning, man­ag­ing a gar­den, churn­ing, etc., Eliz­a­beth con­tin­ued to weave cloth for the com­mu­nity. She earned money from the neigh­bors by sell­ing the cloth and was known for the qual­ity and exper­tise of her work.

Eliz­a­beth wanted her sons to have a for­mal edu­ca­tion. All three boys attended the church and com­mu­nity schools, but Hugh and Robert had more apti­tude for out­door activ­i­ties, and they wanted to farm. Andy learned to read at an early age, and his mother thought he might become a min­is­ter. His per­son­al­ity was not for a scholar’s life though, and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War inter­rupted his education.

Elizabeth’s faith in God and His Prov­i­dence was a major ingre­di­ent in her char­ac­ter. She had a small Bible that she car­ried in her pocket, and she prayed often. She taught her sons the impor­tance of obe­di­ence to the Bible’s teach­ings and encour­aged them in their loy­alty to each other and the rest of their fam­ily. Eliz­a­beth urged deeds and words hon­or­ing God, fam­ily, and country.

The Wax­haws set­tle­ment was con­nected to Charleston via the Catawba Path, also known as the Cam­den Sal­is­bury Road, with many trav­el­ers. Mer­chants and Indian traders car­ried their wares to mar­kets. Farm­ers drove their cat­tle to sale. New set­tlers in the Con­estoga wag­ons or on foot were daily vis­i­tors. All of these trav­el­ers kept trade, cul­ture, and news flow­ing into the upcoun­try where the Jack­son fam­ily lived. Because of the prox­im­ity of the Craw­ford home, vis­i­tors kept them in the know with infor­ma­tion and intelligence.

On 20 June 1779, sixteen-year-old Hugh died after the Bat­tle of Stono Ferry near Charlestown. The two-hour bat­tle was not a win for the Patri­ots, but the mili­tia fought bravely. Hugh was not wounded but died of heat exhaustion.

Eliz­a­beth nursed the dying and wounded after the horrific Bat­tle of Wax­haws. She didn’t shy away from either the pain or wounds of the soldiers that were slaughtered by the British at this battle. Later, she hid with her fam­ily from the British, who stole and burned the patri­ots’ farms.

Robert and Andy were under the com­mand of the expe­ri­enced Major William Richard­son Davie. Because of his youth, only thir­teen, Andy served as a mes­sen­ger. Guer­rilla war­fare and destruc­tion was the aim of both sides, and enemy neigh­bors paid back old insults.

Then in the spring of 1781 both Robert and Andy were cap­tured by the British, along with oth­ers in the Wax­haws mili­tia. They were taken to the Cam­den Jail. Small­pox was in every cell, and before long both boys were afflicted. Eliz­a­beth Jack­son was deter­mined to res­cue her sons from this hell­hole. She auda­ciously went to see Lord Raw­don and asked for him to add her sons’ names to a pris­oner exchange that was in the works. He was not unhappy to release two sick prisoners.

Their mother nursed them for sev­eral weeks, but Robert was too weak and died. She never left Andy’s side until he could walk by himself.

Hor­rific tales about how the Patri­ots were being treated on the British prison ships in the har­bor of Charlestown began to cir­cu­late. Eliz­a­beth found out that sev­eral of her nephews were on those ships suf­fer­ing with cholera. Know­ing their chances to sur­vive were small with­out some kind of nurs­ing, Eliz­a­beth and a cou­ple of women from the Wax­haws com­mu­nity decided they needed to go help the young men. In the fall of 1781, three women left home on a mis­sion of mercy.

Elizabeth’s nephews sur­vived, but she did not. She caught cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave in Charleston.

Eliz­a­beth taught her sons the dif­fer­ence between right and wrong, and free­dom and oppres­sion; the impor­tance of help­ing fam­ily and friends; rev­er­ence for truth, jus­tice, and free­dom; and a deep patri­otic devo­tion to coun­try.

Eliz­a­beth Hutchin­son Jack­son was a Patriot, a South Car­olina Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War Hero­ine, and the mother of Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son. Her story is worth remembering.

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