I was in Knoxville, Tennessee recently conducting research into several of my family lines. One family in particular-the Pesterfield’s, my most stubborn brick wall. Read more about my Pesterfield line here. I’m stuck on Henry Pesterfield born ca. 1790, so I’m trying to research all of Henry Pesterfield’s descendants to try to break down my brick wall.
After looking online for local archives, cemeteries, and courthouses, I planned a research trip to Knoxville. I also gathered as much information online beforehand about where my ancestors were buried and plotted them out on a google map.
Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville
I went to the Old Gray Cemetery in downtown Knoxville. Old Gray is a beautiful cemetery in a park-like setting. Very inviting even if you aren’t a taphophile. I found the grave of my cousins, John Marshall Pesterfield, and James Pesterfield there.
John Marshall’s stone is very worn and difficult to read. It has a beautiful weeping willow at the top, signifying perpetual mourning or grief and a cryptic triangle with the letters LPF. I’m still researching to find out what this means if you have any clues I’d like to hear them!
I found a record of the inscription at the archives. It reads, John Marshall son of John & EO Pesterfield September 21, 1829-November 3, 1862 Aged 33 years, 1 month and 13 days. Sleep on my son and take thy rest for death stands ready a the door, his soul in bliss is now above, his friend on earth bereft!
On July 29,1862, he married Margaret Shetterly. 3 Less than one month later in August, John Marshall was accidentally shot when a gun dropped by a soldier getting off the train discharged and shot him in the ankle. The wound became infected and he died from complications the following November. Obviously, his family was heartbroken and they blamed and resented the new wife. To make matters worse, she was named the executor of his estate. A lawsuit was filed against her by his father John Pesterfield.4
According to court documents, John Pesterfield (John Marshall’s father) claims that Margaret deserted John Marshall after he was shot and did not return until after John Marshall died on November 3, 1862. He further claims she only returned to be the administrator of his estate and gain his assets.
Court documents can reveal a lot of family secrets.
And this one did not disappoint!
The court documents revealed that:
John Marshall and his new wife lived with his parents. His mother and sister took care of him, not his wife. In return, he furnished their home with various items, a feather bed, a mattress, a clock, two calico comforters, five split cane chairs, picture frame, bureau, clothing, the family Bible, blacksmith tools and various other household items.
Evidently, Margaret thought that everything should be hers, despite the briefness of their marriage, and sent a deputy to get it.
And the fight was on!
Depositions given during the trial give us a glimpse of some of the family dynamics. All of the adult children lived with the parents and their wages were pooled to support the family as a whole. A big area of contention was the blacksmithing tools. According to a deposition given by his father, the blacksmithing tools were bought by John Marshall for his brother James to use. The sister, Catherine, further states in her deposition, that James had a drinking problem and John Marshall bought the tools in the hope that James would work in the family blacksmith shop and quit drinking.
It took 6 years for the courts to decide how to divide up the assets of the estate. I’ll keep the outcome short and sweet, the wife received only the items that John Marshall had given to her during their brief marriage, the household items were to be kept by the parents. Each paid half of the court costs and the legal conflict ended. The emotional conflict, surely, lasted much longer.
Recorded in the stones
The gravestones of the brothers leave a record of lives cut short. John Marshall died at age 33 years, 1 month and 13 days and James died at 33 years, 1 month and 20 days. Such short lives, but tragically, not unheard of during this period of history.5
End of the line
As for the rest of the John Pesterfield family, none besides John Marshall married and there were no descendants. Sister Catherine was the last surviving member of the family and was the executor of her brother William’s probate in 1900.6 Catherine lived the last several years of her life in the Mount Rest Home7 and died sometime after 1905.
John Pesterfield, the father, was the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather David Pesterfield.
The East Tennessee History Center
Be sure to visit The East Tennessee Historical Society’s website it has a wealth of information for the researcher. If you are planning a research trip to Tennessee a visit to the East Tennessee History Center in downtown Knoxville is a must. It houses the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Museum of East Tennessee History, the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection and the Knox County Archives. Be sure to allow several days of research, you’ll need it!
- Newspapers.com – Loudon Free Press – 18 Nov 1853, Page 3.
- Williams´ Knoxville Directory, City Guide, and Business Mirror, 1859, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989, Knoxville, Tennessee, Ancestry.com.
- “Tennessee, County Marriages, 1790-1950,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1-15208-40928-89?cc=1619127 ), 004646471 > image 2281 of 3007; county courthouses, Tennessee.
- John Pesterfield vs. Margaret A. Pesterfield Adm of J.M. Pesterfield, Knox County Chancery Court Record # 1383, Knox County Archives, Knoxville, Tennessee.
- The Graves of Old Gray Cemetery, Transcribed by Robert A. McGinnis, 2007, page 39, Knox County Archives, Knoxville, Tennessee.
- Administrators Executors and Guardians Bonds, 1859-1905,7 Jul 1900, Knox, Tennessee, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., Provo, UT, USA
- Knoxville, Tennessee, City Directory, 1905, 2011,Ancestry.com.