The last few blogs have centered on important “firsts” for Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. A few weeks back, I pointed out the first monument erected in the burying ground, dedicated in early 1854 to the memory of two maiden sisters—Kate and Mary Norris by their loving parents. Last week, we introduced William Thomas Duvall, the first cemetery superintendent.
History and trivia books are filled with the names of people responsible for “famous firsts.” Most of us are familiar with luminaries of the past such as Adam and Eve, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, John Hancock, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, Jackie Robinson, Sandra Day O’Connor and Neil Armstrong—but does the name Ann Crawford mean anything to you?
I guess it’s always noteworthy to be the first individual to accomplish something unique or special. This individual is seen as a trailblazer, pioneer, or legend. Plus it’s especially thought provoking in this day in age where “participation trophies” are trumping “placement honors.” That said, however, I don’t think everyone would aspire to holding the superlative the abovementioned Ann Crawford possesses—that of being “first person buried” in Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. This occurred on May 29th, 1854.
Although this history milestone failed to make front page news back in the mid-nineteenth century, the event did receive its own entry in John T. Scharf’s History of Western Maryland (1882) and of greater value, was recorded for posterity’s sake within the legendary diary of Jacob Engelbrecht:
The first corpse buried on the New Cemetery — Mrs. Ann Crawford, who died at the house of Mr. James Whitehill on Sunday evening May 28, 1854 was buried, on “Mount Olivet Cemetery.” This was the burial on the cemetery since they dedicated it….Reverend Alexander E. Gibson officiating Minister (of Methodist Episcopal Church).
Tuesday May 30, 1854 7’oclock AM
That’s basically all we know from the written record on Mrs. Ann Crawford. Her scant, 23-word obituary appearing in the Frederick Examiner doesn’t add much more, however it does provide her middle initial of “J,” and that she was 67 years old at the time of death.
I have been working off and on for nearly seven years trying to find out more about this “first-rate” woman. Since 2012, I have taken hundreds of visitors to Ann Crawford’s grave site located in Area A, lot 58. To me, it has always seemed a logical place to begin our candlelight strolls of the historic grounds. In these nocturnal outings, (held throughout October each year), I shine my flashlight on Mrs. Crawford’s grave marker, and emphasize her novel achievement. I then ask guests to visualize what the scene of her burial ceremony must have looked like. I ask, “What did the new cemetery grounds look like in 1854, less than a decade before the American Civil War would be fought, and in this area?” The scenic view, framed by Catoctin Mountain to the west, consisted of a picturesque landscape full of rolling hills—the former farmland covered with maintained grass, trees and freshly laid out dirt lanes zig-zagging throughout. It was a place of tranquility, at the time located “far south” of bustling downtown Frederick City.
I then ask visitors to “fast-forward” back to present-day Frederick. That’s when I dramatically shine my flashlight into the distance, illuminating a backdrop full of marble and granite grave stones and funerary monuments. I make the statement, “Mrs. Crawford was the only one here on that day in late May, 1854, now there are tens of thousands.” I next share the fact that today’s cemetery population of nearly 40,000 interments within Mount Olivet rivals the living population of our state capitol of Annapolis. This usually elicits more than a few “oohhhs, and ahhhs.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t garnered much more on Mrs. Ann J. Crawford after an exhaustive search of my usual repositories and historical resource haunts. But here’s what I can tell you. Ann Crawford can be found living in Frederick’s 8th ward at age 53. This is in the 1850 census, just four years prior to her death. She was in the South Market Street area home of 42-year-farmer/horse breeder Lewis Bentz, a recent widower. I have no idea how long Mrs. “C” had been living there, and in what capacity? Was she caregiving, consoling, convalescing or courting? If the latter is true, I guess you could say “cougaring” based on the age difference between tenants—but I digress.
It’s been long claimed that Mrs. Crawford was a maid/housekeeper for hire. Whatever the case, Ann Crawford would be found in a different domicile at the time of her death in 1854. This occurred in the home of prominent Frederick businessman, James Whitehill on the southwest corner of N. Market and 8th streets. Mr. Whitehill will certainly be the focus of a future blog as he was one of Mount Olivet’s founders and a charter member of the Board of Managers. His successful furniture-making operation on East Patrick Street once stood on the location of today’s Museum of Civil War Medicine.
James Whitehill often receives credit for helping care for and bury Mrs. Crawford within the new cemetery, but it’s interesting to note that the lot she was laid to rest in a lot owned by the Methodist Episcopal Church of Frederick. Both facts raise the question: Was Mrs. Crawford destitute at the time of her death? A unique irony lies in the fact that James Whitehill’s home, the last residence of Mrs. Crawford, is located at 731 N. Market Street. In December, 2016, this building was recently opened as the Frederick Rescue Mission’s “Faith House,” a temporary shelter for homeless women and children.
A brief note in the cemetery’s lot records states that Ann Crawford worked as a maid for James and Ann Whitehill at the time of her death. We know she died at his house, but what was the rationale for her living there? This is a good assumption, if, indeed, she had played that role previously for Lewis Bentz and simply changed employers. We have no idea of knowing this for sure.
Now, here’s an opposite of extremes, an apocryphal story I have heard from fellow local Frederick historian/researcher Larry Moore. He has heard that Mrs. Crawford was the second wife of a prominent physician from Pennsylvania. When the Doctor died as a result of a buggy accident, she was cut out of the will by the physician’s children from his first marriage. She then went to live with a sister in Carroll County (Maryland) and had a son who went to Baltimore after marrying into the McPherson family. Once having a high social status through marriage, Ann Crawford was forced to earn her own way, working as a maid here in Frederick.
I have not been able to find any direct connection or documentation on Ann Crawford in Ancestry .com databases, marriage licenses, etc. My biggest challenge is not knowing Ann’s maiden name.
I have wondered if perhaps Ann Crawford could have been a relative of either James Whitehill or wife Ann Whitehill. James Whitehill’s ancestors were quite prominent in south central Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Some of these men served as politicians, such as US Congressman Robert Whitehill (1738-1813). The name might not mean much to you, but he should receive partial credit for the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments found in the US Constitution. It wasn't all James Madison!
The Whitehills were intertwined with prominent Crawfords of areas such as Adams County to Frederick County's immediate north. These too served in various levels of government. One such was Dr. William Crawford whose biography reads as follows:
Hon. William P. Crawford, M.D., was born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1760, received a
classical education, studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland,
and received his degree in 1791; emigrated to York County (now Adams County),
and located near the present site of Gettysburg, purchased a farm on Marsh Creek
in 1795, and spent the remainder of his life there practicing medicine among his
friends, with the exception of intervals in which he was elected to office. He
was an associate judge, and was elected to represent York district in the
Eleventh Congress, in 1808, as a Democrat or Republican, as the name was then
generally termed. He was re-elected to the Twelfth Congress to represent York
District and to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congresses to represent a new
district formed, of which Adams County was a part, serving continuously from
1809 to 1817, after which he resumed the practice of medicine. He died in 1823.
Mrs. Edward McPherson is a granddaughter of Dr. Crawford.
History of Cumberland and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania
Chicago: Warner, Beers & Co., 1886
In digging deeper, I was ecstatic to learn that Dr. William P. Crawford had a wife named Ann! However, she died in 1860 and is buried with the physician in Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. But could she be a daughter-in-law? It doesn’t seem likely. Of other interest with this biography, is the mention of Edward McPherson, who married Dr. William Crawford’s granddaughter, Annie D. Crawford (daughter of John S, Crawford). Another Ann Crawford, but far too young to be our Ann Crawford!
Edward McPherson was a leading lawyer of the Gettysburg area and also served terms in the United States Congress. The name McPherson conjures up a potential connection to another early Frederick transplant (and family) from the Adams County area— Col. John McPherson.
You may recall that it was Col. John McPherson, who along with son-in-law John Brien, built the beautiful Council Street townhomes in Frederick’s Courthouse Square. Both men also operated the Catoctin Furnace for a period. Could Mrs. Crawford have any ties to them? Although known slaveholders, the need for a maid for this family and relatives is not far-fetched.
A final theory on Mount Olivet’s “first lady” comes from cemetery superintendent of 50+ years, J. Ronald Pearcey. Ron told me that he had heard that Ann Crawford was the wife of a tailor. Her husband had a business here in Frederick in the early 19th century, which was located in a building owned by none other than Mr. James Whitehill. Mr. Crawford passed away, leaving Mrs. Crawford to work as a domestic for local families. I have yet to find this gentleman, and Ron didn’t get his first name, but I did find this passage in Jacob Engelbrecht’s diary, written in 1827:
Died last night in the year of her age Mrs. Crawford consort of Mr. Crawford of this county and mother of James and Joshua Crawford who now live with John & George Engelbrecht.
Sunday, February 11th 1827 4pm
Since this Mrs. Crawford died in 1827, I pose the question, “Could this Mrs. Crawford be the mother-in-law of our Mrs. Ann Crawford?” Was Ann Crawford’s husband either James or Joshua? It’s likely far-fetched because James and Joshua are likely just children, perhaps teenagers, at this time. If there was a relationship with our Mrs. Crawford (age 34 in 1827), we would have another “cougar-type” relationship in the making.
It is possible, I guess, not to mention the fact that James and Joshua could have been tailors. The reason I say this stems from the fact that the abovementioned John and George Engelbrecht were brothers of diarist Jacob Engelbrecht. Their profession, like his, was that of a tailor. Were James and Joshua apprenticed in tailoring by their hosts?
To tie-up this blog up with a pretty bow, I offer my deepest apologies to you the reader. I’m sorry I couldn’t shed anything more definitive about Mrs. Crawford, and am open to any leads or information anyone can offer.
I guess the “Story in Stone” here is that Ann J. Crawford’s life is simply defined by her death, leading to her May 29th burial in Mount Olivet, the very first--with thousands to follow. This is all she had to do to make history.