Thursday, August 21, 2008

RIP Nancy Warren (Oct. 1842-Jan. 1900)

I'm going to interrupt my series on West Durham neighborhoods for a closer look at one historical story behind a recent hot topic in Durham history. The discovery and subsequent exhumation last winter of two bodies from an old family cemetery on Watts st. in Trinity Park resulted in a newspaper article and a slew of emails and blog posts as well as a lot of neighborhood discussion about the importance of history and historical preservation. While many thought the issue was over done with once the exhumations took place it appears that continued building activity on the site threatens the remaining graves there. While I know neighbors and community members are getting involved in a discussion about contemporary homebuilding policy and cemetery law centered around this case, I thought it would be useful to provide some historical background on the women disinterred and the cemetery itself. I'll proceed in chronological order from the 19th century after a brief recap of what happened over the winter.

Part I: 1009 Watts st.

In April 2007 a small parcel of land on Watts st., known locally as the site of an old family cemetery, was sold by the last in a long string of Markhams to own the land. In the year since, this seemingly vacant lot to the left of 1013 Watts has become part of a bustling building site as well as the center of a growing controversy about land use and history. Over December-January 2007-08 the owners and a local archeology firm disinterred two bodies from the construction area and relocated them to a Durham cemetery (my understanding is that this archaeology firm no longer works with the owner). For an account of these events from several sides (including those of the archaeologist and the owner) see the comments on the relevant Endangered Durham post . What struck me from that initial discussion were the photos posted of several grave stones and footers which were unearthed in the process. From my understanding of the situation the only legible of these stones originally stood over the grave of one of the women disinterred:

Courtesy Endagered Durham - click image for more detail

As you can see the name on the grave is damaged and missing its first few letters but the stone does give a husband's name and a birth and death date. Pursuant to NC law the archeology firm published a public notice in the Herald Sun once a week for four week informing any relatives "known and unknown" of the discovery and pending re-internment. The notice included the quite reasonable speculation that the woman's name was "Lucy E. Chamblee." After receiving no responses to the notice "Lucy" and the even more unknown woman were reburied at Markham Memorial Gardens. But who was Lucy and how did she come to be buried in Trinity park?

Part II: Nancy Warren

In 1842 what is now Durham was part of Orange county and a quite disreputable part of it to boot. The railroad had yet to come through and bring with it Dr. Durham's name. Farms, small holdings, brothels, and taverns dotted the area between Hillsborough and Raleigh. Somewhere in this region lived Thomas Warren a cooper with his wife Betsie, new-born daughter Nancy, and several other children. It seems likely that Thomas died sometime between 1842 and Nancy's 18th birthday in 1860 and he does not appear in the 1860 census. Though it's unclear where the Warrens lived in 1842, by 1860 Nancy, her mother, and her younger brother James were living in what is now the greater city of Durham. Their neighbors in the census include such long-time Durham families as the Dukes, the Pools, the Coles, and the Brownings. Oh and one other North Carolina family of long standing living practically right next door - the Shambleys.

1860 Federal Census - Orange County (click image to enlarge)

But wait - what's this - those with sharp eyes or who click on the image will surely notice the new trade that Betsie and Nancy have taken up. Most likely due to the economic hardship of the loss of Thomas' tradecraft, Nancy and Betsie have the honor of being among the very few women enumerated in the federal census as prostitutes. Victoria Bynum, a historian who has written on "unruly women" in this period (including a footnote on Betsie and Nancy) speculates that white women who engaged in prostitution only with white men were rarely brought into court (prostitution of course being a crime), prosecution being reserved for those women who crossed race boundaries. Durham was a bit of a seedy place at the time (David Southern tells a story about 19th century UNC students making the trek to Durham for a good time and never making it back) and prostitution was surely not uncommon. Though I'm sure good archival work would turn up more on Nancy in this period I'm afraid this is the extent of what I can easily get at for the 1860s.

Part III: Nancy Chambley

If you look up at the 1860 census above at the James W. Shambley family you'll notice an 11 year old boy named (apparently) Kinchen. Fortunes appear to have taken a bit of a turn for Nancy by 1880 as we see her in that year married to her former neighbor seven years her junior and now named Nancy Chambley. On the 1880 census she and Kinchen don't appear to have any children of their own but there's no escaping mom - 68 year old Betsie Warren is listed as living in the house as well as Nancy and Kinchen's nephew Charles Warren. The family still live in Durham by now only a year away from becoming its own county. Also in the Durham area are fistfuls of Chambleys and Warrens and one can only speculate that most people in the community knew Nancy's story and had decided opinions one way or the other about her and Kinchen. Though people may have had strong opinions about Nancy she doesn't appear to have left a large impression on the written historical record after 1880, the last year I can say anything for certain about her life. That she lived another 20 years seems clear from her tombstone but it seems unfair to leave such a blank space in her story especially when the spectre of her past looms so large. These were probably good years for her though as Kinchen's fortunes seem to have improved dramatically, by 1900 he owned and farmed many acres on what is now Guess road at the intersection with Fish Dam road (today's Carver st.). His neighbors included several Warrens such as James Warren (jr.?) probably Nancy's nephew and a few other Chambley's and there was even "Chambley School" nearby.

1910 Durham property owners map (Duke University Libraries)

In all this I am making the critical and I think reasonable conjecture that Kinchen's full name was Jesse Kinchen [Chambley/Shambley/Chamblee]. I've come to this conclusion mostly because of the lack of evidence for any other Chambleys born around 1850 or any male Chambleys that remotely fit for Durham in this time period. The name Jesse Chambley doesn't appear in any census records until 1900 by which point he was a respectable farmer and perhaps had the wherewithal to make the census taker write down his full name. And not to get ahead of myself here is the kicker:

This is Jesse Kinch[en] Chambley's tombstone at Mapplewood cemetery in Durham, a much classier resting place than the much perturbed Watts st. lot. In what is surely an age-old story Kinchen, now the reputable Jesse K. Chambley, married neighbor Malissa Proctor(or possibly Riley) in 1900, the year of Nancy's death. As you can see on the tombstone Malissa went on to outlive Kinchen by many years and it wasn't until 1939 that their farm and homestead on Guess were sold off (click for homestead plat). As to why Nancy was buried on today's Watts st. it's still a mystery to me but I imagine her Warren kin or other family may have had some connections with the cemetery there. Her years as a prostitute might lend some credence to local lorethat the families of those buried in the Watts st. cemetery moved all of their relatives except one unloved aunt though I've yet to see any evidence that bodies were removed from the cemetery till now.

Part IV: Markham-Christian Cemetery

If you read the Endangered Durham post on the cemetery controversy then you know that the cemetery on Watts where Nancy was buried was mentioned on the tax record and on Allen Dew's excellent cemetery census site. After searching for a bit I still can't find much information on the cemetery itself and am hoping readers can help fill in some details about its age and original burials. I do know that neither the archeology firm or I have been able to find any plat or map showing the exact bounds of the cemetery. There is some anecdotal evidence that there used to be a fence around the graveyard though any trace of this was gone by at least the mid-1970s. The land on which the cemetery stands was owned by the Markham and Christian families going back into the 19th century (hence the cemetery name - it's unclear to me how many or if any Markhams and Christians were buried there) and the wider tract it is part of has a rather convoluted history. The simple story is that when John W. Markham died around the turn of the century some of his land was parceled off and planned as a northern extension of Brodie Duke's Trinity Park subdivision (I'll post the maps of this larger development some other time as this post is already image heavy and overly long). Building in this development moved slowly and some of the Markham heirs retained some of the land - as was the case with our cemetery tract.

1913 Sanborn fire insurance map - X marks my reckoning of the cemetery location

Even after the land north of Urban st. was subdivided in 1911 the large rectangular tract that had been part of the Markham farm now sandwiched between Guess (Buchanan) and Watts st. (note that Markham doesn't go through for several decades). It's also worth noting that the cemetery is almost directly on the border between the city of Durham and the city of West Durham though I'm not sure what this means practically.

1933 plat of building lots (first st. is now Buchanan)

1950 Sanborn fire insurance map showing a more familiar street plan

By the 1930s some of the land in this rectangle was lotted off for the building of houses (above) but not the tract with the cemetery. It remained in the Markham and then Neal/Beavers/Markham/Thompson families until April 2007 (my impression despite sales amongst each other in the 1950s,60s, and 80s is that all of these families are related). When the 'of grave concerns' archeology firm was hired to survey the cemetery they found it in the test trenches they dug to the far northwest of the site. In this portion of the site they found at least two burials mapped them and let them be. Below is a map of the site from the required disinterment filing - I've put together a google earth overlay of this map but I caution that it is no way usefully precise.

Nancy was buried just to the east of the test trench (disregard the names "Joyce" or "Lucy" and the death date of Dec. 1900) along with an unknown female who John of the archeology firm tells me was in at least her 50s with incredibly bad arthritis. When Nancy was reburied her tombstone went with her and is now buried under a brass plaque noting her re-internment (Markham memorial gardens forbids above ground markers - lawn mowing and all). Though I won't be in town for a bit I encourage you to visit her in Lot 292 Section D #3.

Discussions are surely pending on the fate of the graves still un-moved given events of the past few days and hopefully knowing a bit of Nancy's story will help bring to the issue something more than land rights, law, and neighborhood politics.

I would love to hear people's stories about the cemetery or any other information people have. Thanks for your patience in reading this and I anticipate updating it as I get more details.Thanks to Gary, John of 'of grave concerns,' D. Stoddard, and J. Borbely-Brown for their willingness to share what they knew.


Anonymous said...

I have a peripheral interest in this Warren family. I believe Betsy Warren may have been Elizaebth Woods for whom there is a 1835 Orange County Marriage bond to Thomas Warren.

NC Death records show Malissa Chambley was born Melissa Jane Riley on Oct 16, 1860. Her parents are listed as Jeff Riley and Eliz ? Riley, both born in Orange County. Her address at time of death is listed as Guess Rd. Rte #2 and it says she lived there “all of life”. The informant was W. J. Proctor.

I’m not completely convinced that Kinchen Chamblee, son of John W. and Angeline, is the same one who marred Mailssa Riley. There was also a Jesse K. Chamblee who was the son of John Ruffin and Alice Clinton Chamblee born abt Feb 1950.
1850 Orange CO NC, Oct 9, p226A
Shamley John R. 22 M, Farmer, $100 N Carolina
Shamley Alice 19 F N Carolina
Shamley Jesse K. 6/12 M N Carolina
Piper Alexander 10 M N Carolina (1840

Dee Stoddard probably knoew more about the Chamblee in that area than anyone, so I bow to her call on who's who in that tangled web.

Complicating the whol Warren thing is that the family appears to have been counted twice in the 1850 census. I'm fairly certain they are the same family, but you can't depend on the birthdates or even "real" names, as you can see.

Orange County, Durham Township, First District.
Oct 30, 1850
Residence 974
Thomas Warren, age 40, occupation “Cooper”
Betsy, age 33, shown as illiterate
Mary F, age 15
Caroline, age 13
Martha, age 10
Nancy, age 8
William, age 5
Sarah, 11/12 mos

Neighbors: Res 972 = William Brown, Res 973 = Merling (?) Proctor, Res 975 = Lewis Branton, Res 977 = Nancy Anderson

Orange County, Durham Township, First District.
Sept 27, 1850
Residence 958
Thomas Warren, age 35, occupation “Cooper”
Elizabeth, age 38, shown as illiterate
Caroline, age 12
Jane, age 10
Martha, age 8
Nancy, age 6
William, age 4
Sally, 1

Neighbors: Res 956 = William Proctor, Res 957 = Henry Woods, Res 959 = Nancy Anderson, Res 960 = Tabby House, Res 961 = Lewis Braxton

Orange County Marriage bonds show that a marriage bond was file for Mary A. F. Warren and William N. Carden on Dec 21, 1854 and that they were married the same day.

On the same page as Mary A Carden, a Nancy Warren, age 16, is shown living in the home of the Anderson Latta family.

In 1870, Carolina is shown at age 30, “keeping house” as Head of Household with only 8 year old Mary Warren in residence.

In 1860, a 15 y.o. William Warren is living in the home of Hampton Dollar and family. In 1870, there is a William D. Warren, age 24, in Durham, Orange County with wife Aisley A. Warren, age 20.

Also, in 1870, a 17 y.o. James Warren is shown in the house of James and Dilley Cole. The Coles live next to some Proctors. (May be coincidental, maybe not.)

I didn’t find any white females of the right age that looked like the other children.

So, you see a lot of familiar names intertwined, names that are still prominent in Durham County. Surely someone knows the story of Nancy and Betsy Warren.

On the other hand, do they care? After all, the Dukes are a prominent family in Durham and yet the gravesite of his first wife (Mary Clinton) was forgotten until only a few years ago and is reportedly in danger of the same fate as this gravesite. I'm not silly enough to think that every gravesite is preserved and honored forever, but it would be nice -- especially with all the technology we have at our disposal -- to properly docuement them.

Mitch said...


Thanks so much for all that info. You're definitley right to point out the tangled and somewhat uncertain nature of a lot of these family relations. I think D'Ann agrees with you on Jesse K. being the son of John Ruffin. I only deviated from this because I couldn't find any mention whatsoever of that Jesse Shambley between his birth in 1850 and an 1886 land directory listing him at 76 acres. In the 1860 census he doesn't appear anywhere I can find, nor really in the 1880 census (not to say they are all that accurate) . It's also suspicious to me that he married Malissa in mid-1900 and that Kinchen disappears at the same time Jesse K. begins to be recorded.

Your are completely correct about Malissa as I got confused by her first marriage to James Proctor when she was a teenager so she went by Malissa Proctor for many years. She even brought her daughter with a Proctor last name into J.K.'s household in 1900.

While there is the clear possibility someone erred in attributing Nancy as the wife of J.K. Chamblee on the gravestone- I don't really have any doubts that Nancy Warren was the woman the stone referred to.

I'd also be surprised if none of the Warrens or Shambleys around today don't have some collective memory of Nancy but I guess we'll have to see.

Anonymous said...

Well, here’s a laugh: I found J. K. Chambley’s death certificate (a scanned image). The informant is listed as W. L. Cole and whoever he was, he was no help. Both parents are listed as “don’t know”. Nice. How hard would it have been to ask his widow?

On the other hand, I found a death certificate for a Mary A Copley born 1838 and died of TB 1911 which states her father was Thomas Warren and mother was Miss Elizabeth Woods. Informant was W. C. Warren.
Also there is a certificate for William Warren that lists father as Thomas Warren and mother as "Betsy".

I agree about Nancy Warren. I’ve been convinced it’s the same woman since I first heard about the gravesite. I'm just not sure if there are two J. K. Chamblee (by whatever spelling) or if he's the same man. And the 1860 census is no help. On page 155, there is 10 y o Kinchen and 13 y o brother Gaston with their parents, then on page 148, a 7 y o Kinchen and 10 y o Gaston Shambley are enumerated with the William Wright household. Same boys or maybe cousins with same names? As odd a name as Kinchen seems, I’ve found Kinchen/Kinchelow in several Orange and Granville families.

To further make me want to bang my head repeatedly on my desk, I know that the Jesse K, son of John Ruffin and Alice Clinton Chamblee, had a sister. Alice died in November 1851. In 1860, 9 y. o Martha is in the home of Harris and Martha (Carden) Woods. And who are they? Well, Alice’s sister, Martha Clinton was the wife of William W. Woods, son of Harris Woods. And Harris’ daughter Caroline married a William C. Chamblee in 1852.

And to make it more maddening, in the 1900, you notice who Jesse K and Melissa Chambley’s next door neighbors are? Jesse Woods, a son of William and Martha.

So, you may be right. It may be the same man. It would be remiss not to consider it a possibility. The problem is how to know for sure. I was really hoping for something with that death certificate besides “don’t know”.

But all of this makes me want to think Elizabeth Woods on that marriage bond to Thomas Warren is this Betsey Warren and somehow part of this Woods/Carden tangle.

I wish I were back there with leisure to dig through the old court records. Given Betsey and Nancy’s known profession and the families involved, I have a feeling that somehow these women did not pass through life without some recorded notoriety.

Anyway, thanks for focusing on this gravesite. It’s made me get off my lethargic rear and take another look at these Warrens.

Anonymous said...

Mitch and Wren,

Thanks much for all the fascinating history. I've been wondering who those poor people were as I've watched the contractor pile layers of dirt on top of their grave site to build up the elevation of the (future) front lawn. Can they do that - just cover over graves like that? I know there's a law against desecrating a grave, but can you just bury a burial plot with a mound of dirt??