Benjamin P. McCrary, A Vintage Vignette

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Benjamin P. McCrary
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
April 10, 2009

The small glade behind the Casa Blanca Restaurant on Brown’s Ferry Road by Hughes Road contains the Camper family cemetery, which focused my attention on McCrary pioneers of Madison. One of the markers is for Permelia F. Camper, born in 1814. She died in 1891. A marker for Emma L. Camper, 1874-1898, stands a few feet away. Both women are noted as being “Wife of B. F. Camper”. Between their graves is an unmarked adult-sized sunken grave, probably the final resting place of the husband. Madison County marriage records show that Benjamin F. Camper married three times. In 1866 he married Permelia F. McCrary. In 1894 he married Emma Vann. In 1911 he married Alice R. Petty, but the location of her grave is unknown. The census records for 1900 and 1910 agree with the marriage dates, showing Benjamin F. Camper as a widower each time. Because I had noticed McCrary names in the Fowlkes Cemetery and in association with McCrary Road, both north of Highway 72, it intrigued me that a McCrary was buried in the middle of Madison.

Census records showed only one possibility to fit the birthdate given for Permelia on the tombstone. The name was consistently given in both 1850 and 1860 as Francis P. McCrary, daughter of Benjamin P. McCrary. Benjamin married Elvira Carmichael in 1843, but the 1850 Limestone County census showed her as Lavinia A. McCrary. In that year, the McCrary family was living close to Sarah O. Pickett, John H. Hundley, and others known to have been involved in the history of Madison. By the time of the 1860 census, Benjamin McCrary had moved his family into Madison, living close to such Madison notables as Hamilton Bradford, George Nail (Nale), Alexander Cosby, Alexander P. Jones, and Benjamin L. Camper. Benjamin McCrary lived only four houses from Camper. Benjamin F. Camper was a son of Benjamin L. Camper, and he was listed as age 16, while Francis P. (Permelia) McCrary was listed as age 15.

In addition to these indications that Permelia was the Francis P. McCrary of the census records, the 1880 census showed that Permelia’s brother William P. McCrary lived in Madison beside “Duncan” (Blooming Goodner, called “Dunc” by the family) Camper, Permelia’s brother-in-law. In William’s household was hired hand Luke Landers, who married later married two of Duncan’s daughters consecutively. In 1870, William McCrary lived in the household of Madison Nale in Madison, with all male occupants employed by the railroad.

The children of Permelia McCrary Camper were recorded in the censuses as Annie G. (born 1867), Susan F. (1868), Leonzo (1870), Mary E. (1873), Walter B. (1875), John A. (1877), Fred O. (1879), Minnie B. (1880), Lottie C. (1883), William L. (1887), and Eugene B. (1889). The 1900 and 1910 censuses show that Benjamin Camper had a son named Lawson T. (1894) by his second wife Emma Vann, who died four years after Lawson’s birth.

Permelia had at least one child who did not appear in the census records. The family cemetery behind Casa Blanca Restaurant includes a grave marker for Effie Dixie Camper, with the inscription that she was born in 1885 and died in 1886, “Daughter of B. F. and P. F. Camper”. There is a footstone with initials “AGC” beside Permelia’s grave. This is for her daughter Annie G. Camper, who died in 1880 at the age of 13 according to the notes of Julius Walter Camper, who recently passed away. It is possible that other children missing from census records were born to both Permelia and Emma, as there are many unmarked graves in the cemetery. Still, the records show that Permelia did her part to populate early Madison by bearing at least 12 known children before her passing. Permelia’s brother William Pinkney McCrary married Martha, a daughter of John H. Clift of Madison. Their son John Benjamin McCrary married Bessie Mae Smith, and their son John William McCrary married Mary Emma Thorson, a daughter of Roy W. Thorson. Roy in 1912 built the house at 113 Maple Street for his family. The McCrary roots deeply penetrate the fabric of historic Madison.

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