William Ragland, A Vintage Vignette

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William Ragland
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 18, 2011

Five years ago I made a determined effort to find and explore a cemetery that I had seen marked on maps for a long time. It is located on the south side of James Record Road, between Zierdt Road and Wall-Triana Highway near the airport. In fact, it is just east of the Betts Spring Branch off the Barren Fork of Indian Creek. The Madison County Tax Assessor's web page shows that a parcel of 80 acres of land around the cemetery is owned by the City of Madison, but even that is unusual, considering that other maps show the entire parcel as being within the Huntsville city limits. Regardless of who owns the land now, it was once the land of the Ragland family, and members of that family are buried there. I found only seven inscribed tombstones and one metal funeral home marker with no name or data in the overgrown burial ground. Two of the inscribed tombstones had only surnames and dates, with no given names. The two surnames found on the stones without given names were Ragland and Clemons. Maps show it as the Ragland Cemetery.

The latest burial was indicated on the marker for Robert Alfred Ragland, 1891-1980. Others were Leslie Ragland, 1896-1969; Ethel Ragland, 1899-1975; Columbus Ragland, 1904-1975; Ed Ragland, a World War I veteran of Company C, 527 Battalion Engineers Corps, who died in 1952; (no given name) Ragland, 1863-1914; and (no given name) Clemons, 1847-1916. Census checks showed that all of the known names were for black or mulatto family members who lived in that area. In fact, the birth year dates on the stones without given names fit fairly well and uniquely for William Ragland and Jack Clemons in the census records of the area residents. William Ragland was shown in the 1900 census as born in 1860 Alabama, but other records showed 1863. His wife was listed as Sarah or Sallie, born 1867 Alabama, per various census years. A check of Madison County marriage licenses revealed that he married Sarah Clemons in 1889, which agreed with the 1900 census record. That census record further indicated that Sarah had borne 5 children, all of whom were still alive then. Later records show that Sarah had 8 children by 1910. They were Samuel (born 1890), Edward (1893), Alfred (1895), Leslie (1897), Daisy (1900), Rachael (1903), Alomis (1905), and Ora (1908). In the 1930 census, Sarah as a widow was living in the household of Oscar and Daisy Ragland Eston in Warren County, Ohio, where perhaps she is buried, but in 1920 she was still with her family of Madison County in the Triana area.

Further research revealed that William Ragland was a son of Scipio and Catherine Ragland. Scipio (sometimes shown as “Sipp”) was born in 1837 Alabama. His parents were born in Virginia. Catherine was born in 1842 Alabama of parents born in Alabama. William's wife Sarah was a daughter of Jack and Tabitha Clemons. Jack was born in 1846 or 1847 Alabama, whereas Tabitha was born in 1849 Alabama. They married in 1865. The Jack (John) Clemons family lived next door to the family of William Ragland in the census records, with their grandson Sam Ragland at age 20 enumerated in their household in 1910.

Going further back, the white patriarch of the Ragland family in the area was Nathaniel, born in Virginia during 1760-9. Nathaniel Ragland patented several parcels of land amounting totaling over 450 acres in the Triana area between 1818 and 1833. Nathaniel's (presumed) son Samuel (born 1802 in Virginia) patented another 320 acres of adjacent land in 1833. In the 1830 census of Madison County, Nathaniel had 96 slaves, so it is likely that these slaves included the parents of Scipio Ragland, born 1837 in Alabama. The ancestry of Jack Clemons has numerous possibilities, including potential for connection to the James Clemens family that established the town of Madison. However, his ancestry may instead connect to any of the other early Madison County families with variant spellings of the surname found here from 1809. It is sometimes amazing how much can be learned about the names found on tombstones in old cemeteries.

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