Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Martha Denny Martin Douglas

If you have been paying attention to the Republican primaries, you may have heard Newt Gingrich state that he would follow President Obama around challenging him to debates patterned after the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. For those who don't remember their American history and for my overseas blogger friends who weren't aware of these debates, Wikipedia has a good article about these seven debates and their raising of Lincoln's national profile, culminating in his election to the Presidency in 1860.

But there is a strong North Carolina connection to the Illinois senator they called the "Little Giant" that I just found out about recently. While looking through a digital copy of a 1936 Federal Writers Project guide book on North Carolina for ideas of places to visit, I came across a snippet about Stephen Douglas' wife, Martha Martin Douglas, dying in childbirth in Washington, DC in 1853 and the senator and his family bringing her back to Reidsville (which is just 25 miles north of here) to bury her in the family cemetery.

Wondering how a senator in Illinois would meet a woman from the Piedmont of North Carolina, I found out that Douglas had sat next to her cousin, David Settle Reid, in the US House of Representatives who then introduced Douglas to Martha. They married at her father's plantation on the Dan River in Rockingham County (where Reidsville is located) and she returned to Illinois with him. A year after they married, her father died and left her the largest plantation in Mississippi along with 150 slaves. Some historians feel that this event colored Douglas' attitude about slavery and his vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

After Martha's death, Douglas went on to marry Adele Cutts, a great-niece of Dolley Payne Madison, James Madison's wife and another local connection as Dolley Madison was born here in Guilford County.

Anyway, I was fascinated by all these connections and decided to find the Settle family cemetery where Martha Douglas was buried. I figured that it would be really imposing with all sorts of expensive statuary and the like. After all, she was the daughter of one of the wealthiest plantation owners of the period, wife of a famous Illinois senator and the mother of a North Carolina State Supreme Court Justice, Robert Douglas and the great-granddaughter of Alexander Martin, one of the first governors of North Carolina after the Revolutionary War.

And this is what I found:


An abandoned cemetery. Martha Martin Douglas' tomb is that one to the immediate right of the picture. Doing a little more research, I found that the Settle family members (including the former ambassador to Peru in 1855) and been disinterred and removed to Greenview Cemetery in Reidsville years ago.


But here Martha remains, abandoned and forgotten even though her descendants live just 25 miles away here in Greensboro. Stephen Douglas, on the other hand, has a memorial city park and a ten-foot spire marking his tomb in Chicago.

8 comments:

dinahmow said...

Because she was a woman?

Anyes said...

Aww, dinahmow might be onto something there...

Carolina said...

I rather like neglected graveyards. They have a certain atmosphere and charm (isn't the right word, but I can't think of a better one) about them. But it is sort of sad that she has been left behind and not being cared for. Even though she's dead and probably doesn't really mind herself ;-)

Dartford Warbler said...

Almost certainly because she was a woman.....

What a fascinating story Karen and lovely that you sought out her final resting place.

Karen said...

Di, Anyes, Carolina and DW: Most definitely she has been forgotten because she was a woman of that era. I just don't understand why her great-great grandson who is an attorney here in Greensboro (he is in practice with our US Senator's, Kay Hagan, husband) doesn't do more for her and her final resting place. He certainly is not destitute by any means.

Stacy Horn said...

What an engrossing post and story, well done thank you! And thank you for the photographs.

I also love abandoned cemeteries. Yes, it's sad, but also beautiful in their way.

jcaron2 said...

Out of curiosity, where exactly is the cemetary? I live on a 40-acre piece of the Martin plantation, just across the road from where Martha and Stephen were married. I'm assuming the Settle cemetary must be somewhere just across the Dan River from here? I've been enthralled with the history of this little section of land ever since moving here five years ago.

Karen said...

Stacy: Glad you liked the post. Think women have it better these days getting recognized for their work?

JCaron: If you could email me at k.e.gates@gmail.com, I'll send you detailed directions. And, no, the cemetery is not near the Dan River, David Reid's house in Reidsville or Mulberry Island on River Road outside of Madison. Now, if I could only go on the grounds of Mulberry Island to take photos . . .